Sullivan Set To Seek Uncle’s Job

He’s been a City Council member since 1994 and served two terms as Cambridge’s mayor, but now Michael A. Sullivan is looking for a promotion.

His uncle, Edward J. Sullivan, who has been the top administrator of Middlesex County’s courts for 48 years, announced last week that he will retire in December. And the younger Sullivan said he plans to run for the position.

The Sullivan family has played a prominent role in local politics for several generations. Michael A. “Mickey the Dude” Sullivan, grandfather of the current councillor of the same name, was elected to the City Council in 1935. There has been a Sullivan on the council ever since.

After serving for 10 years on the City Council, Edward Sullivan was elected Middlesex County Clerk of Courts in 1958.

If elected to his uncle’s post as county clerk, the current Councillor Sullivan would serve both positions through December 2007, when his two-year term on the Council ends. He said he has not decided whether he would seek re-election to the Council while holding the job of county clerk.

There is no prohibition against councillors serving in more than one elected position. Vice Mayor Timothy J. Toomey Jr. has served as both a councillor and state representative since 1992. Edward Sullivan served as councillor and county clerk for a year, before his brother and Michael’s father, Walter J. Sullivan, took over Edward’s council seat.

The younger Michael Sullivan was first elected to the City Council in 1993, and served as mayor from 2002 through 2005. Under Cambridge’s form of government, members of the council elect their chair, who then serves as mayor.

Robert Winters, editor of the Cambridge Civic Journal, said that he thinks Sullivan will be capable of serving as both councillor and county clerk at the same time.

“Michael is so competent in his job as a city councillor that he can do in a short time what it takes most people longer to do,” Winters said.

Michael Sullivan has been one of the most active councillors for the past several years in terms of the number of orders and resolutions filed, according to a scoreboard compiled by the Cambridge Civic Journal.

After graduating from Boston College Law School, Michael Sullivan served as an assistant in the County Court under his now-retiring uncle, and he worked there until 1994.

When asked about the influence of family connections on his decision to run for county clerk, he said, “I suppose there is a natural aspect to it.”

Michael Sullivan said that he is running for county clerk because “one of my best aptitudes is my ability to deliver a product and be responsive to the needs of the public.”

The possibility of Sullivan’s departure from the council has fueled speculation about the future of the 70-year-long family tradition of holding a seat on the city’s legislative body.

According to a report last week in the Associated Press, Edward Sullivan suggested that Michael’s cousin, also named Edward, may run for a Council seat. The younger Edward was elected Middlesex County commissioner in 1996, though the position was abolished a year later.

The elder Edward could not be reached for comment. Meanwhile, the younger Edward declined to say whether he would definitely run for his cousin’s seat, but he did not rule out the possibility.

The younger Edward, more commonly known as “Eddie,” lived in Cambridge for most of his life and now lives in Watertown.

Asked whether he would run in Cambridge, he said, “You never know. You can’t see the future.” He added that he wants to move back to Cambridge. Councillors are required to live in the city.

Winters said that he hopes a Sullivan remains on the council.

“All the Sullivans have served this city very, very well,” Winters said. “You’ve got to salute the whole family.”

He also said that the continuation of a family tradition has symbolic appeal.

“How many dynasties can a city have?” Winters said.

—Staff writer Virginia A. Fisher can be reached at vafisher@fas.harvard.edu.