My state lost its senator this morning. You might have heard. I believe there were a few glancing mentions in a news organization or two.
I live in Massachusetts. I have lived in Massachusetts for 9 years now. But I’ll likely never be a Massachussan. I speak with an indistinguishable accent. (My husband and I were raised 12,000 miles or so apart. We have the same generic American accent.) I drink Starbucks, not Dunkin’ Donuts. Growing up, I thought the mob was about as real a threat as Bigfoot and the Windigo. I arrived when the Big Dig was a fait accomplis. I never expected to live here so long. I vote regularly in both local and state elections, but I feel a bit like an outsider looking in. I must’ve voted for Ted Kennedy, but I don’t remember doing so. To me, he was a politician with a national profile who had a bunch of good ideas and plenty of prior personal issues. The name Kennedy is no magic to me.
Some of the politicians in our commonwealth seem to be more like me, or at least less like the old-New England types. For example, our governor Deval Patrick has no accent and has lived in places outside “the hub”. I’m quite fond of my current state representative Jason Lewis, who is local enough to have spent five minutes selling his candidacy to me 1 on 1 and seems (in the local parlance) wicked smaht. I can connect with the Harvard/BU/Tufts folk who, like me, came to New England for college and stayed for the jobs.
But there’s the other Massachusetts – the thick accent, old boy, Irish-Catholic Massachusetts. For example, I can’t for the life of me figure out why Boston accepts a mayor who can barely string together a coherent sentence. Mayor Menino is an excellent example of this kind of New England politician. His power base is built on unions and knowing everyone, as far as I can tell. And for all this stumps me, it appears to be a very strong power base (although thank heavens he has real challengers this year – more power to them).
A friend of mine told a story about running for city council many years ago in Boston. Some of the “good ol’ boys” took her aside told her to be a good girl and not upset the boat. They told her that she had no chance and mentioned that friends of theirs ran the polling stations. Were there actually polling irregularities? Who knows. But the “interlopers not welcome” ethos behind her story rang very true. There seem to be areas of politics that are reserved for the third generation and connected.
Now, I am no better than a casual observer of local politics. It’s entirely possible that my perceptions are out of date and untrue. But I find myself wondering which side of this divide our new senator will come from. I worry that the choice of who we’ll get to vote for will be made in a smoky room filled with men from large families. I worry that the Democratic candidate offered to us will be the one whose “turn” it is. A special election does not have a primary. There is very, very, very little chance that Massachusetts will send a Republican to DC instead of that critical 60th Democrat.
I wish that Teddy Kennedy, who had plenty of time to think about his last days, had resigned in such a way that we could have found his successor in a more orderly fashion. I am glad that he didn’t name an heir, but I’m concerned that the decision will not be one that I, or ten-year outsiders like me, will have much to say in.
Edward Kennedy was the last scion of a great family. But in America, power is not intended to be inherited, father to son, or brother to brother. I hope that the Senator who next represents our Commonwealth will be a person of great intelligence, persuasion and integrity, and will somehow manage to represent ALL the Commonwealth. And I hope they will have earned the post on their own merits.