Race for State Senate Seat Narrows As Candidates Seek Progressive Vote

The recent departure by a lesbian activist from the increasingly antagonistic race for the Massachusetts Senate seat in the Suffolk and Middlesex district has left the two leading contenders to battle it out for the support of progressive groups.

Marguerite Gerstell, a lesbian political activist from Winthrop, Mass., has reportedly given up her attempt to unseat incumbent State Senator Michael LoPresti '70 after he received the endorsement of the Greater Boston Lesbian and Gay Political Alliance. But Boston City Councillor Robert Travaglini remains a strong contender in the race.

Political observers said they agree that Gerstell's departure will bolster the LoPresti campaign, as the lesbian activist would probably have taken votes away from the incumbent. LoPresti, who called himself a more progressive candidate, also said he thought that Gerstell would have chipped away at his support.

Travaglini's Campaign Manager Carmen Monks said he thought that LoPresti was no more progressive than Travaglini, and suggested that theincumbent was trying to portray himself as fartherto the left in order to garner support.

"I don't see where Mike LoPresti gets offtrying to distinguish himself as the moreprogressive candidate," Monks said. "Thedifference between the candidates is not in theirphilosophy on the issues. The difference is in howthey approach serving their constituents.Travaglini does not have another job--he spendsall his time resolving his constituents'problems."


Monks cited a questionnaire answered by thecandidate in a debate sponsored by severalprogressive groups last month. According to Monks,the stances taken by each of the candidates werevirtually the same, except for capital punishment,which LoPresti said he favors under specialcircumstances.

"He is not the progressive he claims to be,"said Monks. "In '78 and '82 he supported Ed Kingover Mike Dukakis [for governor]. In the past twoyears he started to become pro-gay and lesbianrights when he realized that he needed the supportof those groups."

But Susan A. Rozzi, an aide to LoPresti, saidthat the senator's support for gay rights has beenconsistent since his first days in office.

"He's been the co-sponsor of [the gay rights]bill from the very start and at the time heendorsed it, it wasn't a very popular stance,"Rozzi said.

In turn, LoPresti charged yesterday thatTravaglini had recently changed his positions onseveral issues--including tenant's rights, women'srights, abortion and gay rights--to match theincumbent's record.

"He is now essentially echoing my record," saidLoPresti, adding that he was bothered by thecurrent similarities between the two candidates.

Several groups have checked the records andthrown their support to the incumbent, accordingto LoPresti. In addition to the Gay and LesbianAlliance, he said he has received financialsupport and endorsements from trade unions andpro-choice organizations, as well as the supportof several non-profit groups.

While many of these groups have endorsedLoPresti, Monks said it was primarily because mostgroups are reluctant to support a relativenewcomer to Cambridge politics like Travaglini.Monks did not have a list of groups who haveendorsed Travaglini.

LoPresti said the endorsements indicated thathe had been a strong backer of these groups duringhis service as a state senator.

"These groups will not endorse you if you'renot doing the work. [An endorsement] sends amessage to the people who are concerned about aparticular issue that my record on that issue issolid," LoPresti said.

Rozzi said that LoPresti's record earned himthe endorsement of Mass Choice, a group supportingabortion rights.

"He's been pro-choice from the mid-70s," saidRozzi. "While you might think that stance was apopular one in the district, it was actually a lotmore difficult. The district is very diverse.People in Cambridge thought it was a great idea,while people in East Boston thought it was theworst thing he could have done.