Could the end be nigh for the ‘Prince of Darkness’?
As those who follow state politics well know, that moniker is the property of William Francis Galvin, the secretary of state and one of the longest-serving constitutional officers in Massachusetts history.
His anticipated cruise to a seventh term ran into serious turbulence last weekend at the Democratic state convention in Worcester. Galvin, 67, lost the convention’s endorsement to Josh Zakim, 34, a Boston city councilor.
It wasn’t just Zakim’s 10-point margin of victory that was a shock; it was that Galvin — who hasn’t faced a serious opponent in years — lost at all.
Suddenly, he seemed to be on the wrong side of a generational shift.
If this is a year for insurgents, as some believe, Galvin could be headed for extinction.
Zakim has run as an agent of change, insisting that he will work more aggressively than the incumbent to make it easier for people to vote, and to ease access to public records.
It’s an effective, easily digested pitch for a job whose scope most voters only vaguely grasp.
The secretary’s regulatory authority extends well beyond managing elections, into such areas as regulating the securities industry and overseeing historic preservation — powers Galvin has exploited to a far greater degree than his predecessors.
Easily forgotten in all the talk of Galvin’s longevity is that the former state rep from Brighton has been an activist secretary, sometimes to the irritation of fellow politicians.
That is playing out in the campaign. Zakim benefitted mightily from the convention support of Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
Galvin and Walsh tangled last year over the plans to build a tower on the site of the Winthrop Square Garage, when Galvin successfully delayed a key vote on the project until the Massachusetts Historical Commission, which he oversees, could “study” the impact of the project on Boston Common and the Public Garden.
The commission had no authority to stop the project; Galvin’s move was mostly mischievous.
But his willingness to irritate City Hall was emblematic of his approach to politics, in which “building relationships” has never been the point.
Galvin insisted that the effect of losing the convention has been exaggerated.
“The convention is in the rear-view mirror as far as I’m concerned,” Galvin said Tuesday. “This office is too important to be decided by the convention. It will be decided by the people.”
Galvin said he had decided to run for another term partly because of his concerns about the integrity of elections.
The meddling in the 2016 presidential election was a wake-up call for those who oversee elections. He notes that lawmakers in Washington have scarcely begun to address questions of election security.
He also touts his record of tough oversight of the financial industry, claiming to have recovered $50 million in ill-gotten gains.
“When people are getting [exploited] every day, who do you want?” Galvin asked rhetorically. “Someone with my experience and reputation, or someone who says he’s going to do a good job?”
While relatively inexperienced, Zakim is clearly a legitimate contender. Zakim appeals to activists and younger voters.
And let’s face it, it doesn’t hurt to have a last name people hear in every radio traffic report. (He is the son of late ADL head Lenny Zakim, after whom the bridge is named.)
Zakim insisted that he is still the underdog in the race, but said his emphasis on voting resonated with delegates.
“What resonated, I think, was that we were talking about same-day registration. Seventeen states have it. We don’t,” he said. “We have 680,000 eligible voters who aren’t registered. Those are things that are facts and need to be addressed.”
About that nickname of Galvin’s I mentioned earlier: It was bestowed years ago, during another tough race — that one, against House Speaker George Keverian in 1990, for state treasurer. (Galvin won the primary, but lost the general election to Joe Malone.) It’s not so much a moniker as a persona — Galvin as the dour, solitary figure who pursues the combat of politics with a singular zeal. He picks fights the way other people make breakfast.
“There’s always drama, there’s always gamesmanship,” said former Boston city councilor Michael McCormack, a longtime supporter. “He’s been that way as far as I’ve known him, and that goes back 40 years. I think he views it as a compliment. You can ask anyone in Boston politics about the Prince of Darkness, and they instantly know who you’re talking about.”
The significance of losing a state convention is legitimately open to question. It’s a gathering of activists, and the much larger pool of primary voters has been known to reject its advice. But by the same token, there isn’t any upside to being rejected by the people most closely following the process.
Galvin and Zakim will still both be on the Democratic primary ballot on Sept. 4.
Not surprisingly, Galvin views it as the latest fight in a career of them.
“I’m not asking to be rewarded for my past service,” he said. “I’m more interested in the challenges going forward. Elections do matter — and so do the people who administer them.”
Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: adrian_walker.