Massachusetts's second-largest city has always been Boston's ugly step-sister, ignored and marginalized by the state's political elites. Tell a Bay State political veteran that you're writing about Worcester's political power, and the first reaction, more often than not, is a hearty laugh.
But upon reflection, most of those apparent skeptics actually agree; as odd as it may seem — "Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it?" says one decades-long Massachusetts operative — Worcester is becoming a political epicenter of the state.
Tim Murray, the city's former mayor, became the first statewide elected official from Worcester in more than a half-century when he was sworn in as lieutenant governor in January 2007. He may soon be joined by Guy Glodis, the Worcester County sheriff who some consider the front-runner for state auditor. Plus, Karyn Polito, state representative from neighboring Shrewsbury, will be the GOP nominee for state treasurer.
And, after a long history of Boston heavyweights in Congress, from Speakers Tip O'Neill and John McCormack to Rules Committee chair Joe Moakley, it's central Massachusetts that will soon have power in Washington. Worcester's Jim McGovern is next in line to chair the Rules Committee — considered by some the most powerful position after Speaker — and Richard Neal, whose district includes Worcester's southern suburbs, is said to be the likely Ways and Means chair in 2011 if Democrats retain their majority.
Observers credit this new political muscle, in part, for an impressive list of projects forming a rebirth of Worcester. A $120 million deal with CSX will, if all goes according to plan, bring fast rail service. The transfer of Worcester Regional Airport from local control to the Massachusetts Port Authority could dramatically increase service in and out of the city. And there are other development initiatives, including the just-started CitySquare project, the renovated Hanover Theatre, and a rejuvenated Union Station/Canal District.
This emergence has been partially due to the westward shift in the state's population. But even more important, observers say, has been a generation of pols — officeholders and operatives — who have quietly but energetically built their own, and one another's, careers.
That generation is still rising. McGovern, the senior statesman of the group, is just 50. Murray is 42, Glodis is 41, Polito is 43, and mayor Joe O'Brien is 44. They may not have the look of political dynasty — the nebbishy McGovern, boyish Murray, and pudgy Glodis won't remind you of a Joe Kennedy or Mitt Romney. But you'd be hard-pressed to think of five Bostonians in that age range likely to wield more political clout in the coming decade.
Winning from outside
The new power of Worcester made itself clear when Murray ran for LG in 2006. The conventional wisdom said that he had little chance to upset Deb Goldberg, the Brookline candidate backed by most of the Boston-area Democratic establishment. Although the population has been gradually shifting westward, there were simply too many votes on the Boston side of Route 128, people said, for a Worcester candidate to win statewide.
After all, we had seen this race before — in 1986, when Worcester's Gerard D'Amico lost the Democratic LG primary to Evelyn Murphy of Brookline.