By Steve LeBlanc
---- — BOSTON — In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic congressman Edward Markey has tried to take his Republican opponent’s chief criticism of him — that he’s an entrenched Washington insider — and turn it on its head.
Markey has argued that while he may not be the freshest face in Massachusetts politics, he’s served long enough in the U.S. House to know the ins and outs of Washington and can use that to the state’s advantage.
When Republican Gabriel Gomez, a businessman and former Navy SEAL, tried to portray Markey’s 36-year tenure in the House as ineffective during their first debate in the special election, he charged that Markey hadn’t authored any laws in the past two decades.
Markey, 66, quickly ticked off bills he’d worked on that were signed into law, including legislation to help those with diseases such as Parkinson’s stay at home and another designed to find a path for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
“That’s now the law. That’s my bill,” Markey said, adding that he also “passed a bill that created an on-ramp to the wireless world for the deaf and the blind in our country. And why did I do that? I did it because of the Perkins School for the Blind.”
On the campaign trail, Markey’s supporters have helped drive home the virtues of experience.
At a rally in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, Democrat Thomas Menino, the city’s longest-serving mayor, defended Markey’s long record, saying he’s helped the economic recovery.
“They criticize him for being in office so long,” Menino said, joking that “being in office a long time is a good thing.”
Longevity hasn’t been Markey’s only sales pitch in the run-up to Tuesday’s election to fill the Senate seat John Kerry vacated to become U.S. secretary of state.
He’s drawn sharp distinctions between his positions and those of Gomez on gun control, health care, abortion rights, the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline and corporate tax policies — in each case casting Gomez as aligned with conservative Republicans.
Markey also has enlisted his party’s heavy hitters, including President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton.
Recently, Obama traveled to Boston to give Markey a full-throated endorsement.
“Here in Massachusetts, you have a long history of sending smart, tough, hardworking leaders to the Senate,” Obama said. “Nobody is better suited to carry on that legacy than Ed Markey.”
Markey, who introduced Obama, again portrayed Gomez as beholden to his party.
“My opponent says he is a new kind of Republican, but he backs the oldest, stalest Republican ideas from the past,” Markey said.
Casting himself in a long line of Massachusetts Democrats is a natural instinct for Markey, an Irish Catholic kid from Malden who grew up in the 1960s enthralled with the rise of President John F. Kennedy.
“People said he could not win that because he was Irish and Catholic and from Boston,” Markey said in an interview. “That was a very powerful message that said Irish Catholics were not fully accepted in the country.”
Kennedy’s win “not only inspired me but inspired a whole generation to think of public service,” Markey added.
Markey came from humble roots. His father drove a truck for the Hood Milk Co. Markey attended Malden Catholic High School and helped pay his way through Boston College by driving an ice cream truck. He was the first in his family to graduate from college.
While still in law school, Markey was elected to the Massachusetts House in 1972.
When he bucked the powerful Democratic House speaker by pushing through a bill abolishing a system that allowed Massachusetts judges to maintain private law practices, he found his desk reassigned to a hallway.
Markey, then running for Congress, seized the opportunity. He launched an ad that showed him standing before his desk using the tagline: “The bosses can tell me where to sit, but nobody tells me where to stand.”
Markey took his seat in Congress in 1977 and was assigned to committees overseeing health care and energy by a fellow Massachusetts Democrat, former U.S. House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill.
For the next three decades, Markey built a legislative portfolio that included work on energy, telecommunications, national security and the environment.
He wrote legislation to set minimum safety standards for the construction and operation of liquefied natural gas facilities and helped persuade then-President Clinton to block the importation of inexpensive Chinese semi-automatic assault weapons.
He also pressed for the breakup of the monopoly that AT&T Corp. had on phone service, wrote legislation to increase competition in the cable television industry and collaborated on the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Markey also has fended off critics who point to the home he owns in Chevy Chase, Md., to suggest that he’s gone from political firebrand to Washington insider. But Markey insists his true home is his family’s house in Malden.
Markey and his wife bought the house in 2001 following his father’s death.
“I have lived in the same house in Malden for more than 60 years,” he said.
NAME: Edward Markey AGE: 66; born July 11, 1946 EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree from Boston College, 1968; juris doctorate from Boston College Law School, 1972. CAREER: Markey served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1973 to 1977. He entered Congress in 1977, where he represents the state's 5th Congressional District. He is the ranking Democratic member of the Natural Resources Committee, which he has served on since first winning a seat in Congress. From 2007 to 2010, Markey served as chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. During the 111th Congress from 2009 to 2011, Markey served as chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee. For 20 years, Markey also served as chairman or ranking Democratic member of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. From 2003 to 2009, Markey served as a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee. FAMILY: Lives in Malden with his wife, Susan Blumenthal. QUOTE: "I went to Congress aided by the values of my hometown of Malden and worked every day fighting those fights that the people of Malden and across Massachusetts would fight if they were there."