It’s too bad campaigns aren’t trials, because we could just stipulate that Ed Markey and Steve Lynch, the two Democrats who want to replace John Kerry in the Senate, are self-made guys who grew up in neighborhoods where nobody was born on third base.
This would save a lot of breath and countless trees.
As one of approximately nine people who have lived large chunks of their lives in both Malden and South Boston, I feel somewhat qualified to say that the places where the two congressmen grew up were similar.
When they came of age, the richest people in town tended to be gangsters, doctors, and lawyers. Both places had plenty of public housing, which was a sign of political influence, not extreme poverty. Being poor, meanwhile, was not seen as a personal failing but an accident of birth and a way station. There were plenty of examples of neighbors who studied or worked their way up and sometimes out. The biggest difference between the two places is that if you moved out, you drove north on I-93 from Malden and headed south on I-93 from Southie. North Shore, South Shore.
As politicians increasingly need to suck up to millionaires to run for high office, or be millionaires themselves, it has become de rigueur to emphasize one’s ordinary roots. This is meant to show that, despite the trappings of power and wealth, politicians know what it’s like for voters just trying to get by. This often ends up being unintentionally hilarious or sublimely ridiculous. Who can forget the Romneys roughing it on tuna fish or, horror of horrors, having to sell off some stock to make ends meet in their early years.
But Markey and Lynch are the real deal.
Lynch was an ironworker like his father. They got laid off on the same day once. Lynch’s mother worked the night shift at the post office so the family could move out of the Old Colony projects. They moved two blocks, to East Eighth Street. Lynch walked across steel beams high above the ground and put himself through law school.
Markey’s roots are equally humble, his parents equally inspirational, his ambition equally admirable. Markey’s father drove a milk truck, and Markey drove an ice cream truck to put himself through Boston College. And that was when BC was a commuter school, long before Doug Flutie threw that pass and Father Monan raised all that money.
Lynch says he is not interested in trying to out-Regular Joe his opponent. With one caveat.
“Strapping on boots for 18 years and doing a dangerous job, and having to travel all over the country to find work, is not the same thing as driving an ice cream truck to put yourself through college,” he said.
Markey, for his part, told me he sees a lot of similarities between Malden and Southie, and his and Lynch’s upbringings.
“I think,” Markey said, “we come from a very similar place.”
Good. That means they can talk about other things.
Lynch intends to campaign as a Washington outsider and portray his opponent as a Beltway insider. But Lynch isn’t obsessed with how many days Markey spends in the district.
“I’m not taking attendance,” he said. “There are some very effective reps who don’t come back to their districts.”
Some of Lynch’s constituents, especially neighbors on G Street, prefer that he wasn’t in the district as much.
“My neighbors wish I was in Washington more so they could take my parking space,” he said.
Markey laughs at the thought of reporters trying to figure out how many nights he sleeps in his house on Townsend Street, the house he grew up in.
“In 36 years, I’ve been at Logan [airport] or [Reagan] National about 1,400 times,” Markey said. “I’ve spent about six or seven years of my life at Logan.”
You can’t forget where you came from when you never really leave.