Is Rep. Paul Mark testing waters for higher office run?


BOSTON — Four-term state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, has been quietly exploring his viability as a candidate for higher office, according to Democratic Party insiders who say Mark has been testing his support within the activist community for a run for lieutenant governor, or maybe even governor.

Mark, who was first elected to the House in 2010, was an early and active supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign in 2016 and has been reaching out through at least one associate to Bay State progressives, including some in the Sanders network, to gauge the pros and cons of a statewide campaign.

According to two Democratic activists contacted by Mark's camp, they believe Mark may have initially been looking at the wide open Democratic race for lieutenant governor in 2018, but at some point broadened his thinking to consider the governor's race as well.

"They were originally talking about running for (lieutenant governor) and realized the field running for governor might not be that strong," said one source who requested anonymity to freely discuss private conversations. "I know at some point they moved from looking at lieutenant governor to governor."

Just how serious Mark is about running for high office in the next cycle remains to be seen. Several of his legislative colleagues and Democratic Party officials said they were unaware of Mark's interest in running for governor or lieutenant governor, and it appears his outreach so far has been confined to more progressive operatives who could be helpful to his campaign.

Mark has been in Kentucky for the past week as a participant in the Council of State Governments' Henry Toll Fellowship national leadership development program. He did not return messages seeking comment and his office said they did not have a comment to offer.

Two sources, however, confirmed to the News Service that Chris Cappucci, a Mark advisor, has been reaching out to select people and groups, including some in the labor movement, to get their input on a run for higher office. Cappucci, a legislative aide in Mark's office, has at times both been on Mark's State House payroll or paid by his campaign as a political consultant.

One of the activists who spoke with the News Service said Cappucci had been tasked by Mark to put together a memo detailing how a Mark campaign would be received by people in Democratic political circles.

Though the specific office Mark might be eyeing was not specified in conversations with Cappucci, the source said it was implied that "a more practical decision would be lieutenant governor."

Three Democrats have declared for governor, including former state budget chief Jay Gonzalez of Needham, Newton Mayor Setti Warren and environmental activist Bob Maissie of Somerville, but some of the party's heavyweights have so far steered clear of the race against the popular incumbent Gov. Charlie Baker, including Attorney General Maura Healey.

No Democrats have declared for lieutenant governor, but the Boston Globe reported last week that Quentin Palfrey, a former science and technology policy official in the Obama administration, has also been "courting activists" and publicly confirmed to the newspaper that he's exploring a run.

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Joe Caiazzo, a Democratic consultant and former political director and spokesman for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in Massachusetts, said that the current state of the Democratic gubernatorial field could leave an opening for a candidate like Mark.

Caiazzo worked with Mark on the Sanders campaign, and believes his connections to Sanders' grassroots base and labor could be a compelling starting point. Mark worked his way through college, law school and graduate school as a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

"If he got into the governor's race he would be the only candidate west of 495, the only candidate with a strong labor background, the only candidate with legislative experience, and the only candidate who was outspoken and on board with Bernie right out of the shoot before it was cool," Caiazzo said.

Caiazzo, who is working on Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's re-election campaign in Rhode Island, said he hadn't spoken with Mark about his ambitions. "Whether he's at the top or the bottom of a ticket, he would bring the whole notion that this is not a Boston seat, which you frequently hear when go out west," he said.

Some Democrats who know Mark said they would not be surprised to learn that he has been thinking about higher office, describing him as someone who, despite keeping a relatively low profile on Beacon Hill, can be intense about issues he cares about.

Mark grew up in a blue-collar family in the Berkshires. His father was a member of the Teamsters, and the family fell on hard times during his teenage years when the warehouse where his father worked closed down. Mark, according to his website, worked a number of odd jobs in high schools and eventually landed a position at age 20 with Bell Atlantic.

While working in the electrical union, Mark put himself through school, eventually earning a law degree from Suffolk University and a doctorate from Northeastern University in law and policy. His dissertation was an analysis of labor law reform and why the Employee Free Choice Act would not pass Congress during the 2009-2010 session despite Democrats controlling both the House and Senate.

Mark now chairs the House Redistricting Committee. In 2011, he experienced firsthand the effects of the decennial boundary drawing exercise when he moved his family from Hancock in order to avoid a primary contest against one of his House colleagues after his hometown was drawn into a different district.

Mark moved to Peru and was re-elected to his second term in 2012 representing the 2nd Berkshire district covering 16 communities in Berkshire and Franklin counties.

Several Democrats said Mark took part in a meeting this past spring with veterans of the Sanders campaign in Massachusetts to discuss options for running progressive candidates in 2018 state elections.

At that time, participants said it appears Mark might have been thinking about running for lieutenant governor.

Multiple Democrats pointed as evidence of his ambition to his showing at the Democratic Party Convention in Worcester in June where he and supporters were visible throughout the hall wearing blue "Paul Mark: State Representative" T-shirts.


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