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Thomas Farragher

Seth Moulton gets no help from John Tierney

He is the shiny new car just before it’s driven from the showroom floor, its leather interior immaculate, its chrome trim gleaming.

He is the exquisitely set holiday dinner table, a perfectly browned turkey placed just so, in the moments before guests arrive, the gravy is spilled, and the bird is picked apart.

He is the bright-eyed little boy on the bus, his hair brushed for his first day of school where he has yet to ace any test or face any discipline.

He is Seth Moulton, Massachusetts’ newest representative-elect, in the days before he places his hand on a Bible and takes his oath to join a Congress polluted by poisonous discourse, crippled by gridlock, and held in a deep disdain that makes it something approaching a national disgrace.


“I think you have to temper your expectations with reality,’’ Moulton told me the other night at a downtown Salem restaurant. “Because the partisanship is so bitter, it’s a time you can distinguish yourself.’’

We’ll see. It’s easy to be optimistic when the slate is so clean, and the discussion remains hypothetical.

Moulton’s political rise electrified primary night in September when he did what almost no one does: He unseated an incumbent of his own party, John F. Tierney, who Sixth Congressional District Democrats decided to put out to pasture after nine underwhelming terms.

Last month, Moulton, a decorated former Marine captain, beat Republican Richard R. Tisei to win the North Shore seat.

For now, he is full of hope. He’s building a staff, sorting through the 500 applications that he’s received for roughly 16 positions in his office. He’s been assigned new office space. He’s hoping — improbably — for a seat on the Armed Services Committee.

And he’s doing small things he hopes will send a signal. He reached out to a fairly new Republican congressman, asking whether he’d like to be a roommate. The guy had found a place already. Wednesday night in Cambridge, where incoming members of Congress are gathering at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, he’s hosting a reception with a fellow Harvard graduate, Elise Stefanik of New York, a Republican elected last month.


“I won the primary, not by running to an extreme, but by saying hyper-partisanship is the problem in Washington,’’ he said.

He has sought advice on constituent service and political strategy from Marty Meehan and Chet Atkins, two men who also served in Congress.

Remarkably — pathetically really — he said he’s been unable to get Tierney to engage in any meaningful discussion about the transition. “I’ve reached out to him several times,’’ Moulton said. The response? Radio silence.

“I just want to do what’s best for the district and to best serve our constituents, I think we ought to talk,’’ he said.

He wants to build a relationship with Tierney like the one Meehan had with Atkins. Atkins was a sitting Democratic representative when Meehan defeated him in a primary in 1992.

The men have become good friends, the hatchet long buried.

A spokesman for Tierney said his staff will work with Moulton’s transition issues but there are “no plans’’ for Tierney to make time for Moulton.

When Tisei lost to Moulton last month, the GOP candidate sent a note to his supporters wishing the Democrat well. “We need to change Washington, and Seth will need our help to do it,’’ Tisei wrote.


Moulton should not hold his breath waiting for Tierney to take such a high road — a road the ousted representative couldn’t find on a map.

By his small-minded and petulant silence, Tierney is unintentionally imparting an important lesson to Moulton.

It’s a lesson any new member of Congress can take from Tierney, a lightweight who left few footprints and, in the end, couldn’t even figure out how to lose with class.

Whatever you do, Representative Moulton, don’t be like John Tierney.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at