Senator Edward M. Kennedy came within a hair of losing his life at the Democrats’ 1964 convention in Springfield. Kennedy was flying in from Washington on a foggy June night, having just cast his vote for the civil rights bill, when his small plane crashed as it approached the Westfield airfield. The pilot and a top aide to the senator died. Kennedy broke his back as he was flung around the cabin. Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana and his wife suffered relatively minor injuries. They walked through the woods to summon help. Kennedy, unable to move his legs, lay on the ground beside the wreckage waiting to be rescued. He spent six months in a Boston hospital, while his wife, Joan, campaigned for him in his race for his first full six-year term. Kennedy won in a landslide.
In 1990, Frank Bellotti was leading the gubernatorial balloting after the first vote. As he worked the crowded floor of the convention, he ran into William Bulger, who was twisting arms to get fellow conservative John Silber, the tart-tongued president of Boston University, on the ballot. Silber had cleared the 15 percent hurdle, but just barely. The question now was where his delegates would go on subsequent ballots. Bellotti seized the Senate president in a (half-joking) headlock.
“What’re you gonna do now, Billy?” he asked, as Mark Roosevelt, his campaign manager, frantically tried to box reporters out of the impromptu political parley. Bulger had the second-to-last laugh, however: Silber won the nomination. Bellotti stoically supported Silber, but key members of his campaign defected to Republican Bill Weld, who beat Silber.
Also in 1990, with the state reeling from a financial crisis and Democrats running scared, the party faithful went to Springfield to endorse candidates in perhaps the messiest political convention in recent years. A prominent Republican, Ron Kaufman, was accused of being the source of the chaos. He was even forced to hire a lawyer to clear him of charges he tried to undermine the convention process.
When the delegates arrived, they faced a picket line of Springfield police officers, angry over contract talks. It took hours to get the officers to relent as the convention teetered on collapse. Kaufman claimed he was there only to do media commentary. The Democrats charged he was conspiring with the police to disrupt the event. A suit by Democrats and a countersuit by Kaufman went on for a year — before everyone cooled off and dropped the litigation.
In 1986, Gerry D’Amico, a state senator from Worcester hoping to become lieutenant governor, lit up the convention hall with a barn-burning liberal speech. The resulting swell of enthusiasm carried him to a victory over Evelyn Murphy for the convention’s endorsement. Then, as D’Amico stood on the riser preparing to give his victory speech, Bulger appeared like a wraith behind him, in an apparent effort to stake a visual credit for his victory. Stunned by the appearance of Bulger, who was anathema to liberals, D’Amico managed a quip: “This is the guy I work for.”
It was a fatal mistake. Murphy’s team turned that offhand remark into an albatross, using it to portray D’Amico’s upset into an insiders’ embrace delivered by Bulger and his allies. D’Amico lost to Murphy in September.