Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

The Battle of the Martys in the Third District

Marty Meehan and Mayor Marty Walsh
Globe Staff Photo Illustration; Globe File Photos
UMass system president Marty Meehan and Mayor Marty Walsh.

With a recount underway, the battle between Lori Trahan and Dan Koh to represent the Third Congressional District remains a big post-primary political story — with a classic Boston subplot.

It’s called “The Battle of the Martys.”

Mayor Marty Walsh and University of Massachusetts president Marty Meehan share the same first name and a passion for the Patriots. Both know what it’s like to vie for the affection of Bob Kraft and the soccer stadium they both want for Dorchester. But, in the high-stakes race to succeed US Representative Niki Tsongas, Marty and Marty are backing different candidates. And, as one Marty reportedly said to the other, “Let’s not let this get between us.”

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Marty the mayor backed Koh, his former chief of staff. Marty the head of the UMass system is a quiet supporter of Trahan, who served as Meehan’s chief of staff when he was in Congress. Election results are still up in the air. Koh petitioned for a recount after falling 122 votes behind Trahan. Citing concerns about the mishandling of primary ballots, Secretary of State William F. Galvin is now scrutinizing the votes.

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Koh left his job at Boston City Hall to move back to his hometown of Andover to run for Congress. Once that happened, Walsh took on the role of chief Koh cheerleader, knocking on Merrimack Valley doors, far beyond Boston. As reported by the Globe during the campaign, Walsh’s partner, Lorrie Higgins, also “tapped the mayor’s volunteer network asking them in an e-mail to consider helping in the district.” As the Globe also reported, real estate developers, law firms, corporate executives, and construction companies with business in Boston — but not any obvious business in the Third District — poured money into Koh’s campaign.Meehan’s heart is with Trahan, his congressional chief of staff from more than a decade ago. He didn’t raise money or knock on doors for her, but he offered advice, and his roots in Lowell run deep. During the campaign, state Senator Barbara L’Italien, another congressional candidate, complained that both Trahan and Koh were tapping into connections and money associated with their political benefactors. “Everyone’s gaga over Mr. Koh because Marty Walsh is more than giving him a push forward in this race,” L’Italien said in an interview on Boston Herald Radio. “Lori Trahan inherited all of Marty Meehan’s political machine.”

During the campaign, both Trahan and Koh stressed their own hard work and grass-roots efforts. They, along with the others in the race, are the ones who poured their hopes and energy into winning an election whose outcome is still uncertain. In the end, their name is on the ballot, not the name of any supporter.

Still, the Battle of the Two Martys is a reminder of old-school power politics and its limits, which both practitioners well know. After winning a second term last November, with a 35-point spread over challenger Tito Jackson, Walsh has been riding high. But during this primary season, he also endorsed several candidates who lost, including US Representative Mike Capuano. If Koh somehow eked out a victory, it would be sweet for Walsh.

As UMass president, Meehan gets credit for making the state higher-ed system more competitive. But the past year was tough, as Meehan weathered criticism about a decision by UMass trustees to authorize the purchase of the assets of Mount Ida College in Newton, which closed its doors when the sale was announced. The deal angered students and faculty at UMass Boston, and at one point, Walsh riffed publicly about the possibility of turning the Boston campus over to the city. That won’t happen; it was just another way to stake out turf as the big Marty in town.

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The Battle of the Martys isn’t war. But there is a little ego at stake.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.