By Chris Cassidy
SALEM — Mayor Kim Driscoll hosted a meeting of the state's mayors yesterday as buzz swirled around which of them might challenge Sen. Scott Brown in 2012.
Driscoll, who began the second year of her second term in January, continues to ponder a run for U.S. Senate. Her candidacy seemed to get a boost yesterday from a top Democrat — Gov. Deval Patrick — who was in Salem to address the roomful of mayors.
Does he think she should run?
"Well, that's her decision," Patrick told The Salem News. "But I'm a big Kim Driscoll fan. She's a really inspired leader and a great friend. I'm interested to see what she decides."
Patrick stopped short of an endorsement, however, noting that the 2012 contest could be cluttered with a variety of Democratic city leaders.
"There are other senatorial candidates in that room who are really good friends of mine, and one of them is (Newton Mayor) Setti Warren," said Patrick, who himself has ruled out a 2012 run. "So it'll be an interesting race. I think Democrats are going to field some really strong candidates."
Several mayors who have become the focus of Senate speculation in 2012 attended yesterday morning's Massachusetts Mayors' Association meeting at Salem State University. Among them: Setti Warren of Newton, Lisa Wong of Fitchburg and Scott Lang of New Bedford.
Also rumored as potential Brown challengers are Congressmen Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch and Edward Markey.
Of course, Driscoll was an early Patrick supporter back when he, too, was written off as an unknown outsider with slim chances of winning a statewide race.
Driscoll offered few additional clues yesterday. She promised a decision on her political future will come "sooner rather then later," but insisted she won't be rushed.
"I'm still very much in the information-gathering stage," Driscoll said. "I have a young family. To take on a challenge like that is a pretty daunting task."
Driscoll would have to bridge not only a name-recognition gap, but a massive financial disparity between herself and the Wrentham Republican.
Brown has $7.2 million in the bank, according to end-of-year filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Driscoll, by comparison, has approximately $90,000 stashed away from her two mayoral campaigns. But federal election law prohibits her from using that money on a federal campaign, according to an FEC spokesman.
Driscoll could refund the donations and allow contributors to place them into a federal campaign account, but she couldn't otherwise tap her mayoral campaign account to bankroll a Senate run.
Overall, Driscoll said she could bring a local perspective to the decisions made on Capitol Hill.
"Every mayor in that room has made cuts," Driscoll said, as her fellow mayors glared at grim PowerPoint slides of exploding retiree health insurance costs. "Recognizing what those priorities are and having that perspective, I think, is important in Washington."
Staff writer Chris Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ChrisCassidy_SN.