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The Boston Globe

Politics

Yvonne Abraham

As Mass. open seats loom, political fever infects all

A sickness is sweeping Massachusetts, and no amount of hand sanitizer will save us from it.

Its symptoms ­include explosive ­ambition, projectile self-promotion, and Potomac fever. It is serious and highly contagious. Already, it has infected roughly 100 percent of office-holders.

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It is Political Norovirus.

This year’s virulent variant can be traced to a couple of sources, chief among them US Senator John Kerry, the man who begat near-pandemics in 2004 and 2008, when the prospect of his leaving his job for something grander unleashed an epidemic of electoral hankering that threatened to sicken the state’s entire political class.

Visions of the Senate danced in ­congressmen’s heads. Which had state honchos suddenly contemplating ­Capitol Hill. Which emboldened ­mayors and city councilors to dream of Beacon Hill. And on it went down the line. Somewhere out there, some kid was certain Kerry’s rise would finally make him math club president.

Alas, Kerry did not ascend, breaking the hearts of those who had hoped to succeed him and of those who had hoped to succeed them. It was tragic, all of that thwarted ambition, all of those bottled-up aspirations still
corked.

But now, once again, the corks look set to pop. Having been passed over for his dream job twice, Kerry finally seems set to become secretary of state. Add to his departure that of Governor Deval Patrick, who leaves office in two years, and you have more churn than our notoriously static political scene has seen in a long time.

Suddenly, the conviction that one might trade a lowly station for an office befitting one’s greatness is spreading like very determined microbes. One ambitious person infects five or six others, who in their turn each infect others, and — boom! — before you know it, everybody is considering a run for something.

Let’s make like epidemiologists with Kerry’s seat. Say the guy who takes his place (sadly, everyone talking about it is a guy) is US Representative Ed Markey. That opens up ­Markey’s seat, for which a bunch of folks might vie, includ­ing state Senators ­Katherine Clark and Will Brownsberger. Which would open up their seats for lower beings looking to rise.

If Representative Stephen Lynch of South Boston takes Kerry’s seat, state Representative Marty Walsh might be among the many trying to take his place.

If Representative Mike Capuano ascends, pretty much the whole Boston City Council will be vying for his seat. Because, Lord knows, Mayor Tom Menino isn’t going anywhere. A council departure would leave a vacancy for some neighborhood activist convinced her time has finally come.

Though it’s two years away, the prospect of Patrick’s exit has unleashed an even more serious outbreak among ­incumbent Democrats. Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, born with this virus, will probably run for the top job. If he doesn’t, Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem probably will. If she wins (or becomes Murray’s Murray), that will leave an opening in Witch City. If Joe Curtatone of Somerville is our next governor, the mayor’s job will be up for grabs there. If Capuano decides he wants the state’s top job, see above.

The likely prospect of Treasurer Steve Grossman seeking the corner office leads to ­another chain of infection: ­Auditor Suzanne Bump might aim at his job (get your calculators ready, aspiring number-crunchers); Mayor Lisa Wong of Fitchburg could take Grossman’s place; Katherine Clark’s name pops up here again (form a line here, aspiring state senators, Clark is on so many lists she’s totally running for something).

Isn’t this cool? And we’re looking only at the upper levels of this outbreak. Imagine the flux in boards of selectmen and PTOs across the state as the contagion spreads.

There are, of course, some who shake hands with legions of the diseased, yet somehow avoid catching the bug. ­Menino, of course. And Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone, who announced Thursday that he will not run again for his office or any other (his three predecessors rose to ­attorney general). We should study these men. Their example might lead to a vaccine.

While those of us who are up to here with elections after last year’s epic contests may feel alarm at the scale of this outbreak, one guy is positively thrilled about it. As the Democratic Party chief, John Walsh, sees it, more people running means more engaged voters. And more opportunities for women and minorities, still sorely underrepresented in state politics. If things go well, he reckons, the ferment could give rise to a whole new generation of political leaders. “This is vibrant democracy,” he says. “Let it bloom.”

Well, that’s downright inspir­ing. When Walsh puts it that way, I kind of want to run for something myself. I wonder whether I should be making policy instead of trying to influ­ence it. Perhaps I was destined for something loftier than this.

Hey, is anybody else feeling warm? My hands are clammy. My innards are churning. Suddenly, that job I had at breakfast isn’t sitting so well.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com. ­Follow her on Twitter ­@GlobeAbraham

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this column provided an incorrect title for state Representative Martin Walsh. Also, in a graphic accompanying the column, former Kennedy aide Gerry Kavanaugh’s name was misspelled.

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