As the Legislature prepares to adjourn its formal sessions later this month, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo faces a political challenge back home.
The Winthrop Democrat has landed an opponent in his bid for a 12th term representing the 19th Suffolk District, which includes Winthrop and part of Revere.
Paul Caruccio, a Winthrop Republican and former Town Meeting member, is campaigning to unseat DeLeo in the November election.
Caruccio, who lost a bid for governor’s councilor in 2010, has run a Hallmark franchise store in Winthrop for 31 years, and ran another one in Medford from 2006 to 2010.
“I don’t think we are really being represented on issues of importance to the community,” Caruccio said, explaining what spurred him to run.
‘I believe you have to earn the people’s vote and you have to ask people for their vote.’
While conceding some residents view it as an advantage to the district to have the speaker as its representative, Caruccio contended, “The reality is, that hasn’t translated into any benefits for the community.”
As an example, Caruccio pointed to the condition of Winthrop Beach and Short Beach in Revere, which he noted were rated near the bottom of a list of 18 Boston area public beaches in terms of water quality in a recent report by the environmental group Save the Harbor/Save the Bay. Winthrop Beach was ranked 15th and Short Beach 16th. He also said there has been a lack of upkeep of the beaches.
“Many of the problems could have been solved by a simple maintenance program,” he said, contending that DeLeo could have done more to secure funds for the beaches.
In a telephone interview, DeLeo said he was disturbed by the water quality issues cited in the report, particularly at the two local beaches, and he had asked the administration to address the problem.
DeLeo said advocating for the district’s beaches has long been a priority for him. He said both Winthrop and Short beaches are on a regular maintenance schedule and that a major improvement project was recently completed at Short Beach, with a similar one soon to begin at Winthrop Beach. He also cited the annual Winthrop Beach cleanup that he sponsors.
“One of the most important parts of living in a place like Winthrop or Revere is that you are next to the beach. I’ve always emphasized that as a state representative,” he said.
Caruccio, who opposes the proposed casino at Suffolk Downs in East Boston and Revere because of potential traffic, crime, and other impacts, also argued that DeLeo should have done more to represent the interests of Winthrop in last year’s casino bill. In particular, he said the legislation should have allowed Winthrop residents to vote on the Suffolk Downs plan, just as residents in Revere and Boston will.
“I think we need to be treated exactly like the host communities,” he said of Winthrop, arguing that the town will feel the impact of the casino as much as East Boston and Revere will.
DeLeo responded that the House added language to the original casino bill drafted by the administration requiring that casino operators provide surrounding communities — which would include Winthrop in the case of Suffolk Downs — with funding to mitigate project impacts. The original bill only required such mitigation for host communities.
“I’m excited to feel that we have built in one of the strongest packages to protect local communities of any bill ever written on expanded gaming,” he said. “We wanted to make sure places such as Winthrop were considered in any mitigation [funding].”
While he was a leading voice in support of the legislation, DeLeo said he is not taking a position on the proposed development at Suffolk Downs until there is more information on “what they are going to do for the communities.”
DeLeo, a lawyer and former Winthrop selectman, was first elected to the House in 1990. He was elected speaker in 2009 after four years chairing the House Ways and Means Committee.
DeLeo said he plans an active reelection campaign, observing, “I never take anything for granted. I believe you have to earn the people’s vote and you have to ask people for their vote.”
In seeking another term, DeLeo is highlighting statewide legislative accomplishments that he said have benefited Winthrop and Revere residents, as well as specific work he has done for the district.
“In this year’s state budget, there were no new taxes and no new fees,” DeLeo said. He pointed as well to statewide initiatives to create jobs and the increase in local aid, and the pending adoption of legislation to address the high cost of health insurance.
On the local front, he cited funding he secured to keep the hockey rink and Little League fields in Winthrop open, and the recent transportation bill that authorizes funding for projects in Winthrop and Revere.
Caruccio, who plans to begin knocking on doors shortly, said his campaign will highlight his business experience.
“I’ve been a small business owner for about 31 years,” said Caruccio, a past president of the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce. “I know what it takes to get the job done. I know what it’s like to hire people, to employ them. I know what it’s like sometimes when you have less income to work with. . . I understand common sense.”
Of his challenge to DeLeo, he said: “This isn’t personal. I happen to like Bob. In fact I consider Bob a friend,” Caruccio said. “But he votes differently on most of the issues.”