Women on the verge

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  August 20, 2008

“We don’t just want to be bitter, scorned women,” says Feeney.

After Clinton had conceded, members of the group gathered at Zucker’s Brookline home in late June for a planned hour-and-a-half get-together that lasted three times that long. According to those who were there, almost everyone wanted to keep the movement going, post-Clinton, to address the sexism confronting women in politics. At one point, Pines looked at several of them with startled amusement and asked: “When did you become feminists?”

The group includes four state senators, including Senate president Murray; seven state representatives; Feeney; Sheriff Andrea Cabral; and five former office holders, including former treasurer Shannon O’Brien and former lieutenant governor Evelyn Murphy. Add to that Angela Menino, wife of the Boston mayor; top-level funders, such as Lee, real estate tycoon Elaine Schuster, and investment banker Shanti Fry; several members of the Patrick administration; and plenty of other crucial organizers and activists.

Several state-politics observers of both sexes say that if those and other women in the party unite in purpose, and can work effectively together, they could become one of the most potent forces in state politics.

Kerry, in a recent meeting with members of the Zucker group, expressed that fear, according to one participant: “He said, ‘Are you telling me that, if there is a woman running, you’ll be with her?’ ” It is just beginning to dawn on some local pols what would happen if women made a concerted effort to back only other women.

Not in lockstep
That is all assuming, of course, that they can work together. In the past, these women have not all supported other women within the Democratic Party — including each other. Murray actively supported Tom Reilly for attorney general against Pines. Cabral supported Tim Murray for lieutenant governor against Deb Goldberg and Andrea Silbert. Goldberg supported Steve Grossman for governor against O’Brien. Michal Regunberg supported John Silber for governor against Murphy in 1990. All these women are now part of the Zucker group.

In fact, prominent women in state Democratic circles have seldom rallied collectively around one of their own — which, some argue, has contributed to a long list of losing efforts, including Cheryl Jacques’s bid for Congress in 2001; Susan Tracy and Marjorie Clapprood’s try for Congress in 1998; and Rosaria Salerno, Peggy Davis Mullen, and Maura Hennigan’s campaigns for mayor of Boston.

Political expediency has often led women to support the behind-the-scenes power brokers — who, Goldberg says, are almost all men, and will continue to be until women are willing to buck the system. She and many of the other Zucker-group women would like to see that change. “Clinton has ignited a sisterhood that is willing to take more risks on behalf of helping women seek office,” says Goldberg.

But some of those well-seasoned in the political game — with all the alliances that entails — don’t see it that way. Diane Saxe, a Clinton delegate to the Denver convention, says that she would be with Democrat Tim Murray in a hypothetical race for governor against Coakley. Joan Menard, state senator and former state party chair, supported former State Senate president Tom Birmingham in the 2002 gubernatorial primary against O’Brien, and has no plans to specifically support women for office as a result of her experience supporting Clinton. “You choose a candidate that you think is best,” says Menard.

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