Turco & Sheeran Make Political History
First time two people from Wakefield have been on Democratic & Republican State Committees
In the February 5 primary election, most attention was focused on the Presidential candidates, with some local precincts also voting for candidates in the primary for State Representative from the 32nd Middlesex District.
But while all that was going on, Wakefield was making a bit of political history of its own. Also on February 5, the voters elected Albert J. Turco as the representative from this district to the Republican State Committee. On the same day, Betsy Sheeran won election to the Democratic State Committee. Turco was unopposed. Sheeran garnered 62 percent of the vote district-wide to defeat Peg Crowe of Malden.
It is the first time, as far as anyone knows, that two people from Wakefield have represented this district on both the Democratic and Republican State Committees.
“In fact,” Turco points out, “as far as we know, no one can remember anyone from Wakefield ever having been a state committee person in either party.”
State Committee members from both parties are elected from each senatorial district. So, Sheeran and Turco will be representing Wakefield, Malden, Melrose (Wards 1-5), Stoneham, Reading and Lynnfield on their respective parties’ state committees.
But the historical significance doesn’t end there. Sheeran points out that she and Turco are also chairmen of the Wakefield Democratic and Republican Town Committees, respectively. Both also currently serve on the Board of Selectmen, marking the first time the two parties’ Town Committee chairmen have served on the board at the same time.
The names Betsy Sheeran and Al Turco have long been familiar to anyone with at least a passing interest in Wakefield politics. Before serving as a selectman, Sheeran chaired both the School Committee and the Housing Authority. Turco has in the past served as chairman of both the School Committee and the Board of Selectmen. He is also a past Town Moderator.
During their common tenure as selectmen, Turco and Sheeran have consistently demonstrated their ability to disagree without being disagreeable.
“Although Betsy and I have not always agreed on all the issues,” Turco says, “we have always given each other a respectful hearing on our positions, and we’ve worked well together on various projects on the Board of Selectmen.”
Under their leadership, the Democratic and Republican town committees have also worked together in various ways. Both committees are financial supporters of the Wakefield Interfaith Food Pantry and each committee has donated a sum of money to the restoration of the World War II Memorial on the Common. The two party committees collaborated to hold a joint memorial for 9/11.
But the election last month of Turco to the Republican State Committee and Sheeran to the Democratic State Committee is worth more to Wakefield than just a historical footnote.
“It means that the town has more clout,” Sheeran says, “not only with our own legislators but with legislators state-wide. The positions that we both hold as elected members of the state committees means that we can get closer to the ears of legislators, both in the district and outside the district. We have a much wider range of people that we could speak to and voice our concerns.”
Sheeran says that because Wakefield has an active, vibrant and involved Democratic Town Committee, she has often been invited to speak to Democratic Committees in other cities and towns. Wakefield’s DTC has 82 members, according to Sheeran, one of the largest in the area, even among some of the bigger cities.
“I’m sure that’s why Betsy was asked by a number of people to run for state committee,” Turco said, “because it has gotten around that she has an excellent local town committee.” Sheeran adds that she was also chairman of Stephen P. Maio’s campaign for State Representative several years ago. While unsuccessful, Sheeran feels that her role in the campaign helped to raise her district-wide profile among Democrats.
For his part, Turco says that he became better known among Republicans in other communities in the district through his chairmanship of Sen. Richard Tisei’s re-election campaigns.
“We also have an excellent Republican Town Committee here in Wakefield,” Turco says. “There are very few in the Commonwealth that have 35 members, and we have 35, plus some associate members.”
On the Congressional District level, as members of their respective state committees, both Turco and Sheeran will play key roles at their parties’ caucuses next month at which delegates to the national party conventions will be chosen.
Another function that Turco and Sheeran perform as state committee members is attending local party committee meetings in cities and towns throughout the district. In addition, if a local town committee is experiencing factionalism, that party’s state committee member for the district may be called in to moderate disputes.
One thing that both the Democrat and the Republican agree on is that being split between two state representative districts has been bad for Wakefield.
“It’s the first time since before the Revolutionary War that the town has been split between representative districts,” Turco says. “We have to do everything we can when redistricting happens between 2010 and 2012 to see if we can have Wakefield made whole again. I don’t know how realistic that is.”
Sheeran couldn’t agree more. “This town was dealt a severe blow when it was split,” she said. Sheeran and Turco agree that they would have no objection to Wakefield being in a district with another community, as long as the entire town was in one district.
Despite their heavy involvement with party politics, both Sheeran and Turco stress that local town elections are, and should remain, non partisan. Neither party’s Town Committee ever endorses candidates for local office.
“That’s where we separate the partisan politics,” Sheeran says. “Because at the end of the day, sitting on the Board of Selectmen, we have to look out for what’s good for this town.”
[This story originally appeared in the March 25, 2008 Wakefield Daily Item.]
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