John R. Silber, the volcanic Democratic nominee for governor, has only a few weeks left on his year-long leave as president of Boston University. But instead of returning to the academic world, Silber has hinted over the past few days that he might be interested in a position in state politics.
In particular, the Democratic "straight shooter" has been considered by many to be a leading candidate for the head of the Massachusetts Democratic party. U.S. Rep. Chester G. Atkins (D-Mass.) announced this week that he would step down from that post.
Silber, who lost Tuesday's gubernatorial race by three percentage points to Republican William F. Weld '66, told reporters at a press conference last Thursday that he was "going to try to have as much influence as I can" in Massachusetts politics.
Polling numbers show that Silber has managed, over the last several months, to split the Democratic party into two factions. Many liberals abandoned the candidate for his callous comments on working mothers, nursing-home residents and welfare recipients, while social conservatives supported the candidate for his frank approach to fiscal management.
On the day after his election defeat, Silber blamed "kamikaze liberals" for abandoning the Democratic Party, according to a Boston Herald report. Exit polls conducted by the Herald revealed that a third of voting Democrats voted for Weld, a progressive Republican, over Silber.
And although Silber managed to win the Democratic primary by capturing a large number of Independent votes, his support among Democrats was less than overwhelming during the primary campaign: Many in the partypreferred the more liberal Evelyn F. Murphy andFrancis X. Bellotti.
With such tenuous support among state DemocratsSilber has little chance of snaring a top partypost, say some political analysts.
"I really can't believe it," said Hale Championlecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School ofGovernment and a lifelong Democrat. "He reallytook the nomination only because Independents canvote in the the Democratic party."
Students have also expressed their skepticismthat Silber, a fiscal conservative, could lead oneof the most liberal parties in the union. "In thefuture of the Democratic party, I don't see JohnSilber playing a leading role," said Neil A.Cooper '91, executive director of the CollegeDemocrats of America.
"Silber has played his role but now his time ispast," said Cooper, who admitted that Silber was astronger candidate than Bellotti for the generalelection.
Democratic functionaries were more sanguineabout Silber's chances. "If he's interested in it,I think he'll be a strong candidate," said JamesRoosevelt '68, legal cousel of the DemocraticParty.
Despite Silber's defeat, said Roosevelt, the64-year old Texan has reinvigorated the party."John Silber attracted more than a million voters,especially voters who had not voted before, so hehas brought a new element to the DemocraticParty," he said.
Although some critics contend that Silber couldnever bring liberals back into the fold, Rooseveltdiscounted any further internal strife that mightresult from his appointment as chair.
"I've never known any decision made within theDemocratic party without conflict," he said.