Boss Tolman

Brighton's Steven Tolman has wrapped up the battle to be the next president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, as the Globe and others reported yesterday. Tolman's rival to succeed Robert Haynes, Tim Sullivan, bowed out of the race once it was clear that Tolman had the votes locked up for the October convention vote.

I spoke to Tolman, Sullivan, and others recently, for an item that had not yet run and is now obsolete. But a few thoughts from those conversations and my own observations:

--Tolman is very much a union guy, having been in the movement since 1972 and once serving as New England division chair of the Transportation Communication International Union. I felt in our conversation that heading the state's largest labor organization was exciting to him, and almost a little awe-inspiring.

--Tolman, currently assistant majority leader, was rising in the state senate. He is much respected by the newer, progressive senators, and also works well with the more established hierarchy -- as a result, he stood a very legitimate chance of someday becoming senate president.

--Giving that up isn't easy for Tolman; in the senate he can influence a wide range of policy. He has particularly advocated on substance abuse (he chaired that committee for a stretch), and his colleagues say he'll be missed on that and other issues. However, the AFL-CIO position is arguably more politically powerful than even a state senator in leadership. The Massachusetts AFL-CIO is an umbrella for more than 750 unions, representing some 400,000 workers -- including state and municipal workers, nurses, teachers, electrical workers, and plenty more. Many Beacon Hill insiders considered Haynes one of the most important political figures in the state for a while. With Tolman's great relationships in the statehouse, he could be considerably more influential than Haynes. (I would also suggest that as a public face of the labor movement in the state, Tolman will be very difficult for opponents to demonize.)

--Sullivan, just 31 and the organization's current legislative and communications director, had been running a strong campaign since the moment Haynes announced his retirement in late May -- and immediately endorsed Sullivan. The largest local, AFSCME Council 93, was with Sullivan. Very few people could have beaten him -- which of course is why many of his opponents begged Tolman to get in the race.

--Tolman has promised to resign his senate seat after the October vote, if he won. (This may embarrass Dorchester state rep Marty Walsh, who continues to serve as legislator since becoming president of the Boston Building Trades Council.) Potential candidates for his seat have remained extremely deferential about the situation, refusing to say whether they might be interested until they knew whether Tolman would actually win. That floodgate can now open.

--Tolman is the longest-serving of the six state senators who represent portions of Boston; when he leaves, Jack Hart, senator since 2002, will be the new dean of that delegation. Second? Believe it or not, Anthony Petruccelli, who earned his seat in a 2007 special election. Since then, Sonia Chang-Diaz defeated Dianne Wilkerson; Sal DiDomenico succeeded Anthony Galluccio, who resigned; and Michael Rush won his seat after Marian Walsh chose not to run for re-election last year.

--The district includes parts of Allston-Brighton, the Back Bay, and Kenmore Square in Boston, as well as parts of Cambridge, Watertown, and Belmont. Tolman says that a slight majority of the voters in the district are in Boston; however, prior to Tolman the seat was usually held by someone north of the river. There is a good chance it will go back there now -- with the important caveat that the district might be substantially redrawn in the ongoing process.

--Local pols are hard-pressed to identify likely Bostonian contenders for the seat. The top pick is state rep Kevin Honan, who would almost surely have Tolman's backing if he runs. But most people I talk to think Honan is happy in the House, where he is chair of the Housing Committee. Honan wouldn't touch the subject with a ten-foot pole when I spoke with him about it, but I have a gut feeling he'll at least take a strong look at it. Brighton rep Mike Moran is likely to stay in the House, where he's rising quickly (and he'll still be in the public crosshairs over redistricting, which he co-chairs). The only Boston city councilor who lives in the district is Mark Ciommo, who sounded very unlikely to run when I broached the possibility with him. There surely could be others who emerge, but no obvious powerhouses.

--Most of the best-known Cambridge pols live in DiDomenico's district (although that can be worked around). I tried to prod councilor Leland Chung, who does live in the district, into expressing interest, but he wouldn't bite.

--Belmont state rep William Brownsberger, a feisty liberal, called me back from his cross-country bicycle ride, which apparently is how he enjoys his legislative recess. He deferred on the hypothetical senate race, but I have to think if he was seriously interested he'd be in the district in his spare time, not in Montana. Watertown, which I think of as a political mini-powerhouse, doesn't have any obvious heavy hitters for the race -- unless Rachel Kaprelian or Peter Koutoujian [Correction: Koutoujian lives in Waltham.] are sick of the RMV and sheriff headaches, respectively. Rep John Hecht is a possibility, but I've heard that freshman rep John Lawn may be the dark horse.


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