Kim Driscoll, the fifth-term mayor of Salem, said Tuesday she is running for lieutenant governor, calling herself a pragmatic executive who can provide a voice for cities and towns within a new Democratic administration.
Driscoll, 55, enters a quickly growing Democratic primary for the number two post in state government as a well-known name in municipal circles and an oft-discussed candidate for higher office.
First elected in 2005 to lead 45,000-person North Shore city, she is launching her campaign with the endorsements of a half-dozen other mayors, including those from Revere, Melrose, and Newton, and pitched her experience as a relative novelty: She is the only one of Massachusetts’ current 47 mayors seeking a statewide seat this year.
“We’ve been on the front lines,” Driscoll said of local executives, who for nearly two years have had to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and juggle the reopening of schools. (As mayor, Driscoll also chairs the city’s school committee.)
“The experience at the municipal level is different. There’s no hiding in a job like this,” she said. “Somebody has to act locally. I think that’s where I can be helpful. I know that world.”
Driscoll is the fifth Democrat to seek the lieutenant governor seat, an amorphous and relatively low-profile role that has suddenly become one of the most sought-after seats in the state’s majority party.
Last week, state Senator Eric P. Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat, said he was running, joining state Representative Tami Gouveia, a two-term Democrat from Acton; state Senator Adam G. Hinds, a three-term Democrat from Pittsfield; and Bret Bero, a Democrat who is a Boston businessman and Babson College lecturer.
Whoever emerges will pair with the Democratic nominee for governor. With few formal responsibilities, lieutenant governors typically take their cues from the governor, helping carry out the administration’s policy and political goals while providing a tie-breaking vote on the Governor’s Council, which approves the governor’s judicial nominees.
Driscoll fashioned a vision for the seat similar to that of Republican Karyn Polito, who has served as Governor Charlie Baker’s primary liaison to local officials, to the point the administration often touted that Polito visited all 351 of the state’s cities and towns.
Driscoll has, too, often positioned herself as a local partner to Baker. She helped tout one of the governor’s long-sought housing initiatives and this month, hosted him at one of the city’s schools, where Baker emphasized the importance of in-person learning during the pandemic. Baker, who lives in nearby Swampscott, has visited Salem at least four times since July alone, each time appearing publicly with Driscoll.
In an interview Tuesday, Driscoll emphasized the nonpartisan nature of local governing, ascribing herself to the “GSD wing” of the party — as in “getting stuff done” — that embraces the blocking and tackling of the job.
“There isn’t a liberal or conservative approach of how we address the needs in our schools,” she said. “I think mayors have to be pragmatic progressives in some way.”
The daughter of a one-time Miss Trinidad and a Navy veteran from Lynn, Driscoll was born in Hawaii, and grew up in several states, including Florida, before enrolling in the mid 1980s at Salem State University, where she played basketball. She’s lived and worked on the North Shore since, serving as chief legal counsel and deputy city manager in Chelsea, as a Salem city councilor, and for the past 15 years, as the city’s mayor.
Driscoll’s leap into a statewide race is, in some respects, a longtime coming. She considered challenging then-Senator Scott Brown in 2012, and was courted by others to consider running for governor in 2014. The mother of three young adults, she called this an opportune time to now seek higher office.
“At this point in time, seeing what we’re up against, I can use these skills to help the commonwealth,” she said.