Born July 14, 1953, in Pittsfield and raised in North Adams, current Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakle currently resides in Medford. She received a B.A., cum laude, from Williams College in 1975, and went on to earn a law degree from Boston University School of Law in 1979. After working in private practice for several years, Coakley worked as an assistant district attorney in the Lowell District Court. During this time, she served as special attorney to the Boston Organized Crime Strike Force, a directive of the U.S. Justice Department, and later became chief of child abuse prosecution in Massachusetts. In 1998, Coakley successfully campaigned to succeed Tom Reilly as Middlesex County D.A. when he was elected attorney general of the Commonwealth. During her time in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office, Coakley first began to make a name for herself, most famously in the successful prosecution of British nanny Louise Woodward for the shaking-death of an eight-month-old baby in Newton, a story that made local and national news. Coakley also resisted freeing Kenneth Waters, a man wrongfully convicted in a 1980 murder, even after he was proven innocent via DNA evidence. The story was the subject of the 2010 movie Conviction, starring Sam Rockwell and Hillary Swank. Coakley received extensive criticism for her perceived obstinacy, poor judgment, and unwillingness to admit the justice system may have made a mistake during the original prosecution. In 2008, Coakley again courted controversy when she declined to investigate or reprimand the Commonwealth’s district attorneys for numerous false statements and improper fundraising during the public debate leading up to the vote on Ballot Question Two, an initiative to de-criminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The question ultimately passed and the controversy faded.
In 2006, Coakley was elected Massachusetts attorney general, roundly defeating her Republican opposition, and became the first woman ever to serve as attorney general of the Commonwealth. With her election coming just months before the 2007 financial collapse and subsequent recession, Coakley immediately went to work fighting for Massachusetts residents who had been taken advantage of via subprime lending, eventually winning settlements with Goldman Sachs and Fremont Investment & Loan for tens of millions of dollars. In 2009, she also challenged the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a suit, beginning a long legal battle in which DOMA was eventually found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
In 2009, following the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, Coakley filed papers in the special election to fill Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat. The contest for Kennedy’s seat drew national attention both because of his long tenure (47 years) and because of the potential effect on the balance of power in a closely divided Congress that was debating the controversial Affordable Care Act. The race came to be seen by many as a referendum on the health care reform bill, and that issue certainly played a central role in the election. After winning the Democratic primary with relative ease against a field with only one strong challenger—Michael Capuano—the general election against Republican candidate Scott Brown of Wrentham intensified the national focus on the contest, with both candidates raising extensive funds from out of state donors. Positioning himself as more of an independent rather than a strict Republican adherent, Brown was able to attract both party loyalists and a wide array of independents who make up the majority of registered voters in Massachusetts. He also had a surge in funding during the home stretch of the campaign, raising millions through Internet fundraising in the final weeks, which played a critical role in his success. Combined with several gaffes committed by Coakley throughout the campaign, including referring to Red Sox pitcher (and Brown supporter) Curt Schilling as a Yankees fan and taking a vacation just a few weeks before election day, Brown secured an upset victory in the special election, garnering 52 percent of the vote to Coakley's 47 percent. After an embarrassing defeat, Coakley returned to her work as attorney general, easily retaining the seat in the 2010 general election.
Outside of politics, Martha Coakley serves with various professional and charitable organizations throughout Massachusetts. Most notably, she is a former president of the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts, has served on the Board of Directors of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and the Board of Middlesex Partnerships for Youth, Inc. Coakley has also taught courses at her alma mater, Williams College, as well as B.U. Law School and the Massachusetts School of Law.
With Deval Patrick announcing his intention not to seek re-election after his second term ends, the Democratic field has become predictably crowded around an open seat. Though Coakley leads most early polling, there are several strong contenders who will give her a strong challenge come September, especially State Treasurer Steve Grossman, who has local and national party support and a strong fundraising base. Coakley's background in the legal profession may be either a burden or a benefit, depending on whether voters are looking for a departure from Governor Patrick’s leadership (Patrick’s previous experience is also largely as a lawyer). Over the coming months, we will see whether Martha Coakley has learned from the mistakes of her last bid for higher office, and if her revamped image is enough to make her a viable candidate for governor in the eyes of Massachusetts voters.
Visit www.marthacoakley.com/issuesto learn more about Martha Coakley’s platform for her gubernatorial campaign.
With the conclusion of the state Democratic Convention on
June 14, the final slate of candidates for the Democratic primary was
established. Out of a field of five, three emerged with the requisite 15
percent threshold of votes to secure a place on the ballot. State Treasurer Steven
Grossman attained 35.2 percent of the convention vote, Martha Coakley came in
second with 23.3 percent, narrowly beating out Dr. Donald Berwick, who had 22.1
percent. The first two candidates are likely familiar to voters, as they are
current holders of a statewide office and have been discussed in previous
editions of Sound Bites. Dr. Berwick
is a relative newcomer to electoral politics (though not to government
generally), and, as a formerly practicing physician, one with a less
traditional background for a would-be politician than nominees Grossman and
Don Berwick was raised in Moodus, Connecticut, where his
father was the local physician. He first came to Massachusetts as a young man
to attend Harvard College as an undergraduate. Following in his father’s
footsteps, he went on to earn an MD from Harvard Medical School and a master’s
degree in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government, completing his
studies in 1972. He then went to work practicing pediatric medicine at Boston
Children’s Hospital and the Harvard Community Health Plan (HCHP). After being
promoted to HCHP’s Vice President of Quality-of-Care Management in 1983, Dr. Berwick
got his first exposure to some of the inadequacies of the U.S. health care
system, and began what would become a lifelong endeavor of reforming health
care policy to improve quality of care. As health care quality measures were
scant or non-existent at the time of Dr. Berwick’s ascension to that position,
he looked to other industries, such as manufacturing, for cues on how quality
measurement could be implemented in health care. In 1989, Dr. Berwick helped
found the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), a non-profit dedicated to
identifying waste, inefficiency, and errors in the health care system, what he
considered the biggest drivers of increasing cost in the system. IHI has since
expanded to include numerous programs fostering innovation, research &
development in health care, and programs in numerous countries across the
globe. IHI is perhaps most well known for the creation of the Triple Aim framework
for improving health care (a version of the Institute of Medicine’s six
improvement aims for the health care system). It consists of: 1) improving the
patient experience of care (including quality and satisfaction; 2) improving
the health of populations; and 3) reducing the per capita cost of health care. This
framework has been utilized by numerous provider organizations to good effect,
and has become a benchmark for improving results in the field of health care
In 2010, Dr. Berwick was nominated by President Obama to
become Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). He faced
some controversy and pushback from conservatives for his support of the British
National Health Service (NHS) and his statements that a good health care system
is inherently a redistribution of wealth on some level. Despite support for
some of his positions from several conservatives, including former Bush-era CMS
Administrator Mark McClellan and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Dr.
Berwick faced an uphill battle to clear his nomination through Congress. He was
ultimately instated via a recess appointment in the summer of 2010. Dr. Berwick
ascended to the role at a critical juncture for health care, just as the
Affordable Care Act was beginning to be implemented. President Obama
re-nominated Dr. Berwick for the post in January 2011, but his nomination was strongly
opposed by senate Republicans, who threatened to filibuster his re-nomination.
Dr. Berwick resigned his post at CMS in December 2011.
On June 17, 2014, Dr. Berwick announced his candidacy for
the Massachusetts governor’s office. Appealing to the progressive wing of the
Democratic Party, he has announced goals for renewable energy, job creation,
and tackling poverty in the state. One of his most-talked-about plans has been
to establish a single-payer health care system in the state—a controversial aim,
given all of the numerous reforms in Massachusetts and at the federal level
over the past decade. Differentiating himself even further from the other
candidates, Dr. Berwick is also the only one to oppose casinos in Massachusetts
and is in strong support of a ballot initiative to repeal the legalization of
casino gambling in the state. He supports a minimum wage hike to $11/hour. He
also advocates for a more resilient transportation system that will improve
access across the state, with a heavy focus on expanding mass transit.
With a background in health care, as well as executive
experience managing a non-profit with a multi-million-dollar budget, and then a
federal department with an $800 billion budget, Dr. Berwick has credentials
that will appeal to many Massachusetts voters. In a race against two well-known
and established opponents who’ve held statewide office though, Dr. Berwick’s
chances may come down to his platform much more than his record.
To learn more about Berwick’s background and issues visit: www.berwickforgovernor.com.
It is a cliché in Massachusetts politics that the
Commonwealth is a fiercely liberal state throughout. This seemingly
preternatural predilection with the donkey party masks a population that in
reality spreads evenly across the political spectrum, with independents
actually making up the majority of registered voters in Massachusetts. Such a breakdown
has led to a vacillation between the parties over control of the governorship
of the Commonwealth (while the legislature has remained firmly in Democratic
hands since the 1950s). This distaste for choosing a party designation hints at
an independent streak in the voters of the Commonwealth, a disposition that two
independent candidates for governor have hoped to employ to their advantage.
Earlier in the year we focused on one of the independent
candidates for governor, venture capitalist Jeff McCormick. In this final
profile before Election Day, we examine the other prominent independent
candidate for governor, Evan Falchuk, and his hopes to derail the typical
Democratic-Republican dichotomy with a fresh voice (and possibly a new
political party) on November 4.
A resident of Newton, Falchuk is a
political outsider with a background largely in law and health care. He earned
a bachelor’s from Lehigh University and his Juris Doctor from the University of
Pennsylvania Law School. After working as an attorney for the Securities and
Exchange Commission (SEC) in Washington, D.C., Falchuk took a leading role in
the company Best Doctors Inc., which helps patients get second opinions on
medical diagnosis from top doctors around the country. He is also a leading
member of several other health care industry organizations.
Unique among this election’s slate of candidates, Falchuk is
not only hoping to work his way into the governor’s office, but is also trying
to launch a viable third party as part of his gubernatorial campaign.
Through a strong showing at the polls on November 4, the United
Independent party has an opportunity to become an official political party
within the Commonwealth. With the platitudinous mission statement: “We believe
everyone is equal, everyone’s civil rights must be protected, and that the
government must spend our money wisely,” it is unclear what exactly the new
party’s platform is or will be. Such a banal statement could easily be ascribed
to either of the two main political parties. Falchuk himself, however, has
generally not minced words when discussing the problems he sees and the
solutions he hopes to implement. A supporter of equal marriage rights, and
pro-choice, he falls generally on the liberal side of the spectrum. Falchuk strenuously rejects the ideological
bent of the Democratic Party, though, and professes to support evidence-based and
data-driven approaches to solving issues of public policy. On the issue of health
care costs (a problem the state has tried to tackle in recent years), Falchuk
supports many of the cost-control measures that have been introduced. He is against
the continued consolidation of health care providers and insurers, as he expects
that the monopolistic tendencies of these companies will ultimately hurt patients.
Taking another swipe at the Democratic establishment, he vows to end patronage
hiring across state government, referencing the scandal in the state probation
department that has reflected poorly on the party in power. Falchuk also takes
a more fiscally conservative approach to governance than his Democratic
counterparts, announcing his strong opposition to capital projects like the $1
billion expansion of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. He took a
shot at Governor Deval Patrick when criticizing the planned project, which would
require extensive borrowing on behalf of taxpayers with an unclear forecast for
Though it is unlikely that Falchuk (or any third-party
candidate) will pose a serious threat to the two leading candidates for
governor, there is a chance that an outside voice will bring about a more
robust debate in this election. A two-candidate race with the same trite
talking points from both parties, and little in the way of a public
conversation over how best to move the Commonwealth forward, is just what many
voters expect. It’s a situation that ends with voters leaving the voting booth
having cast a ballot for the person they dislike the least, instead of the person they
think is the best candidate. Hopefully, a candidate willing to challenge both
parties will broaden the debate, give voters a truer sense of their options,
and leave them feeling like they cast a vote for a candidate whose ideas they support.
Don’t forget to vote November 4!
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