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Khazei, Like a Fox?

Insiders don’t think Alan Khazei has a chance in the US Senate race. But progressive activists could make him an underdog with bite.
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 16, 2009

0910_khazei_main

If there is to be a candidate in the Massachusetts US Senate race who inspires the sort of grassroots, progressive following that propelled Governor Deval Patrick into office three years ago — an insurgent candidacy, if you will — it figures to be idealistic public-service advocate Alan Khazei, co-founder of City Year and founder of Be the Change, Inc.

At least, that’s the argument Khazei tried to make repeatedly in a lengthy interview at a back table of Brookline’s Fireplace Restaurant last week, giving the Phoenix nearly three times the promised half-hour, after putting his children (Maribelle, 7, and Reese, 16 months) to bed in his nearby home.

But my first question for Khazei is one he’s already accustomed to hearing just a couple of weeks into his campaign for the US Senate: why should voters spend their time learning about a total unknown when there are such perfectly well-established and popular progressive candidates in the race as Attorney General Martha Coakley and Congressman Michael Capuano?

His answer is what one expects from a hope-and-change candidate: leaning forward, eyes wide behind his wire-framed glasses, the 48-year-old Khazei earnestly describes his intent to empower the citizenry, build a movement, take a “fundamentally different approach” to politics, and enact “change from the bottom up.”

Khazei has the résumé as well as the rhetoric, from his Harvard undergraduate and Harvard Law degrees to his 22 years as a public-service entrepreneur. And yet, political pundits and veterans give him little chance of success.

“He is exactly the kind of profile we say we want in politics, but time and time again we have proven that we don’t mean it,” says Scott Ferson, a political consultant with Liberty Square Group, who is unaffiliated with any of the Senate candidates. Khazei won’t win, Ferson predicts, “but the people who vote for him will feel great about it.”

Ferson and others have good reason for their skepticism. Khazei is barely known in the state — he registered an embarrassing one percent of support in a poll of likely Democratic voters conducted by the Coakley campaign a few weeks ago. And whereas Patrick took a year and a half to build his grassroots support, Khazei has about nine weeks until the Democratic primary. His opponents are solid liberals, too, which leaves him little room to differentiate himself on policy issues.

Moreover, the special-election turnout is likely to be dominated by party activists, who generally like Capuano and Coakley. Khazei doesn’t even have sole claim on voters looking for a political outsider — some of whom might vote for Bain Capital tycoon Steve Pagliuca, who is spending millions of his own fortune to raise his profile.

Still, Khazei seems nothing but optimistic, noting that, “I think the conventional wisdom on this race is all wrong.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is one of his favorite movies. But Massachusetts politics is rarely Capra-esque. Does Khazei really have a chance?

Who is this guy?
Khazei, son of an Iranian émigré and an Italian-American nurse from Pennsylvania, started City Year in 1988 with his Harvard buddy Michael Brown as a sort of domestic version of the Peace Corps. Young people are paid a stipend to devote a year of their lives to service, often with underprivileged children.

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Related: The X factor, That’s what he said, Burn, baby, burn, More more >
  Topics: Talking Politics , Deval Patrick, Deval Patrick, Scott Ferson,  More more >
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8 Comments / Add Comment

txteacher

There may be other options, but there is only one Alan Khazei. The man is a consumate public servent and he is my personal inspiration to get involved in making change in society. I am a new teacher, originally from Texas, and I can speak as someone who has been inspired in a life-transforming way by Khazei. Alan taught a seminar that I attended and helped facilitate as an undergrad at Harvard. He inspired me and my fellow students to pursue service after college (for me, this meant becoming a teacher). He is the reason I see and understand the meaningful relationships between ethical citizenship and active participation in social movements for change. Alan is a leader whose beliefs and actions align, whose hopes for the future are grounded in practical idealism, and whose passion inspired me, a 22 year old, to spend 20 of 24 hours a day teaching, tutoring, and lesson planning as a public school teacher, rather than as a Harvard-degree bearing wage earner off in NYC or DC. He is everything that MA wants; he speaks, acts, lives and breathes the reality of citizen-led change; he is a man of passionate principles, unflenching perseverance, and near unparalleled commitment to finding party-less, politic-less solutions to problems. His track record is proven as an advocate, and I think his ability to inspire is much greater than what this article set it as. So much respect and appreciation, Mr. Khazei. Thank you for teaching me! Thank you for helping me see that being a citizen, active and progressive, can actually make a difference. MA, listen up: you've got greatness right in front of you! Choose well.
Posted: October 14 2009 at 11:59 PM

tomasagee

I've come to exactly the same conclusion from a different perspective. I have been very fortunate to know something about the U.S. Senate and the process of national policy making.

The very first U.S. Senator I met was John Kennedy in late 1959 as he was beginning his presidential campaign, for which I had volunteered largely because of his commitment to create the Peace Corps.

The second U.S. Senator I met was Hubert Humphrey in 1961, when he was co-sponsoring the Peace Corps legislation and I was part of a horde of "lobbyists" tyring to get it passed.

Then, at the Peace Corps, I worked alongside Jay Rockefeller, who later served as a VISTA Volunteer, Secretary of State and Governor in West Virginia, before becoming a U.S. Senator.

Over the years since then, I have had the priviledge to know a number of U.S. Senators who were advocates of public service, including Paul Tsongas and Chris Dodd, both of whom were Peace Corps Volunteers, and Harris Wofford, with whom I worked on the Peace Corps staff.

Oh, I also got to know Paul Coverdell, a Republican, who served as Peace Corps Director and later in the U.S. Seante from Georgia.

I got to meet Edward Kennedy in 1962 before he was a U.S. Senator, when he gave my bride and I a tour of the Kennedy compound on our honeymoon, and I have admired his career ever since, especially his deep and abiding commitment to the idea of national service.

All of this leads me to say that it was easy, a piece of cake or a slam dunk, for me to pick Alan Khazei out of a good pack of candidates.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted: October 16 2009 at 1:06 PM

tomasagee

I've come to exactly the same conclusion from a different perspective. I have been very fortunate to know something about the U.S. Senate and the process of national policy making.

The very first U.S. Senator I met was John Kennedy in late 1959 as he was beginning his presidential campaign, for which I had volunteered largely because of his commitment to create the Peace Corps.

The second U.S. Senator I met was Hubert Humphrey in 1961, when he was co-sponsoring the Peace Corps legislation and I was part of a horde of "lobbyists" tyring to get it passed.

Then, at the Peace Corps, I worked alongside Jay Rockefeller, who later served as a VISTA Volunteer, Secretary of State, and Governor in West Virginia, before becoming a U.S. Senator.

Over the years since then, I have had the priviledge to know a number of U.S. Senators who were advocates of public service, including Paul Tsongas and Chris Dodd, both former Peace Corps Volunteers, and Harris Wofford, with whom I worked on the Peace Corps staff.

Oh, I also got to know Paul Coverdell, a Georgia Republican, who served as Peace Corps Director and later was elected to the U.S. Senate .

I got to meet Edward Kennedy in 1962 before he was a U.S. Senator, and I have admired his long career ever since, especially his deep and abiding commitment to the idea of national service.

All of this leads me to say that it was easy, a piece of cake or a slam dunk, for me to pick Alan Khazei out of a good pack of candidates.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted: October 16 2009 at 1:10 PM

tomasagee

I've come to exactly the same conclusion from a different perspective. I have been very fortunate to know something about the U.S. Senate and the process of national policy making.

The very first U.S. Senator I met was John Kennedy in late 1959 as he was beginning his presidential campaign, for which I had volunteered largely because of his commitment to create the Peace Corps.

The second U.S. Senator I met was Hubert Humphrey in 1961, when he was co-sponsoring the Peace Corps legislation and I was part of a horde of "lobbyists" tyring to get it passed.

Then, at the Peace Corps, I worked alongside Jay Rockefeller, who later served as a VISTA Volunteer, Secretary of State, and Governor in West Virginia, before becoming a U.S. Senator.

Over the years since then, I have had the priviledge to know a number of U.S. Senators who were advocates of public service, including Paul Tsongas and Chris Dodd, both former Peace Corps Volunteers, and Harris Wofford, with whom I worked on the Peace Corps staff.

Oh, I also got to know Paul Coverdell, a Georgia Republican, who served as Peace Corps Director and later was elected to the U.S. Senate .

I got to meet Edward Kennedy in 1962 before he was a U.S. Senator, and I have admired his long career ever since, especially his deep and abiding commitment to the idea of national service.

All of this leads me to say that it was easy, a piece of cake or a slam dunk, for me to pick Alan Khazei out of a good pack of candidates.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted: October 16 2009 at 1:10 PM

tomasagee

I've come to exactly the same conclusion from a different perspective. I have been very fortunate to know something about the U.S. Senate and the process of national policy making. The very first U.S. Senator I met was John Kennedy in late 1959 as he was beginning his presidential campaign, for which I had volunteered largely because of his commitment to create the Peace Corps. The second U.S. Senator I met was Hubert Humphrey in 1961, when he was co-sponsoring the Peace Corps legislation and I was part of a horde of "lobbyists" tyring to get it passed. Then, at the Peace Corps, I worked alongside Jay Rockefeller, who later served as a VISTA Volunteer, Secretary of State, and Governor in West Virginia, before becoming a U.S. Senator. Over the years since then, I have had the priviledge to know a number of U.S. Senators who were advocates of public service, including Paul Tsongas and Chris Dodd, both former Peace Corps Volunteers, and Harris Wofford, with whom I worked on the Peace Corps staff. Oh, I also got to know Paul Coverdell, a Georgia Republican, who served as Peace Corps Director and later was elected to the U.S. Senate. I got to meet Edward Kennedy in 1962 before he was a U.S. Senator, and I have admired his long career ever since, especially his deep and abiding commitment to the idea of national service. All of this leads me to say that it was easy, a piece of cake or a slam dunk, for me to pick Alan Khazei out of a good pack of candidates.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted: October 16 2009 at 1:11 PM

purplehusky64

I seriously loathe anyone who heads/founds a non-profit; they're all poverty pimps and suck at their jobs. They are also notoriously terrible to their employees...

 

 

Posted: October 18 2009 at 10:31 AM

purplehusky64

I seriously loathe anyone who heads/founds a non-profit; they're all poverty pimps and suck at their jobs. They are also notoriously terrible to their employees...

 

 

Posted: October 18 2009 at 10:31 AM

purplehusky64

I seriously loathe anyone who heads/founds a non-profit; they're all poverty pimps and aren't any good at managing. They are also notoriously terrible to their employees...

 

 

 

Posted: October 18 2009 at 10:32 AM
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