Worcester Rising

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  September 3, 2010

But more broadly, McGovern now takes the lead on a range of issues — because he is one of the few with the standing and willingness to oppose his own party leaders. He headed a large group of liberals who nearly succeeded in denying President Barack Obama's request for additional Afghanistan war funding. Now he is even taking on Michelle Obama, drumming up opposition to $2.2 billion for the First Lady's anti-obesity program, which would be taken out of funding for food stamps.

Other Worcesterites moving up the ladder will also likely hold more influential positions, not least because of their relationships with Murray and McGovern. And it's far more than just the locals who are actively seeking to get into their favor. As one Boston political operative says, if you're looking to hitch your wagon to a rising star, Murray and McGovern might be the best bets in the state.

Out of the ashes
That never used to be the case for Worcester pols. For years, Worcester politics was, as in most second-tier cities, a factional battle to be big fish in a small pond. Irish Democrats, like the Early family, did battle with Italians, like D'Amico.

But, just when those pols began to wane, something unexpected happened: Republicans knocked them all out of office.

Republicans took over both Worcester state Senate seats — including the one previously held by D'Amico — in the Bill Weld election of 1990. Two years later, Peter Blute took the region's congressional seat from Joe Early.

The result was a clean slate from which a fresh group of eager Democrats could emerge.

That group, many of them still in their 20s, matured as a force in the campaign of Kevin O'Sullivan, who unsuccessfully challenged Blute in 1994. O'Brien ran the field organization; others on the campaign included not only Murray, but future state legislators Ed Augustus, Jim Leary, and Robert Spellane, and behind-the-scenes operatives like Chris Philbin, McGovern's current chief of staff.

"I never would have predicted that these guys would all have emerged," says O'Sullivan, now president and CEO of Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives. "This new generation is something where the stars have just aligned."

The irony is that this team found its leader not in O'Sullivan, but in the man they helped him beat in the 1994 Democratic primary: McGovern.

McGovern pulled them aboard for his successful 1996 run, and has been a powerful benefactor ever since.

They have also continued to work for and with one another — and can still be found once a week at the same watering hole, the Boynton Restaurant, where they regularly gravitated during those earlier campaigns.

Their relationship with Glodis is also somewhat iffy. He was not part of those early campaigns, and while his circle of operatives and supporters heavily overlaps with theirs, several close Worcester observers say Glodis is actively disliked by many in the Murray-McGovern-O'Brien camp.

Nevertheless, they all claim to be a happy, supportive family; Murray even had Glodis introduce him at his LG kickoff announcement at Mechanics Hall. Some say it's a marriage of convenience: Glodis's political power over Worcester activists, including trade unions, makes him too important an ally. Some predict the rift will become public if, at some point, ambitions run up against each other's — say, if Glodis and Murray both run for governor in 2016.

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