At a speech in downtown Boston today, Congressman Steve Lynch tried to push economic issues to the forefront of the race for John Kerry's former US Senate Seat — saying that, if elected, he'll be the only member of the Senate with a firsthand understanding of the struggles of the working class.
"I'm not saying that every United State Senator needs to have worked for a living," Lynch told a appreciative crowd of building-trades workers gathered on the Rose Kennedy Greenway over the lunch hour. "All I'm saying is that just one...at least least one US Senator should be able to say, 'I worked for a living. I strapped a pair of work boots on every day."
"I'll pledge to you that I'll be the person talking about where the jobs are going to come from for the next generation," Lynch added. "I'll be the one on the floor of the Senate talking about the right of people to have unemployment benefits when they get thrown out of work.
"Wall Street's at an all-time record, so what we have now is inequality. We have inequality of opportunity for a lot of people, and we also see inequality in power."
Lynch's campaign billed his speech today as an "[A]ddress to voters on the changing dynamics of poverty and power." That description — and the fact that Lynch spoke at Dewey Square Park, the site of Occupy Boston's encampment in 2011 — hinted that Lynch might seek align himself with the Occupy movement.
In his speech, however, Lynch didn't mention Occupy Boston at all. Afterward, asked if his campaign's selection of Dewey Square had been coincidental, Lynch smiled and said that it had.
"I didn't pick the spot," he explained. "We're trying to get construction workers here, and they said, 'Well, this is a good spot, sort of in-between all these [construction] jobs. They only get a half hour for lunch."
Lynch's push to cast himself as the embodiment of blue-collar credibility is a gamble. The arguments Lynch made today — e.g., that the economic recovery has left working-class Americans behind — could help drive his union supporters to the polls in large numbers. That, in turn, could be a major asset in what's likely to be a low-turnout primary election. But Lynch's pitch could also alienate more affluent white-collar liberals, who may resent the implication that they've never really worked for a living.
And there's no guarantee that the majority of union members who vote in the April 30 Democratic primary will back Lynch. While he's received dozens of endorsements, his Democratic opponent, Congressman Ed Markey has been able to pry away key union support — winning his own endorsements from, among others, the Service Employees International Union, which has 85,000 members in Massachusetts, and the 110,000-member Massachusetts Teachers Association.
Asked about Lynch's characterizations of the race, Markey campaign spokeswoman Giselle Barry responded with the following statement: "Ed Markey worked and paid his own way through college, and has a 100 percent rating from the AFL-CIO. He has always stood up for working men and women in Massachusetts, which is why he's endorsed by the more than 260,000 members of unions such as SEIU, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and AFSCME. In the Senate, Ed will continue to fight for raising the minimum wage, the right to organize, and protecting worker pensions."