Critical Debate for Mass. Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates Ahead of Convention

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Massachusetts has an open governor’s seat this fall and the Democrats who want to succeed Gov. Deval Patrick have a major test ahead of them Tuesday morning. The five candidates will share the stage for a debate sponsored by Suffolk University and the Boston Herald. The battle is shaping up as outside upstarts (like Patrick was) against insiders who seem to think they are “next in line” for the job.

To date the race has been fairly quiet. There’s state Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Steve Grossman who are the establishment, “entitled twosome.” Both have been on the losing ends of past, high-profile races. In 2010, Coakley famously lost a US Senate race to Republican Scott Brown. Grossman lost a 2002 Democratic primary for governor to Shannon O’Brien. Both loses could prove to be significant baggage in a general election against Republican Charlie Baker, the GOP’s nominee.

That leads us to the outsiders. Twitter followers and Facebook friends of The Hanging Shad know I strongly support Juliette Kayyem, a former national security official for both President Obama and Gov. Patrick. Her qualifications are many and varied: a former Boston Globe columnist, she is also a lecturer at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard—her alma mater for undergraduate and law school. She serves as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Pacific Council on International Policy.

Kayyem connects on a personal level, clearly understanding the challenges facing Massachusetts and indeed, the region. She is a fresh presence with new ideas and strong leadership skills.

Former health care industry executive Joseph Avallone and former federal Medicare and Medicaid chief Don Berwick are the other Democratic candidates.

There is no overstating the importance of the Tuesday morning debate as it comes days before the state Democratic convention held in Worcester this weekend. Coakley must avoid the gaffes that plagued the originally hers-to-loose race against Brown. Grossman must also shine.

Right now, it appears Grossman might have the delegates to win the convention tally but it remains to be seen which other candidates can garner 15 percent of the vote to qualify for the primary ballot.

You can catch the 75-minute live webcast at or @ 11 a.m. The candidates will take questions from students and the moderators, Suffolk’s John Nucci and the Herald’s Rachelle Cohen.