Pity the poor, naive souls who are running for Suffolk County register of deeds because they actually want to do the job.
First off, hardly anybody knows what the Registry of Deeds does (it’s chiefly about recording real estate transactions). Even those who do know can’t get excited about it. We care so little about the post that tens of thousands of us leave that part of the ballot blank every Election Day.
And so, because nobody pays attention, the office is a magnet for longtime pols hoping to ride the twin waves of name recognition and apathy into a $124,000-a-year sinecure.
This year, the man who best fits that bill is Steve Murphy, the recently deelected Boston city councilor who has run for, oh, everything at one time or another. Despite the fact that there are six other Democrats competing in the primary, and three unenrolled candidates in the general, Murphy will likely win this thing if people don’t start paying attention. A devoted practitioner of political patronage, he has used his network to out-raise his opponents. His signs grace street corners all over the city. His name is familiar. Is he the best guy for the job? It doesn’t matter!
Katie Forde is one of the valiant candidates trying to head him off. A Texas-bred paralegal who lives in Roslindale, Forde, 32, has some experience organizing. She worked on MassEquality’s campaign for same-sex marriage and has been active in Planned Parenthood, serving as an escort at the Boston clinic for years. But she has never run for office before. As she knocked on doors in Jamaica Plain one afternoon last week, she hoped that would make her more appealing to voters.
But first, she had to explain everything.
“Do you know what the register does?” she asked a woman on Holbrook Street.
“No, and I wonder why anybody would want to do it.”
“Good question,” Forde said, gamely pressing on. “It’s not exciting . . . but it’s the hottest race in town.” She launched into her plans for the job: Instead of being a figurehead for a department that basically runs itself, Forde promised better programs to educate first-time home buyers and to protect vulnerable property owners from predators. The woman said she’d vote for her because a neighbor had told her to — even though, she said, “I consider these bottom of the ballot things to be political hacks looking for a job.”
A lot of Forde’s conversations get to this point, which is her sweet spot. Because the secretary of state effectively runs the registries, registers of deeds have almost no power, and very little autonomy. Really, the position shouldn’t be elected at all (legislators could change that, but they never will because registers are hard-wired into the state’s political machinery). But at least Forde would try to do the job differently within those constraints.
“I want this to be a launching pad, not a landing pad,” is a line she repeats often.
On she went, sweating in her gray suit and sneakers, patiently walking mystified voters through it all, reminding them that the primary this year is on the Thursday after Labor Day, and not the Tuesday — another factor likely to depress turnout and favor Murphy.
A few of the other candidates are working hard, too: Stephanie Everett, Paul Nutting, and Jeff Ross have legal or technical qualifications for the work. As does unenrolled candidate John Keith, a realtor who would face the Democratic victor in November.
“This is a job where you want to vote for somebody based on what they know, not who they know,” Keith said. “I’m hoping that this year, when there’s a lot of cynicism out there, people will say, ‘Hey, here is somebody who earned the position because he knows what he’s doing, and he isn’t the other guy.’ ”
Whatever plans Forde, Keith, or the other genuine aspirants have for the job, this race is mostly about that other guy. Voters must decide whether they want Murphy to climb aboard the gravy train.
His best shot: if they don’t decide at all.