“I will once again be running for Congress in the 6th District of Massachusetts, my home, and I can’t wait to get back at it.”
— U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton Friday, in announcing an end to his bid for the presidency.
Welcome back, congressman. We’ve missed you.
A lot has been happening in the 6th District while Seth Moulton has been running for president in New Hampshire, and Iowa, and Minnesota, and South Carolina. The cost of housing continues to soar, pricing low- and middle-income families out of communities everywhere from Cape Ann to Newburyport. While the local economy remains strong, employers can’t find enough trained workers to fill open positions. Traveling from the North Shore to Boston remains a nightmare, as commuters are forced to choose between perpetually clogged roads and a commuter rail and subway operation that runs late when it’s not literally on fire. While overdose deaths from opioid use are down, that can be attributed to an increase in the use of the life-saving drug Narcan; fentanyl and carfentanil remain a deadly threat.
To be sure, Moulton has spoken to these issues during his three terms in Congress. He also deserves credit for championing national security and national service during his mildly received presidential campaign, which began in April and ended quietly last Friday with a speech at the summer meeting of the Democratic National Committee in San Francisco, some 3,120 miles from his congressional district headquarters in Salem.
When he is engaged on local issues, the Marblehead native has proven to be an effective representative, building a strong constituent service team, holding dozens of town hall meetings and searching for innovative answers to many of the problems facing the region. His office has been a key player in the ongoing economic transformation in the city of Lynn.
But even as he was running for reelection last year, the 40-year-old Moulton was already visiting the early presidential caucus state of Iowa, making the rounds of cable news political shows and doing little to downplay his ambitions for higher office. And after besting a little-known Republican challenger to keep his seat in 2018, he spent weeks mounting a failed insurgency against presumptive Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. It was clear the bulk of his focus was on big national issues, not the uniquely local problems citizens rely on their congressman to address. Seawalls need to be rebuilt. Rivers need to be dredged. Roads need to be fixed. It’s the unsexy stuff of governance, but constituents expect their congressman to make it happen. It doesn’t matter how good your constituent services team is; you can’t delegate personal attention.
As Salem’s David Guarino, a longtime political strategist, put it in a column for The Salem News last week, “now we have a congressman who has shown us repeatedly he’d rather not be serving as our congressman who, even if he wins reelection, faces life as a back-bencher among House members with very long memories.”
There is nothing wrong with ambition, even political ambition. But many in the 6th District bristle at the thought of being a consolation prize, which is why Moulton is likely to face a primary challenge next year. Two candidates — Salem City Councilor Lisa Peterson and women’s mental health advocate Jamie Zahlaway Belsito of Topsfield — have already declared, and several other local Democrats are lurking in the wings.
Within hours of his announcement Friday, a campaign adviser was touting Moulton’s suitability as a vice presidential candidate. And Monday, Moulton was relaunching his Serve America PAC with a veterans town hall in Fairfax, Virginia, some 472 miles from Salem.
The people of the 6th District deserve a representative who puts their needs and interests — in all their parochial glory — first and foremost. When he has done that in the past, Seth Moulton has proven to be an excellent congressman. However, after a summer spent pursuing greater things, he needs to prove once again that the job he really wants is the one he already has.