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John Walsh, longtime Democratic operative, to lead Markey’s Senate office

John Walsh made phone calls in this file photo.
John Walsh made phone calls in this file photo.Josh Reynolds

John E. Walsh has for years been a key figure in Massachusetts political circles, helping to send Democrats to Washington. He’s finally going himself.

After helping guide Senator Edward J. Markey from underdog to comfortable reelection this fall, Walsh will take over as chief of staff in the Malden Democrat’s Senate office next month, according to Walsh and Markey aides.

Walsh, 62, has been a longtime Democratic operative credited for rebuilding the party’s focus on grassroots campaigning, first with Deval Patrick’s 2006 gubernatorial victory — which provided a template for President Obama’s campaign two years later — and subsequently as chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party for six years.

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A longtime ally of the former governor, Walsh later ran different Patrick-aligned political action committees, seeding help to Democrats around the country. This will be his first stint working for a government office in Washington.

“I’m giving up one of my best lines: I’ve never worked in government a day in my life in D.C.,” Walsh said by phone Wednesday from a one-room Capitol Hill apartment he’s renting through Airbnb. “My calling was always slightly different. It’s going to be something new.”

Walsh was instrumental in helping Markey fend off a primary challenge from Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III after taking over the campaign’s strategy, hiring, and day-to-day operations in August 2019.

Walsh’s arrival came at a key time: Speculation was overflowing about a likely Kennedy challenge, and his hiring was announced on the same day Markey aides said Paul Tencher, the senator’s former chief of staff and a campaign consultant, was leaving the campaign after retweeting a nasty post about Kennedy’s family.

When Kennedy did announce a campaign the next month, Democratic insiders speculated Markey — who has served on Capitol Hill since 1976 and in the Senate since 2013 — might simply retire rather than take on the Kennedy scion. But over the next year, the 74-year-old Democrat rebranded himself from dutiful politician to fierce progressive warrior, headlined by his work on the Green New Deal.

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Markey ultimately beat Kennedy by 11 points in September, and easily defeated Republican Kevin O’Connor earlier this month to win another six-year term.

“John drove my re-election campaign to an historic victory. He is a brilliant strategist, an effective leader, and a committed public servant,” Markey said in a statement Wednesday. “John has the experience and visionary thinking to drive our progressive movement forward and pass a Green New Deal."

Walsh said the decision to accept the role was rooted in helping continue what Markey campaigned on and the potential of making progress on the senator’s climate change initiatives with Democrats back in control of the White House.

“I had opportunities to do things like this — never this, but things like this — that I declined,” Walsh said. “For Ed Markey right now, it feels like we built a good partnership together, and when I look at his agenda, I think it’s so necessary right now.”

Walsh, who founded a consulting business and owns an insurance business, lives in the Lower Mills neighborhood of Dorchester. He said one of his first tasks is finding a place to live in Washington.

“If you have any recommendations . . .” he said, laughing.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.