On Thursday, Elizabeth Warren and the other freshmen took the oath of office for the United States Senate at the Capitol. Yesterday, Senator Warren (that's still so good to say!) held a re-enactment of that ceremony at Roxbury Community College in Boston. I was able to attend and had so much fun I wanted to share it with all of you who supported Elizabeth's campaign but live far from Massachusetts. To see some of what I saw, come beneath the orange croissant.
It was no accident that the event was held at Roxbury Community College. The school is located in Roxbury, a largely African-American section of Boston, and its student body is more than half African-American and Latino. In choosing that venue, Senator Warren wanted to stress (1) that investing in all of our people through strong public education is vital, and (2) that we must remember all of our communities. Senator Warren won overwhelmingly in Boston, and virtually all of Massachusetts's cities. Following a December "victory tour" in which she held events across the state to thank her supporters and volunteers, Senator Warren is showing that she does not take that support for granted and has not forgotten the people who voted for her and labored on her behalf.
Holding the event at RCC underscored the difference between having Senator Warren and now ex-Senator Scott Brown. In late September Scott Brown declined to appear at a candidate's forum at RCC sponsored by the New England Area Conference (NEAC) and community organizations including: ABCD (Action for Boston Community Development), the Black Ministerial Alliance, Community Change, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, the Madison Park Development Corporation, the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMLEO), MassVote and Oiste. Senator Warren and a number of other candidates attended.
RCC also is moving forward with new leadership after its previous president and many trustees resigned following a scandal concerning the administration's failure to respond appropriately to allegations of sexual harassment, and systematic misrepresentation of crime data on and around the campus. Senator Warren's coming there shows a dedication to RCC and a determination, on the part of Massachusetts Democrats, to make sure it will be all it should be as a school.
Before the ceremony began, a jazz band kept things lively. We first heard from a very impressive young man named Kevin Small, an RCC student, and then from the school's interim President, Dr. Linda Edmonds Turner. They were followed by a very cute group of Girl Scouts from Cohasset, a well-to-do suburb on the South Shore (I got married there!) leading the Pledge of Allegiance and an extremely talented 13-year-old girl from Southampton, Mass. who hit the national anthem out of the park.
A very touching invocation by Rev. Miniard Culpepper, pastor of the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Dorchester, followed. He asked the audience to bow their heads and hold hands, and prayed for Senator Warren and all of our officials to use their talents and positions for the common good. I am not particularly religious but this was like the prose version of a good gospel song: stirring and uplifting. The choruses of "Amen" punctuating the invocation gave a clue to how ebullient this crowd was. I would guess well over a thousand people came out. The auditorium was full, with every seat taken and people standing in the aisles. I later learned there was an overflow room with a TV feed that Senator Warren visited to say hello after the ceremony.
On to the politicians. A good number of big players in Massachusetts were there. The crowd went wild for the introduction of Senator John Kerry (whose presence came as a surprise to many) and Senator Warren. They entered from the back and worked their way to the stage down the aisle, shaking hands and hugging the whole way. Then a similar introduction for Justice Elena Kagan of the Supreme Court. Justice Kagan, Senator Warren's former colleague and boss at Harvard Law School, was there to administer the oath on stage. Her presence was particularly sweet. During the debates Senator Warren criticized Ex-Senator Brown for voting against the confirmation of Justice Kagan, a "pro-choice woman from Massachusetts." Brown, who became increasingly churlish as the campaign wore on, retorted, "Yeah, sorry, I didn't vote for your boss."
The first speaker among the politicians was Sheriff Andrea Cabral of Suffolk County (Boston's county). Sheriff Cabral, of Cape Verdean and African-American descent, is the first woman sheriff in Massachusetts history. It was fitting that she be on hand to welcome Senator Warren, the first woman senator from Massachusetts. Sheriff Cabral's 2004 primary victory over Steve Murphy, a more conservative Irish Catholic Democrat, was heralded as a big marker on the road to a "new Boston." Ironically, Murphy (the president of the Boston City Council) also was at yesterday's event. As in the 2004 voting, he sat just behind Sheriff Cabral.
Sheriff Cabral, who has been named state Director of Public Safety by Governor Deval Patrick, noted that Senator Warren likely will not be the junior Senator from Massachusetts for long, given President Obama's nomination of John Kerry to be Secretary of State. She also noted, in introducing the governor and noting the four Congressmen from Massachusetts on the stage to her left, that Massachusetts chooses wisely (most of the time) and will lead the nation forward as it has done in the past.
A number of speakers, including Senator Warren, paid tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy and his legacy. Senator Kerry said that most of us would give anything for him still to be junior senator to Ted Kennedy.
The ceremony concluded with a blessing from Rev. Sarai Rivera, a pastor and member of the Worcester City Council. She spoke of the need to overcome the shallowness of individualistic thinking and work toward a stronger community. A reception in the school's cafeteria followed.
As happy as I was to be in my seat some twenty rows up, it would have been very interesting to be on the stage, where much political intrigue must have been brewing. Just-departed Rep. Barney Frank was in attendance, as were Congressmen Ed Markey, Mike Capuano and Steve Lynch. We may be seeing much more of those names in the months to come, as we determine who will replace Senator Kerry when he moves to Foggy Bottom.
Under a Massachusetts law passed by the Democratic legislature in 2004 (when the concern was that Senator Kerry would resign to become President and then-Gov. Mitt Romney would appoint a Republican to the final four years of his Senate term), the Governor will appoint an interim Senator, but the remainder of Kerry's term must be filled by special election within about 6 months of the vacancy. When Senator Kennedy died, Gov. Patrick said he would only appoint an interim Senator who would not run in the special election, on the theory that you could not run in special election and learn to be an effective U.S. Senator at the same time. He has indicated he will do the same if Senator Kerry resigns in the next few weeks.
On Friday, Rep. Frank (who has said he will not run in the special election) told a local TV show he had asked Governor Patrick to appoint him as interim Senator. He said that, in the wake of the New Year's deal on the "fiscal cliff" pushing the sequester back a couple of months, that the coming budget battle will be among the most important fights in U.S. history and he thought he could help, given his experience in Congress and financial expertise. Governor Patrick, asked later in the day if he would have preferred Barney keep that quiet, said "With Congressman Frank, would it really have mattered what I preferred?" On Saturday, they shared the stage and spent quite a while chatting alone before and after the event.
As many of you know, Rep. Ed Markey already has announced that he'll run in the special election for Senator Kerry's seat. Markey, the dean of the Massachusetts U.S. House delegation (first elected to the House in 1976) and a champion of addressing climate change, has won the endorsement of Senator Kerry, Senator Kennedy's wife Vicki, and the DSCC. That prompted Rep. Capuano to say that the party elites didn't support him for Congress or Mayor of Somerville either, and, if he runs, he'll go from the "streets up" rather than the top down. Some of his friends in the press have picked up the theme.
My view is that, if he wants to run, he better announce soon. And I hope there is not a negative and divisive primary. Capuano (ironically then endorsed by Ed Markey) lost in the 2009 primary to state AG Martha Coakley, who was eventually defeated by Scott Brown. Capuano went pretty hard after Coakley in 2009 and many of his supporters sat out the special election when he lost.
Anyway, yesterday there were Markey and Capuano sitting on either side of Rep. Frank. And before the event, they were on stage, not ten feet apart, shaking hands with people. I didn't see them talking to each other.