After several weeks of strong rumors about popular State Rep. Gene O’Flaherty leaving office, the City was shocked when the rumors actually came to bear Monday afternoon when O’Flaherty’s office confirmed that he will vacate the seat.
Though not confirmed, O’Flaherty will be taking the position of corporate counsel for new Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. He will leave the Legislature within a month’s time, it is believed.
O’Flaherty did not respond in time to comment on his decision to leave.
He has held the seat, which encompasses Chelsea and Charlestown, for 17 years and is the chair of the powerful Judiciary Committee. Many were shocked by his departure because it was widely believed that he had a good shot at becoming Speaker of the House once Bob DeLeo steps away from that position.
That said, O’Flaherty was a tireless and passionate campaigner for Walsh – whose girlfriend works in O’Flaherty’s State House office. He and Walsh both have served in the House for a similar amount of time and have worked closely on several issues.
Naturally, local politics being what it is, the seat hasn’t even lost its warmth and numerous candidates and potential candidates have cropped up.
In Chelsea, a handful of strong potential candidates have emerged, though none have given a definitive commitment at this time.
First among those is real estate professional, former State House staffer and former Chelsea City Councillor Roy Avellaneda.
“All I can say right now is that I am seriously considering it,” he said. “I’m talking right now to people who say they will support me. I still need to talk with my family and close friends. It’s an honor to even be considered as a possible candidate, but in all reality you have to be ready to bring your ‘A’ game to this race because it’s a special election. It’s not like you can pull papers in May and have all summer to get your name out there. It’s a sprint to the finish.”
He said, having served as an aid at the State House, he’s uniquely qualified to make the jump – if he so decides. He said any candidate would have to learn quickly.
“I know the cycle already,” he said. “Anyone who gets elected is going to have a hard time because they’ll be inserted immediately into budget discussions and it will be trial by fire. Normally, a new rep would have an orientation with other new reps, but that won’t happen here. That’s why I’m seriously considering it because I already know these things. I’ve worked at the State House.”
He said he was shocked at O’Flaherty’s departure, saying that there have been many rumors over the last few years about him vacating the seat. Each time, though, O’Flaherty has backed away from such opportunities and indicated he was happy with his job as state rep.
“We’ve heard these rumors before,” said Avellaneda. “It’s quite shocking he’s actually decided to leave. The combination of him leaving and Kathi (Anne Reinstein) leaving is going to be a great loss of institutional knowledge for the City. That vacuum is great and the shoes to fill are great in both cases.”
Veteran Chelsea City Councillor Leo Robinson said this week that he’s thinking seriously about a run for the seat. He said it’s an opportunity that he will look at. Robinson has been on the Chelsea City Council for many years and served as its president several times – most recently in 2012.
“I am looking at this opportunity and seeing if the timing is right for me and my family right now,” he said. “It’s something that I’m seriously thinking about.”
Also, currently Council President Matt Frank said he is also thinking about it, but is really concentrating on his new post as Council President at the moment.
“State rep seats around here don’t open up very often so it is something I’m thinking about,” he said on Wednesday. “On the other hand, I was just elected Council President in Chelsea and I’m busy making sure I get the Council up and running right now. It’s definitely something I’m thinking about, though.”
Others in Chelsea who have been mentioned in political circles, but who have made no public statements yet, are Centro Latino de Chelsea Director Juan Vega, and Chelsea Councillor Clifford Cunningham (a Republican).
On the other side of the bridge, at least three Charlestown residents have also put their hats in the ring for the seat this week too.
Charlestown Democratic Ward Chair Chris Remmes and Dan Ryan, an Aid for U.S. Congressman Michael Capuano, will join former Boston City Council at-Large candidate Jack Kelly in a run for Beacon Hill.
“I plan on being a candidate for State Representative,” said Kelly Wednesday. ” During the city election my campaign was excited to win every precinct in Charlestown and I hope to unite the neighborhood again to represent both Charlestown and Chelsea at the State House.”
As a first time candidate, Kelly had a good showing during last November’s Boston At-Large race. Kelly topped the ticket in Charlestown with 3,696 votes. However it wasn’t enough to catapult him into one of the four At-Large seats. Kelly finished in eighth place citywide with 23,935 votes.
Ryan, who was narrowly defeated by Boston City Councilor Sal LaMattina by 152 votes in 2007 eyed another run for the seat when LaMattina ran for Suffolk County Register of Probate two years ago. However, LaMattina lost that race to Patty Campatelli and remained on the Council – putting Ryan’s aspirations for public office on hold.
Now, with an open seat, it’s time to hit the play button on his political career once more.
“Yes, I intend to run for the Second Suffolk Seat in the Massachusetts House,” said Ryan. “This new era in Boston has produced opportunities for many people. I want to give those public servants who are assuming new roles the time and space they need to transition effectively. In the meantime, I will do what I need to do to answer the call when the opportunity to represent my neighbors presents itself.”
Remmes made no bones about his run, saying on Wednesday that he’s definitely a candidate.
Previously, on Dec. 3, he had formed a committee to look at a run for the seat. That came long before O’Flaherty’s camp had confirmed, or even mentioned, the possibility of the long-time, popular legislator stepping down.
Remmes, 48, said he is wrapping his head around the new race, and has raised a significant amount of money to get a head start.
“I am still wrapping my head around everything that’s happened with Gene leaving the seat,” he said. “It’s now a special election and there’s a lot less time, but I’m a candidate for the seat certainly. Before Gene stepped down, I thought it was time for new leadership in the district, and now that he is leaving, I still believe that.”
Remmes, who is a Realtor and an active member of the Charlestown community, said he has raised $23,450 in just three weeks.
“I’d like to congratulate Rep. O’Flaherty for his service to the district and wish him my very best in his new role serving our great city in the Walsh Administration,” he said. “I look forward to knocking on doors in every neighborhood of the district and having conversations with voters to hear their concerns. I will listen, be responsive, and provide bold, progressive leadership for Charlestown and Chelsea.”
A complication for the seat is that anyone winning the special election would also have to run again this fall – meaning there would have to be two all-out campaigns mounted for the seat in a six-month span. Special election dates are set by House Speaker Bob DeLeo, and a spokesman for his office said on Tuesday that they have made no official announcements on the date.
O’Flaherty has also not set any official date to leave his seat, with only his office confirming that he will leave within a month’s time.