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In backing Gifford for Congress, Fitchburg mayor rebuffed others — including Marty Walsh

Lowell, Massachusetts - 4/29/2018 - Candidate Rufus Gifford participates in a debate between the Democratic candidates for the third district congressional seat in Lowell, Massachusetts, April 29, 2018. (Keith Bedford/Globe Staff)
Keith Bedford/Globe Staff
Rufus Gifford.

In endorsing Rufus Gifford for Congress, Fitchburg Mayor Stephen L. DiNatale says it was the relationship the two formed that elevated Gifford in his mind above the nine other Democrats in the Third District race.

But the pull for DiNatale’s political heart strings was not without competition.

A former colleague with his own horse in the race, Mayor Martin J. Walsh called his Fitchburg counterpart on a “number of occasions” pitching him on his former chief of staff, Dan Koh, as he also vies for the nomination, DiNatale said.

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That included as recently as late June, DiNatale said, the day Walsh visited Fitchburg with Koh to canvass neighborhoods on behalf of his campaign. DiNatale said he could not attend, citing his own mayoral schedule, but he wasn’t surprised either: Walsh and DiNatale are friends, he said, having served together in the state Legislature before moving to their respective city halls.

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“He called me to ask me for my support for the other candidate,” said DiNatale, noting calls from campaign surrogates wooing him have been a rarity. “I can’t say that same situation existed with other candidates. But I wouldn’t expect it either. I would expect it with Marty.”

Walsh has played an active role in helping Koh, knocking doors in various communities and openly stumping for his former aide. Walsh said the reception has been great, and Koh’s campaign said its internal polling show Walsh is well-liked in the Third District.

DiNatale, however, was dubious about how the mayor plays in his city.

“We’re almost 50 miles from the city of Boston — that should sum it up for you,” he said. “I know what the people of Fitchburg are looking for. In the same way, if I went to Boston and tried to tell Marty about the issues he’s facing in Boston, he would probably have some expletives for me.”

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Not so, said Walsh.

“If he came to Boston, he would get an open reception. We’re not that different, Fitchburg and Boston,” Walsh said. “The people of Fitchburg are great. They deserve the best representation. As far as his endorsement of Rufus, I commend him. We all support people.”

DiNatale said he opted to back Gifford because he wants someone who can “bring the bacon back” to the city and district, a role he said Gifford’s connections in Washington — he was a top fundraiser for former president Barack Obama — should help. He also pointed to Gifford setting up a campaign office in the city.

The primary is scheduled for Sept. 4.

Reach Matt Stout at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout