With Viral 'Mass. Liberal' Ad, Sciortino Hopes History Repeats Itself

Carl Sciortino, in a screenshot of his much-discussed campaign ad
Carl Sciortino, in a screenshot of his much-discussed campaign ad

Carl Sciortino is hoping history repeats itself.

It was an imaginative TV ad aired nearly 40 years ago that helped vault a young, virtually unknown state representative out of a crowded pack and into Congress.

That young legislator was Edward Markey.

Sciortino is banking on his own clever ad doing for him what Markey’s ad did for the now-U.S. senator back in 1976. The parallels are similar.

Just like this year, in 1976 there was a rare vacancy for what was then called the 7th Congressional District. Democratic U.S. Rep. Torbert Macdonald had died while in office, after serving in Congress for 21 years. A dozen candidates got themselves on the ballot, including the 29-year-old Markey.

Markey was a back-bencher in the Massachusetts Legislature when he threw his hat into the contest to succeed Macdonald. Not only was he young, he was also relatively inexperienced, having served in the Legislature for only three-and-a-half years.

But during those years, Markey managed to tick off the then-House Speaker Tom McGee, a gruff ex-Marine from Lynn. McGee tried to punish the upstart Markey by stripping him of his committee assignments and moving his desk out into the hall in the bowels of the State House. That punishment was probably the best thing that happened to Markey’s political ambitions, and set the stage for the TV ad that got him notice — and votes.

According to a Nov. 22, 1976, article in The Harvard Crimson:

Markey's one television commercial opened with a narration of the desk-in-the-hall scene along with a shot of Markey standing in front of a desk placed incongruously in a State House corridor. At the end of the spot, Markey folded his arms across his chest, looking stern and tough. "They may tell me where to sit," he said, "but nobody tells me where to stand.

Fast forward to 2013. There’s another congressional vacancy because of Markey’s election to the U.S. Senate, and another crowded field of candidates vying for the opening.

The race has been relatively low-key, with the field made up predominantly of similar progressive Democratic candidates. But Sciortino, a five-term state representative from Medford, has been able to get a lot of national attention with his ad featuring the openly gay Sciortino appearing with his admitted Tea Party dad. The younger Sciortino trumpets his liberal bona fides, while the elder Sciortino rolls his eyes and plants his face in his hands.

Political observers say the Sciortino ad is one of the best political advertisements in years.

Whether Sciortino’s ad is enough to put him over the top remains to be seen. It could bring him some financial support, enabling him to get the spot off the Internet and on commercial TV closer to the Oct. 15 primary.

And he’s not the only candidate in the race to give a parent some on-camera facetime. State Sen. Katherine Clark offered up a more-traditional spot featuring her mother.

This program aired on September 19, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Steve Brown

Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



More from WBUR

Listen Live