New Senate Transportation Chair's Career Is on a Fast Track

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

On April 12, 2016, two-and-a-half months shy of his 34th birthday, Joseph Boncore of Winthrop beat six other candidates in the Democratic primary special election for the vacant seat in the First Suffolk and Middlesex Senate District, which encompasses Revere, Winthrop and East Boston, the North End and Beacon Hill sections of Boston, and one ward and four precincts in Cambridge.

The seat was open due to the Jan. 21, 2016, resignation of Anthony Petrucelli, the Senate Majority Whip from East Boston, who had left the upper branch to join the lobbying firm of Kearney, Donovan and McGee. 
Boncore’s primary victory meant he would automatically be elevated to the Senate in the final special election, on May 10, 2016, because there was not a single Republican in the race.

The night Boncore won, the needle on the Richter scale of Massachusetts politics jumped.
A first-time legislative candidate, Boncore defeated two more seasoned Democrats: Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo and Jay Livingstone, then a two-term state rep from Cambridge, who came in second and third, respectively, in the race.  The other candidates, in order of finish, were: Lydia Marie Edwards, Diana Hwang, Steven Morabito and Paul Rogers.

Boncore had relatively little political experience – the only elective office he had ever held was on the Winthrop Housing Authority -- and his hometown has a population (17,497) significantly below that of East Boston (41,683) and Revere (53,157).  Political pros instantly adjudged him a talent, a comer in the ranks of Beacon Hill.
The day he took the oath of office, May 18, Boncore was still in campaign mode.  The regular biennial elections for the legislature were coming up in the fall of 2016 and he would, of course, be standing for re-election.  There was no time to work on his scrapbook or savor the thrill of being a senator, one of only 40, and of having earned a place in the historic halls of the Massachusetts State House. 

Instead, Boncore had to devote himself to building a good staff, learning how to be an effective senator, winning over those who may have voted against him, and keeping his profile high in the district.  The president of the Senate, Stan Rosenberg, was impressed enough to appoint Boncore to six committees and to make him the Senate co-chair of one, the Joint Committee on Housing
Those who hold elective office are often most vulnerable to defeat the first time they try to get re-elected.  This is especially the case when an official is serving the remainder of somone else’s term, as Boncore was with Petrucelli’s, and when the regular election cycle begins within six months of the special election cycle, as happened in 2016 in the First Suffolk and Middlesex Senate district.

But if Boncore, perhaps reflecting on the crowded field he fought his way through in the primary, was ever seriously concerned about keeping his Senate seat, he need not have been.  His was the only name that appeared on the district ballot in the fall.  No one wanted a piece of him.  On Nov. 8, 2016, he sailed to a full term.
Last Thursday, Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler appointed Boncore the Senate co-chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation, one of the most coveted leadership jobs in the legislature.  He took the place of Tom McGee, (son of a former House speaker) who had recently departed from the Senate after being elected mayor of the City of Lynn.  The scope of the Transportation Committee’s responsibilities is immense, as are the policies and budgetary decisions it must shape every session.

It certainly was not lost on President Chandler that Boncore has within his district one of the state’s most important transportation facilities, an engine of the entire New England economy, Logan International Airport.
In a formal statement, Boncore accurately described what’s at stake in this committee.  “The Commonwealth’s transportation system is the driver that ensures our economic success,” he said.  “Whether by road, rail or water, our infrastructure connects us to jobs, homes, schools and goods, ensuring continued growth.”

The longtime House co-chair of the Transportation Committee, Bill Straus, had this to say about his new Senate counterpart: “Senator Boncore is a great choice by the Senate to co-chair the Transportation Committee.  He was already the Senate vice chair, and we worked closely in 2017 on his legislation to provide safety training and response improvements at Logan Airport.  He has quickly established himself as a thoughtful and effective advocate on transportation issues since being elected in 2016, and we will waste no time in getting to the pending matters before the committee with our first hearing together next Wednesday the 24th.”
What struck me about Senator Boncore when I first met him, in February of 2017, was his composure, and his perfectly balanced confidence and energy.  He has neither too much nor too little ego.  He doesn’t try hard to make you like him nor does he have to.  You just do.

Boncore is 35 years old and holding one of the most responsible and influential positions in the legislature.  You have to figure that, for him in politics, the sky’s the limit.




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