Bill Keating, the former state senator and Norfolk District Attorney who won a highly competitive primary and general election for Congress in 2010, is friendly and low-key in manner; he lacks the damn-the-torpedoes intensity of so many politicians in today’s House of Representatives. Sam Sutter, the talented Bristol County District Attorney who is challenging Keating in the newly redrawn 9th District’s Democratic primary, radiates intensity; he promises a much more aggressive approach to wrestling with the seashore district’s many challenges.
Both are solid, qualified candidates, and voters will probably choose between them on style and approach, more than issues. But Keating’s demeanor masks a quiet diligence that’s been evident since his surprising challenge to iron-fisted Senate President William Bulger back in 1994. And his term in Congress has been spent learning the district from the ground up; he argues persuasively that his fact-finding approach toward issues as varied as the recertification of the Pilgrim nuclear plant, the reconstruction of the Sagamore Bridge, and the controversy over federal fishing limits reflects hands-on engagement, not passivity.
Moreover, Keating has come to embrace a unified vision for the district based on higher-ed programs targeted toward jobs in marine-related industries and clean energy, drawing on the Cape Wind project; he cites his efforts to speed the redevelopment of the South Weymouth Naval Air Station as evidence of his ability to deliver.
Sutter was elected DA in a surprising upset in 2006 after a long career in criminal law on the Cape and South Coast. His signature initiative — forcing dangerousness hearings for any defendant who was caught with an illegal gun — helped reduce gun violence in Fall River and New Bedford. As head of the state DAs’ association, he spurred legislation to preserve such hearings. Noting that his Bristol predecessor hadn’t automatically pursued dangerousness hearings, Sutter vows to find similar levers unused by Keating to promote economic development and quicken progress on longstanding issues like water management on Cape Cod.
Sutter is a promising candidate, but Keating’s skills and emerging vision make him the better choice.