Brian McGrory

No shame for Rep. John Tierney

It was three Sundays ago, the Patriots scheduled for a 1 p.m. start, when an
e-mail arrived in my inbox from Democratic Representative John Tierney with a subject field that said — and I’m absolutely serious here — “Before Kickoff.”

That’s just like John, I thought, taking the time to make sure I’ve filled out my betting form. Ends up, he wanted a campaign contribution, not a Benjamin on the over/under, but that’s not really the point. The point is that Tierney is facing some suddenly tough odds, something he may have some familiarity with.

You know Tierney. He’s the congressman whose wife went to the Big House for a month while he continued to serve in the People’s House. Two brothers-in-law were convicted on drug charges. One is now serving time for his involvement in an illegal, multimillion-dollar offshore gambling ring. The other is a federal fugitive on charges that he helped mastermind the enterprise from the island of Antigua.


Tierney’s wife helped the fugitive brother with his finances, accepting thousands of dollars in tax-free payments that were portrayed by the family as gifts. Bet it sounds just like your brother-in-law, always tossing cash your way. Here’s the funny part. John Tierney has spent the better part of his reelection campaign claiming he had no idea that anything untoward was going on with his brothers-in-law and their gambling venture. He assumed it was a perfectly legal enterprise. Based in Antigua. Despite the brothers’ criminal histories.

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Admittedly, it’s a somewhat novel political strategy, this public declaration that you’re really not all that sharp. The alternative, though, is probably to confess that you’re a liar, which, while it certainly wouldn’t make you an outcast in Congress, might present some obstacles in a reelection campaign. But Tierney has found a third way, and it’s breathtaking. Rather than talk about himself, he is instead telling anyone who will listen that his opponent, a Republican named Richard Tisei, will single-handedly push the entire state, probably the nation, and quite possibly the planet, back to the Stone Age.

Never mind that Tisei is actually a moderate, and by that, I mean he is a social liberal and fiscal conservative whose views are undoubtedly in lockstep with many voters in his district. Never mind that he has an actual voting record on Beacon Hill to prove it. No, in Tierney’s view, he is a card-carrying supporter of the Tea Party, a Republican young gun in the making, or just a certified Neanderthal, you pick, who will spend the bulk of his time in Congress exercising with Paul Ryan and shining John Boehner’s shoes. And by the way, how dare Tisei ever be so crass as to make an issue of Tierney’s family!

So you might logically wonder how deft the Democratic establishment has been at distancing itself from Tierney in his desperate fight for survival, how sly it’s been in slipping from the scene of this one-car crash. Well, keep wondering.

In fact, Democrats have embraced him. Martha Coakley, the attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer in Massachusetts, attended a fund-raiser with Tierney. The entire Massachusetts House delegation, all Democrats, a veritable parade of statesmen, offered him a joint endorsement. Can you imagine how honored the good residents of the Sixth Congressional District must feel that Mike Capuano, John Olver, and Steve Lynch took the time out of their schedules to advise them how to vote?


It’s embarrassing for Democrats, this whole episode. It reveals a level of hubris, undoubtedly born of one-party dominance, that is demeaning to the old-school notion of public service. It helps pinpoint, not that help is really needed, why too many average, hard-working, right-minded people have been turned off to politics in despondent droves.

Tierney looks perfectly awful singing the blues about his self-imposed plight. But it’s all the other elected Democrats who look even worse as they reflexively perform in the chorus behind him.

McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at His Twitter account is @GlobeMcGrory.