Nearly eight years ago, I sat at a small table at a Peet’s Coffee shop across from a pretty, pert, smart and saucy woman, the former head of the state Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division and chief of its Business and Labor Bureau. A former Hale & Dorr attorney, her greatest satisfaction, she said, came from her work as a public interest lawyer, noteworthy for her successes on issues like abortion clinic buffer zones, mortgage foreclosures and marriage equality.
When we met, Maura Healey was running for Massachusetts Attorney General, against the formidable former state Senator Warren Tolman, a Democratic heavyweight who had previously run statewide, was a widely recognized lawyer, consultant and lobbyist and whose brother ran the Mass. AFL-CIO. She took him on, and, with the same dogged determination she had apparently displayed as a professional basketball player, defeated him by a nearly two-to-one margin in the Democratic Primary.
The road to the corner office in Massachusetts is littered with former attorneys general who ran for Governor and failed. Think Bob Quinn, Frank Bellotti, Scott Harshbarger, Tom Reilly, and Martha Coakley. (Republican Attorney General George Fingold ran for Governor in 1958 but died before the primary.) The problem is: if you’re doing your job as A.G., you’re alienating people, often powerful people in your own party. But, if anyone can reverse the curse, it may be Healey. She does not present as the unapproachable ramrod sheriff in town.
Still, she has been an effective state law enforcement officer, notably in the vanguard of state attorneys general who collaborated to block harmful and illegal actions by the Trump administration. She similarly took on Purdue pharma for its fraudulent practices promoting Oxycontin and nurturing a generation of opioid addicts. She has taken up the cause of protecting homeowners and students from predatory lenders. She has covered an enormous range of issues, and she has managed hundreds of people.
In announcing her long-anticipated candidacy, she spoke in broad themes related to economic growth, the high cost of living, the need for job training, more affordable child care, modernizing schools, addressing climate change and working together for a more just society. Her message that “we’ll continue what’s working and fix what’s not” should reassure many Independents who twice elected Charlie Baker.
In addition to the A.G. curse, Healey will have to puncture the centuries-long hold that men have had on the Corner Office. She seems poised to do just that. In addition to running effectively a large complex organization and inspiring a loyal staff, her sparkly personality, intelligence, accomplishments and energy are clear assets. She is a great campaigner. People love her story of how, after graduating from Harvard, where she co-captained the women’s basketball team, she played professionally in Austria for two years. The image of Healey spinning a basketball at the tip of her forefinger plays well across the political spectrum.
It doesn’t hurt that Healey already has a $3.7 million war chest. She raised another $140,000 by mid afternoon on the day of her early-morning announcement. Her fundraising has dwarfed the other Democratic candidates Danielle Allen, a Harvard professor, and Sonia Chang-Diaz, a state senator. Former state Senator Ben Downing has already dropped out of the race due to lack of funds.
I’ve not been impressed watching Danielle Allen, whose televised interviews amount to little more than bromides about the future of democracy, with nothing to suggest she could run the state. Chang-Diaz is a more credible candidate and entered the race early, when it still looked as if Charlie Baker would run for reelection. As such, she seems to have attracted many of the progressives who helped Ed Markey defeat Joe Kennedy for Senate. And Ayanna Pressley’s unseating traditional liberal Mike Capuano for Congress reminds us that youthful enthusiasm and under-the-radar social media activists should not be underestimated in this upcoming race. But there’s also a question whether Chang-Diaz may suffer for the backlash against the left wing of the party, which, I believe, has cost the Biden administration support among Independents and moderates.
The winner of the September primary will likely face Republican Geoff Diehl, a former state rep who failed in his bid to defeat Elizabeth Warren for U.S. Senate, and who is the Massachusetts face of Donald Trump and his Big Lie effort to overturn the 2020 Presidential election. Not a popular position in the Bay State.
If history is an indicator, the September Democratic primary will be determinative. But it’s a long slog from here to September. I’m not a reliable predictor of political outcomes, but I can’t help feeling that, while it’s too early to begin measuring for drapes in the corner office, Maura Healey may well be making history this year.