Concern there might be an uncontested race for a rare opening for a state Senate seat in western Massachusetts quickly evaporated this week. In the wake of the resignation of Stan Rosenberg, at least four people are now running to succeed the Amherst Democrat.
Politics abhors a vacuum. So, when a longtime incumbent surrenders a seat it typically sets off a scramble by ambitious politicians, activists, and idealists looking to climb up the career ladder or make a mark in public service.
Look no further than the 1st Franklin District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives where eight Democrats are running to succeed State Rep. Stephen Kulik, who is retiring after a quarter- century representing the rural district on Beacon Hill. When Ellen Story retired after 25 years in the House, six Democrats ran in 2016 for the Amherst-based seat.
But Rosenberg’s resignation –the result of a devastating ethics investigation into abuses allegedly committed by his husband – came three days after it was too late to file nomination papers to run for the seat.
Prior to Rosenberg’s downfall, only one person, Chelsea Kline, an activist from Northampton, had launched a campaign to challenge the 27-year incumbent. Now, she is left as the only candidate whose name will be on the September primary ballot.
"I would say to anyone thinking of running 'come on in the water is just fine'," Kline said in an interview the day after Rosenberg announced his resignation. She vowed to not take any vote for granted.
Concerned about the potential for an uncontested race, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz appealed to legislative leaders for a two-week extension of the filing deadline for candidates, but to no avail.
" At this point there is no recourse, so we have to move forward and go with the process that is in place right now," said Narkewicz.
Three people say they will mount write-in campaigns to try to secure the Democratic nomination in the Hampshire, Franklin, and Worcester Senate District.
Two of the candidates, Steven Connor and Ryan O’Donnell, had been running in another race. Both were candidates for the 1st Hampshire District House Seat that had been held by the late Peter Kocot.
Connor, a Northampton native and longtime veterans’ services director, said switching races just made sense to him.
" I really had to think about it," said Connor. " It felt emotionally really important for me to be with the people I've been with, the families I've served from Amherst into Franklin County and Greenfield."
O’Donnell, the Northampton City Council President, said he is undaunted by the logistical challenge of a write-in campaign in a district made up of 24 municipalities.
" The political risks to me are less than the democratic risks of not having an election for state senate," O'Donnell said. " We have not really had a contested election for this office for many many years."
Dave Murphy, an attorney in eastern Massachusetts and a former legislative aid to U.S Senator Ted Kennedy, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette he is planning to move back to Amherst, where he last lived in the 1990s, to run for Rosenberg’s former Senate seat as a write-in candidate.
Springfield-based political consultant Tony Cignoli, who has managed 11 write-in campaigns in western Massachusetts during the last 30 years, said it is not as difficult as some make it out to be.
"If you've got good ward captains and a good campaign manager who has got somebody in place in each of those cities and towns who is responsible for getting out the vote and making sure voters know how they go about voting for you, it can be done," said Cignoli.
Another reason why a write-in campaign could succeed, according to Cignoli, is the demographics of the district.
" It is highly educated, highly activated," said Cignoli. " These are folks who are very very very engaged."
In order to win the Democratic nomination, a write-in candidate must have a minimum of 300 votes.
A Republican, or independent, could also qualify to appear on the November ballot for the senate seat with a winning write-in campaign that surpasses the 300 vote threshold.