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Josh Zakim to challenge secretary of state William Galvin

Josh Zakim is from a prominent Boston family. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/File 2017

City Councilor Josh Zakim said Monday that he will run against Secretary of State William Galvin in the 2018 Democratic primary, one of the most high-profile challenges to Galvin in his two-plus decades in statewide office.

Zakim, a 33-year-old attorney from a prominent Boston family, vowed to flex the powers of the office to make government more transparent, establish stronger oversight of businesses, and build off his work as a city councilor to expand voter rights and access to the polls.

“It’s time for a new era of leadership on Beacon Hill focused on inclusion instead of exclusion — on voting rights, on access to government, and on protecting us all from bad actors in big business,” said Zakim, whose District 8 council seat stretches from Beacon Hill to the Back Bay, the West End, and the Fenway. “Now is the time for bold leadership and new and innovative ideas,” he said.

Zakim would be one of Galvin’s most formidable opponents since he was first elected secretary in 1994. Three years ago, Galvin breezed by Republican challenger David D’Arcangelo, a Malden city councilor; and Green-Rainbow candidate Daniel Factor.


Galvin said in an interview Monday that he has faced challengers throughout his tenure as secretary of state, but that voters have embraced his record and returned him to office.

“I’m proud of that, and I think I’ve been the state’s top vote getter . . . because of my record,” he said. “I’m going to continue doing what I do.”

Galvin took issue, though, with Zakim’s announcing his run for office merely weeks after he was elected to another city council term, saying he hasn’t been sworn in yet and is already seeking another office.

“You can’t have it both ways,” he said.

Galvin has more than $2.6 million in his campaign coffers. Zakim is beginning his challenge with about $360,000, though he says he had already built up commitments and support.


Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College in Easton, said Galvin has not drawn high-profile challengers in the past, partly because of the low-key nature of the office.

“Voters tend not to be as aware or overly concerned with what happens in an office like the Secretary of the Commonwealth,” he said. “It takes a lot to dislodge them . . . Galvin is old-school, he’ll have the resources.”

Ubertaccio added, though, that Zakim’s campaign comes at a time when progressive Democrats have increasingly mounted challenges to the old guard, and Galvin could be vulnerable. He has been criticized for not doing enough to uphold public records laws and for supporting voter-registration deadlines rather than embracing same-day registration — the very issues Zakim has marked as his own priorities.

Those progressives “view Galvin as an obstacle, they’re not enamored by him, and those folks play a role in the nomination process,” he said. “If [Zakim] can harness that energy, he’ll have a shot.”

In addition to his role overseeing elections, the secretary of state has control over the state archives, regulation of Beacon Hill lobbyists, the public records division, the securities division, and the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

Zakim chairs the council’s Committee on Housing and Community Development, and the Special Committee on Civil Rights. He recently submitted proposals to expand voter access in Boston, for instance eliminating a city registration deadline. A state Superior Court judge recently struck down a state voter registration deadline, calling it unconstitutional, though Galvin said he would appeal.


Zakim also authored the Boston Trust Act, the city’s identification as a sanctuary city. And he took a lead in council hearings to investigate the safety of the city’s rental housing.

Zakim is the son of the late Leonard “Lenny” Zakim, the well-known community advocate, longtime head of the Anti-Defamation League, and the namesake of the Zakim bridge that spans the Charles River. Josh Zakim said his parents’ “passion for inclusiveness is in my DNA.”

He said his priorities as secretary of state would be to expand access to early voting, facilitate voter registration, and promote new ways to increase voter turnout, while also upholding public records laws and investigating securities fraud.

“I just think right now . . . we’re in a place right now where voting rights are under attack across the country, including from the White House,” he said. “Here in Massachusetts, we should be doing everything we can to open up that process and make it easier.”

He said he recognizes Galvin’s hold over the position. But, he added, “It is time, I think, for new ideas and bold action in that office. . . . The person in this office needs to be looking forward.”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.