EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 18, 2012

John Durkin, victor in close NH Senate race, dies at 76

By Holly Ramer Associated Press
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — CONCORD, N.H. — Former U.S. Sen. John Durkin, a New Hampshire Democrat who won his seat in 1975 in one of the closest elections in Senate history, died Tuesday. He was 76.

Barry Conway, commandant of the New Hampshire Veterans Home, said Durkin died at Franklin Regional Hospital following a brief illness. Durkin, a senator from 1975 to 1980, had been living at the home since March 2011.

Durkin was elected to the Senate on Sept. 16, 1975, after a long fight that wound its way from New Hampshire to Washington and back again. He told The Associated Press in a 2008 interview that he wouldn’t wish the experience on his worst enemy. “I’d much rather have read about it than have lived it,” he said.

The initial vote tally in November 1974 showed Republican U.S. Rep. Louis Wyman winning by 335 votes. A recount put Durkin up by 10 votes, prompting an appeal to the state Ballot Law Commission, which was charged with making decisions on write-ins, strangely marked ballots and voter intentions. The panel argued about whether a vote for “crooks” should be counted for Durkin or Wyman; it ended up being thrown out.

After the commission ruled that Wyman won by two votes, Durkin appealed to the U.S. Senate, which handed the matter to its rules committee. But the committee sent it back to the full Senate. After 30 days of discussion, 32 roll call votes and a record-setting six cloture votes to cut off debate, the Senate declared the seat vacant on July 30, 1975, and returned the race to New Hampshire for a Sept. 16 runoff. Durkin won by 27,000 votes and was sworn in two days later.

Durkin, who had fought the idea of holding a new election, said his then-8-year-old daughter helped change his mind.

“She said, ‘Dad, don’t you realize they can’t make their mind up about anything?’” Durkin recalled in 2008. “When the kids realize it, I thought I had to do something.”

Wyman later became a judge and died in 2002. Durkin was defeated in 1980 by Republican Warren Rudman. He ran again in 1990 but lost to Republican Bob Smith. In later years, he worked as an attorney in Manchester and Washington.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said Durkin was a longtime friend of hers as well as a friend to “all working men and women in New Hampshire.”

“John was a colorful and authentic public servant, and I will miss his quick wit and dedication to serving the underdog,” she said.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the entire Durkin family.”

Durkin was born March 29, 1936, and grew up in a Democratic family in Brookfield, Mass., a Republican mill town. He graduated from Holy Cross College in 1959, spent two years in the U.S. Navy and earned a law degree from Georgetown University Law School in 1965. Durkin moved to New Hampshire the following year to become an assistant attorney general and was named insurance commissioner two years later. He held that position for five years.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who currently holds the seat Durkin had, said the 1974 race will remain one of the more compelling chapters in New Hampshire history.

“I join citizens across New Hampshire in mourning the loss of Sen. John Durkin. From the Navy, to state government, to Capitol Hill, he devoted much of his life to public service,” she said.