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Mass. politicians featured during first day of Democratic convention

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Representative Josephj P. Kennedy III spoke Monday at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Representative Josephj P. Kennedy III spoke Monday at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.Mark J. Terrill

PHILADELPHIA — Watching the news and the fevered speculation about her future in recent weeks, you could be forgiven for thinking Senator Elizabeth Warren is the only Massachusetts politician of national significance.

But the Democratic National Convention provided a reality check on that impression as a parade of the state's elected leaders took turns on the national stage Monday, showcasing a bench that's deeper than just one liberal superstar.

Warren enjoyed the prime-time spotlight on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, delivering the prized keynote speech. She was introduced by a youthful rising star, with that unmistakable Kennedy hair and smile, Representative Joe Kennedy III. He told a story about his first class on his first day of Harvard Law School, and being singled out to define a word.​​

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"'Mr. Kennedy, do you own a dictionary? That's what people use when they don't know a word,'" he recounted the professor chiding him. "I never showed up unprepared for professor Elizabeth Warren again."

And Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston, an Irish Catholic politician with strong labor roots, spoke earlier in the evening.

As he approached the podium, the Massachusetts delegation, squeezed together on the far left side of the hall, chanted "Mar-ty, Mar-ty," with many jumping to their feet.

"Thank you Massachusetts," the mayor said. "Thank you."

He began, however, on a somber note. "My name is Marty Walsh and I'm an alcoholic," he said. Walsh went on, saying he hit "rock bottom" two decades ago. "Everyone was losing faith in me. Everybody except my family and the labor movement."

Walsh said he got a second chance and rose to be the mayor of a city "of big dreams and of big hearts."

Making the case that Hillary Clinton is the champion that American workers need, he said: "We may not have our names in gold on the outside of any buildings we worked on. But our sweat, our work, and our pride is on the inside of every one of them."

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By the end of his remarks, delegates across the hall were on their feet cheering.

"Monday night is Massachusetts night at the DNC," said Paul Kirk, a longtime aide and adviser to Senator Ted Kennedy who temporarily filled the seat when Kennedy died. "Not a lot of other states can say that when there are only four nights of the convention."

Recent years have witnessed the end of a powerful era for Massachusetts Democrats. The state's power in Congress has dimmed somewhat since Kennedy's 2009 death and the departure from Congress of senior lawmakers John Kerry, who is now secretary of state, and Barney Frank. But Massachusetts politicians brag the state can still punch above its weight.

"What the national convention actually highlights is just how deep the bench is for Massachusetts," said state Senator Eric Lesser of Longmeadow, a former Obama aide. "We are a relatively small state, and on the first night of the convention you have our senior senator speaking as well as a mayor. As someone who has been involved in planning these conventions, I can tell ya, that isn't nothing."

"This is something of a bench-building year for the Massachusetts Democratic Party nationally," said Thomas O'Neill III, son of the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill, who once towered over national Democratic politics. "But with each of these people — Walsh, Warren, Kennedy — you see leaders who can talk to different constituencies that are all important for the Democratic cause."

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These rising stars were moving and shaking outside the convention arena, too.

Both Kennedy and Walsh headlined events earlier in the day. Walsh's event, a reception for the Massachusetts delegation put on by the state party, was in a restaurant on the top floor of a Hyatt in a room with large glass chandeliers. Tight security that kept the general public and press out.

Kennedy's reception was held at a swanky yet accessible restaurant and bar. Patrick Kennedy held court in one corner. Former Democratic National Committee chairman and Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman stopped by. So did Jason Collins, Kennedy's college roommate and the first openly gay NBA player. Senator Edward J. Markey showed up at the tail end as Kennedy was leaving.

Also stopping by was Representative Seth Moulton, another potential national star. A Harvard graduate who enlisted in the Marines in 2001, he was splashed across the cover of the New York Daily News last month for an op-ed urging a ban on assault rifles after the mass shooting in Orlando. Mouton hosts a happy hour for Massachusetts delegates and others Tuesday and will speak at other events, including a foreign policy panel with former secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

"My goal is to get people excited about the election this fall. People believe that Hillary has it won because she is facing Donald Trump, but that isn't true," Moulton said when asked about his convention goals. "I am not looking past this election."

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Representative James P. McGovern of Worcester acknowledged a convention subplot that features Bay State politicians trying to jockey for more national or local prominence.

"I don't think that coming to the conventions really helps someone run for higher office like governor or US Senate or something else," McGovern said. "But it never hurts to show up to meet new people, see old friends, and engage with donors and activists, just in case."

On Sunday night, Markey spoke during a dinner cruise the state delegation took with the Washington state delegation, which is sharing the same historic district hotel.

Inside the Wells Fargo Center, where the convention is held, the Massachusetts delegation didn't have the best seats in the house, located up in the first tier of stadium seats. That didn't dampen the enthusiasm. When Sanders supporters started booing Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio at the start of the proceedings, Clinton supporters in the Massachusetts delegation stood up and started chanting and clapping for the presumptive nominee.

Some Sanders supporters in the delegation joined the Sanders protesters, standing up with signs protesting the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

"It's democracy," said Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, among those cheering for Clinton. "You have to let the steam out. People have to have their say. But the stakes are too high, particularly when you consider the Supreme Court," he said, expressing confidence the party would unite behind Clinton.

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In front of him, a sign reserved a seat for Warren, who was under consideration as Clinton's running mate.

Asked about the strength of his home state in Democratic politics, state senator Thomas McGee, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, pointed to the prominent role members of the state's congressional delegation played several weeks ago in organizing protests on the House floor over gun violence. Representative Katherine Clark of Melrose helped to hatch the sit-in with civil rights icon John Lewis, a longtime representative from Georgia. Others helped it gain attention, including Warren and Moulton.

The Massachusetts delegation serves as a "voice that people respect and can energize people about who we are as Democrats," McGee said.


Victoria McGrane can be reached at victoria.mcgrane@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac. James Pindell can be reached atjames.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesPindell.Click here to subscribe to his daily e-mail update on the 2016 campaign.