Meehan Pick Kicks Off Race

Now that Marty Meehan is set to take over as Chancellor of UMass Lowell, his congressional seat is up for grabs.

At least eight people from both sides of the political aisle say they plan on running to replace Meehan in the Fifth District . The seat represents areas from Haverhill in the Northeast across Middlesex County to Southwest communities Bolton and Berlin.

Governor Deval Patrick will have between 140 and 165 days to call a special election after Meehan officially resigns from the seat.

WBUR's Fred Thys reports on what lies ahead, both for Meehan at UMass and for the race to replace him in Congress.TEXT OF STORY

FRED THYS: Marty Meehan says quitting Congress is the hardest professional decision he's had to make. He is immersed in work on Capitol Hill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has assigned him to propose new rules for enforcing ethical standards in the House. He's in the final stages of pushing through a lobby reform bill. And he has worked for years, along with Senator Ted Kennedy, and often at odds with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on armoring the Humvees that soldiers use in Iraq. But he says the work at UMass Lowell, which he will take over on July 1st, is equally important. Among that work, he says, is the use of the university to promote nanotechnology.

MARTY MEEHAN: We have a nanomanufacturing center. There are only four nanomanufacturing centers, National Science Foundation centers in the country, and the University of Massachusetts has two of them: Amherst and Lowell. It's just a remarkable accomplishment for the University of Massachusetts, and we have our work cut out for us making that facility world class.

FRED THYS: In December, the University actually eliminated a key position in nanotechnology: that of entrepreneur-in-residence at the university's business incubator. The person who held the job was one of the founders of the state's most promising nanotechnology companies, Konarka, which found a way to quickly imprint photovoltaic cells on plastic, promising the potential of solar power in everything from Army uniforms to cell phones to roof tiles. Meehan's departure from Congress opens up opportunities of a different sort: the first open Congressional seat in Massachusetts since 2001. Susan Tucker is the state senator representing Lawrence, Andover, Dracut, and Tewksbury.

SUSAN TUCKER: For the next several months, the Merrimack Valley is going to be the hotbed of political activity in Massachusetts.

FRED THYS: Tucker is not a candidate, but Nicki Tsongas, the widow of the late Senator Paul Tsongas, is.

NICKI TSONGAS: All the pundits say we have to raise at least a million dollars. That's a lot of money.

FRED THYS: Tsongas worked the press at UMass Lowell yesterday, accompanied by her political consultant, Doug Rubin, the senior strategist for Governor Deval Patrick's victory in November. Tsongas faces a potential political problem in that several years ago, she left Lowell and moved to Charlestown.

NICKI TSONGAS: It was a time in my life I had to sell the big house. My daughters were going to school in Somerville and Cambridge. I wanted them to be able to drop in and out. That time has passed. My home is here. I've spent 34 years here. I work here every day. Most of my friends, my family, my life is here.

FRED THYS: Tsongas says she is now a Lowell resident again. Among her competitors is State Representative Barry Finegold.

BARRY FINEGOLD: I represented three of the communities: Andover, Lawrence, and Tewksbury.

FRED THYS: In all, there are eight candidates from both parties. This being Massachusetts, most of the candidates are Democrats. Senator Stephen Baddour is not running for Meehan's job, but he represents three of the cities and towns in the Fifth Congressional District: Haverhill, Methuen, and Dracut, and handicaps the field.

STEPHEN BADDOUR: You have Eileen Donoghue, who's a city councilor, former mayor of Lowell, who's got a base. You have Nicki Tsongas, who clearly has some name recognition, the Sheriff, you have Sheriff DiPaola running, who's obviously got a feel there, so I think at this point the race is really between those three.

FRED THYS: Governor Patrick must set the election 140 to 165 days from Meehan's resignation. One political strategist in the region, not affiliated with any of the candidates, notes that the date is key, because if it's a short race, Nicki Tsongas stands to gain the most from her high name recognition, but the longer the race goes on, the better the chances of Eileen Donohue, who can build from her base in Lowell. Meehan, one of the architects of campaign finance reform, leaves behind a huge pot of money in his Congressional campaign account: 5.1 million dollars. He says he has to check with the Federal Elections Commission before deciding where he will donate the money. He says as UMass Lowell chancellor, he will not take sides in this race or any other.

This program aired on March 15, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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