Steve LeBlanc Associated Press
---- — BOSTON — Republican Michael Sullivan was born one of seven children to a Boston Irish family, leaving college to take a job on the factory floor of a local razor company.
But Sullivan was also determined to get ahead, eventually reaching the upper echelons of law enforcement, serving as district attorney, U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, and director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Along the way he would help investigate both the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the failed attempt to blow up an airliner using shoe bombs.
Now Sullivan, one of three Republican candidates in Massachusetts’ special U.S. Senate election, is trying to convince GOP voters he’s the true conservative in the race.
The 58-year-old Sullivan was born in Boston’s rough-and-tumble South End to one of just two Irish Catholic families on his street. His father worked for the phone company and his mother worked part-time as a waitress. The family soon moved to the suburbs.
Sullivan attended Boston College, but left after a year to take a job at the Gillette razor company — a “temporary job” that lasted 16 years.
As he climbed the corporate ranks, Sullivan kept his eyes on another dream, finishing college and getting his law degree from Suffolk University in 1993.
“At some point during the course of my career at Gillette, I really decided I wanted to run for public office,” he said.
He left the company in 1989, opening a small law practice in Holbrook and running for state representative. He was elected in 1990 and re-elected in 1992 and 1994.
When the Plymouth County district attorney died in 1995, former Republican Gov. William Weld tapped Sullivan. He was elected to fill out the rest of the term in 1996 and re-elected in 1998.
“I found the work extremely professionally challenging and rewarding like none other than I’d done up to that point,” Sullivan said.
When the hardscrabble city of Brockton ran out of money for its parks, Sullivan teamed with the local Boys and Girls Club and YMCA to use money seized from drug dealers to keep the parks open.
“The communities who were being most harmed by the drug dealing trade would get the benefit of those resources,” he said. “Parents would feel safe sending their kids to the playgrounds.”
Sullivan also pointed to the successful cold case investigation of the grisly 1977 killing of fourth-grade teacher Ruth Masters in Myles Standish State Forest.
In 2001, Sullivan was asked to take over as U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. His confirmation process dragged on until the Sept. 11 attacks. Within days he was plunged into the massive investigation.
Sullivan said the office didn’t have an antiterrorism task force and “had to create something from scratch.”
“After an event like that you get tens of thousands of leads,” He said. “You have to look at every single thing that comes in.”
Sullivan said his office also worked with Massachusetts family members of the victims, at one point holding a “sad and somber” meeting with hundreds of survivors.
Just months after the attacks, Sullivan was on a skiing vacation when he received reports of a passenger attempting to blow up a Paris-to-Miami American Airlines flight that was diverted to Logan International Airport.
Sullivan’s office led the prosecution of Richard Reid, a British citizen who claimed allegiance to Osama bin Laden, for trying to ignite explosives in his shoes.
“We learned who Richard Reid was. We learned about his travel. We learned about the way he tried to prevent people from identifying him as a potential member of al-Qaida,” Sullivan said.
The investigation also led to a co-conspirator, Saajid Badat, later sentenced by a British judge to 13 years in prison.
Sullivan said he traveled to Scotland Yard to try to persuade prosecutors to extradite Badat.
When President George W. Bush was looking for someone to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Sullivan was chosen. He would fill that post for the final two and a half years of the Bush administration.
After leaving public service Sullivan took a job as partner with the Ashcroft Law Firm, founded by former U.S. Attorney John Ashcroft.
Sullivan, who deferred to a network of volunteers to gather the signatures needed to get him on the ballot, has tried to cast himself at the true conservative candidate in Tuesday’s primary.
He describes himself as “pro-life” on abortion and a “traditionalist” on gay marriage.
The Abington resident is also the only candidate to criticize the U.S. Senate for trying to subject more firearms buyers to federal background checks.
Sullivan said he supports making sure all records that identify someone as declared mentally ill are as readily available as criminal history records.
Although Sullivan may be the most familiar name on the Republican ballot, he trails his fellow GOP candidates — Norfolk state representative Daniel Winslow and Cohasset businessman Gabriel Gomez — in fundraising.