Stephen Francis Lynch (born March 31, 1955) is an American politician who has served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts since 2001. He is a Democrat representing Massachusetts's 8th congressional district which parts of Boston and many of its southern suburbs. Lynch was previously an ironworker and lawyer, and served in both chambers of the Massachusetts General Court.
Born and raised in South Boston, Lynch is the son of an ironworker. He went into the trade after high school, working in an apprenticeship and later joining his father's union. He became the union's youngest president at age 30 while attending the Wentworth Institute of Technology. He received his J.D. from Boston College Law School in 1991. For several years he worked as a lawyer, primarily representing housing project residents and labor unions. Lynch was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, unseating an incumbent Democratic lawmaker, in 1994. His social views and advocacy for the South Boston neighborhood led him to the Massachusetts Senate in 1995, when he won a special election to succeed state Senator William M. Bulger.
He won a special election to represent the state's 9th district in the United States House of Representatives in 2001, and has been re-elected ever since. His district was redrawn into the 8th district in 2013. Lynch has a reputation of being the most socially conservative member of Massachusetts's House delegation, and often votes independently of his party leadership. He currently sits on the Financial Services Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Lynch ran for the Democratic nomination in the 2013 special election for the U.S. Senate but lost to Ed Markey.
Early life, education, and business career
Lynch, the fourth of six children, was born March 31, 1955, in the neighborhood of South Boston. He was raised with his five sisters in the Old Colony Housing Project. His father, Francis Lynch, was an ironworker who had dropped out of school in the eighth grade. His mother, Anne (née Havlin), was a night-shift post office worker. Both parents came from fourth-generation South Boston families. He attended St. Augustine Elementary School and South Boston High School. During high school vacations he began working in construction alongside his father. After graduating from high school in 1973, Lynch became an apprentice ironworker. For the next six years he worked on high-altitude structural ironwork throughout the United States for various companies, including General Motors and U.S. Steel.
He was arrested in 1977 for smoking marijuana at a Willie Nelson concert at the Illinois State Fair, leading to a $50 misdemeanor fine. He was again arrested in 1979 for assault and battery of six Iranian students at an anti-American protest in Boston, a charge which was later dropped. Around this time, he developed "a problem with alcohol," leading him to join Alcoholics Anonymous. (He reportedly stopped after meeting his future wife several years later, although he continued to attend occasional meetings through the 2000s.)
Having personal experience with worker safety concerns, Lynch found himself with aspirations beyond his trade. When a 1979 blizzard forced his project in Wisconsin to shut down, he spent the extra time taking courses at the University of Wisconsin. Shortly thereafter, his father was diagnosed with cancer, and so Lynch returned to Boston. In the early 1980s Lynch was elected to the executive board of the Iron Workers Local 7 union. At age 30 he was elected president of the board, the youngest in the local's history. During this time he spent his nights and weekends attending the Wentworth Institute of Technology, from which he graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in construction management in 1988.
That year he led a three-week labor strike, refusing to sign a contract with the Associated General Contractors, despite pressure from within his union. The union international ultimately signed the contract without Lynch's approval, causing him to file suit against them. He would later remark, with regard to his political career, "Nothing I ever do will be as volatile as being union president during those times." This debacle forced him to miss the first three weeks of classes at Boston College Law School, where he had enrolled. Despite the setback, he graduated with a J.D. in 1991. After graduating he joined the law office of Gabriel O. Dumont, Jr., representing labor unions and unemployed workers.
Throughout law school and the following years, he often worked pro bono, representing housing project residents at Boston Housing Authority (BHA) hearings. In one high-profile 1994 case, Lynch provided free legal services to 14 teenagers, all white, who were accused of physically attacking a Hispanic teenager and harassing the family of his white girlfriend over a period of six months. Lynch, who claimed the youths had been "overcharged," helped some of the teenagers to avoid criminal charges and eviction by the BHA.
Lynch was a one-time tax delinquent. In the mid-1980s the city of Boston placed liens on four properties he owned due to several thousand dollars of unpaid property taxes. He owed $2,000 in overdue taxes to the state of Massachusetts from 1985 to 1998, and for several years owed $4,000 to the federal IRS.
Massachusetts House of Representatives
With numerous cases under his belt, Lynch developed a reputation in the community, and was encouraged by friends to run for office. In early 1994 he phoned Paul J. Gannon, the Democratic state representative from the 4th Suffolk district, to announce a run against him. While both candidates were labor advocates with similar backgrounds, Lynch described himself as "the conservative candidate". He criticized Gannon for not supporting the Veterans Council, which had prevented a gay rights group from marching in the local St. Patrick's Day Parade. Lynch's base of supporters in the projects allowed him to win the Democratic primary by 600 votes, and he continued to a victory in the November 1994 general election.
As a state representative, he was a vocal advocate for his neighborhood. He opposed a plan by Governor William Weld and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to construct a $200 million football stadium by the publicly owned South Boston waterfront. He led the opposition to a proposed asphalt plant in South Bay, and sponsored an amendment to a state bond bill which banned the plant's construction.
When the President of the Massachusetts Senate, William M. Bulger, announced his resignation from his 1st Suffolk seat in late 1995, Lynch filed nomination papers for the special election to replace him. Bulger's son, attorney William M. Bulger, Jr. ran for the seat. Another lawyer, Patrick Loftus, also ran for the Democratic primary. The race grew from the grassroots of South Boston, with neighborhood issues such as development, crime, and education ruling the debate. The candidates declared their mutual respect. In a stunning victory, Lynch won the Democratic primary in March 1996, defeating Bulger Jr. and Loftus 56–35–9%. In April, he defeated Republican Richard William Czubinski 96–4% and was inaugurated on May 1, 1996. He won re-election unopposed in 1996, 1998, and 2000.
As a state senator, Lynch continued to lead opposition to the proposed football stadium and was a vocal opponent of a proposal to sell the publicly owned Marine Industrial Park. He opposed a hate-crimes bill which would make racially charged language a felony, and harkened back to the 1994 racial violence case as an example. He charged that the bill "attacks merely words" and "prosecutes young people who, in my opinion, haven't developed the responsibility and wisdom to measure their words." On the Senate Transportation Committee, he cosponsored a bill in June 1996 to allow certain Boston residents unlimited access to the Ted Williams Tunnel. In 1997 he was named Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Commerce and Labor. In response to a budget crisis in the state's nursing homes, due primarily to Medicaid shortfalls, he filed an unsuccessful bill in April 2001 to increase Medicaid funding by $200 million. While in the Senate, Lynch enrolled in Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, from which he graduated with a master's degree in 1999.
2001 congressional election
Lynch announced his candidacy for the 9th district seat in 2001, when longtime incumbent U.S. Representative Joe Moakley, stricken with leukemia, decided not to seek a 17th term the following year. This was a departure from Lynch's previous plan to run for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. Moakley died in May 2001, before his term ended, and Lynch announced a run for the special election to succeed him. The early frontrunner of the race was lawyer Max Kennedy, son of Democratic U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Political missteps dragged Kennedy down in the polls, and his abrupt departure in June 2001 put Lynch in the lead. The remaining candidates included eight Democrats and two Republicans, all with similar political positions; according to The Boston Globe, the candidates "struggled to find areas of conflict" when debating.
In the September Democratic primary, Lynch's main opponents were state Senators Cheryl Jacques, Brian Joyce and Marc Pacheco. During the campaign, Lynch faced criticism as his past improprieties were uncovered, including two arrests, defaulting on student loans, and a long history of tax delinquency. He was attacked by gay rights advocates for "a history of supporting anti-gay legislation." Despite these setbacks, Lynch maintained strong local support going into the primary. As Lynch pulled ahead in polls and fundraising, Jacques and Joyce attacked his 1994 racial violence case and subsequent positions on hate crime as evidence that he was not supportive of civil rights.
On September 11, 2001, Lynch won the Democratic primary with 39% of the vote, 10 points ahead of Jacques, who ranked second with 29% of the vote. The same day, the September 11 attacks took place, which dampened the ensuing general election campaign between Lynch and the Republican nominee, state Senator Jo Ann Sprague. As both sides turned to similar themes of patriotism and defense, Lynch benefited from the demographics of his district. On October 16, he defeated Sprague 65%-33%.
He was sworn into the 107th Congress on October 23, 2001. The ceremony had been delayed for a weekend, as the 2001 anthrax attacks had led to a shutdown of Congressional office buildings. In a press conference after his swearing-in, Lynch remarked on the unlikelihood of his career path, comparing himself to Jed Clampett of The Beverly Hillbillies.
Lynch is a moderate Democrat by Massachusetts standards, but a moderately liberal one by national standards. He generally votes more moderate on social issues and liberal on economic and environmental issues. "Calling me the least liberal member from Massachusetts is like calling me the slowest Kenyan in the Boston Marathon," he remarked in 2010. "It's all relative." He is strongly pro-labor and has focused on bringing manufacturing jobs to his district. He is a co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Labor and Working Families Caucus.
- Financial Services
- Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises
- Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit
- Oversight and Government Reform
- National Security (Ranking Member)
Economy and finance
Lynch has been a member of the House Financial Services Committee since his first term. According to CQ, Lynch supported President George W. Bush's agenda one-third of the time, which was average for Democratic House members. For instance, he supported the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, which addressed the subprime mortgage crisis, but opposed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 which created the Troubled Asset Relief Program. He has supported President Barack Obama's economic agenda, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.
Lynch has focused on trade policy as a congressman. In 2002 he voted against fast track bills which gave the president the authority to negotiate trade deals without amendments by Congress. In 2007 he voted in favor of the United States – Peru Trade Promotion Agreement despite some Democratic opposition.
Lynch has sat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, formerly called the Government Reform Committee, throughout his House career. He chaired the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Post Office, and the District of Columbia from 2009 to 2010. On this subcommittee he has dealt with federal employee recruitment, salary, and benefits.
Lynch is an advocate for health care reform but split with his party on Obama's health care reform efforts. He voted in November 2009 to pass the Affordable Health Care for America Act (AHCAA), the House's health care reform bill. This bill was scrapped by Congressional leaders in favor of the Senate's bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Despite pressure from Obama and Democratic leaders, Lynch stated that he would oppose the PPACA until "they put reform back in the health reform bill." He described the Senate bill as a "surrender" to insurance companies, putting too little pressure on insurance companies to reduce costs, and that did not represent meaningful reform. He explained, "There's a difference between compromise and surrender, right? And this is a complete surrender of all the things that people thought were important to health care reform." When the PPACA came to a House vote in March 2010, he was the only U.S. representative from New England to vote against it.
On social issues, Lynch is considered a conservative to moderate Democrat. He is pro-life and has been attacked by pro-choice group NARAL. He sided with conservatives in the 2005 Terri Schiavo case, voting for federal court intervention in the case. In more recent years, he has advocated for and defended funding for Planned Parenthoood. He has sided with Democratic leaders on gay rights issues, however, opposing a Federal Marriage Amendment and supporting granting medical benefits to domestic partners of federal employees. He supports same-sex marriage.
In September 2016 Lynch announced on WBUR that he'd be voting for the November 2016 ballot question that seeks to expand the number of charter schools in the state.
Foreign policy and veterans
In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee had oversight of airport security and some elements of the United States' War in Afghanistan. Lynch sat on the Veterans' Affairs Committee for his first term. Lynch, who has several Veterans's Affairs (VA) hospitals in his district, sponsored legislation to increase nurse staffing and to allow private physician prescriptions to be filled at VA hospitals.
A supporter of American intervention in the Middle East, Lynch has made twelve trips to Iraq and a total of ten trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Part of the purpose of these visits was to ensure accountability in reconstruction projects. He voted for the Iraq War authorization in 2002, against the Democratic House leadership, and later voted to continue funding the war. He has since supported Obama's drawdown of troops in Iraq throughout 2010 and 2011. He also supports Obama's renewal of the War in Afghanistan, and was the only Massachusetts representative to vote for funding for Obama's Afghanistan initiative. Lynch voted for increased foreign aid to Pakistan in 2009, but along with Oversight Chairman John F. Tierney, he pushed for strict oversight of the aid's distribution.
Lynch supports lifting the United States' economic sanctions on Cuba. Moakley, his predecessor, was heavily involved in Latin American affairs, and Lynch has made an effort to continue this work. He joined five other congressmen on a 2002 visit to Cuba, where they met with President Fidel Castro.
Lynch won re-election unopposed in 2002, 2004, and 2008. In 2006, Republican perennial candidate Jack E. Robinson III decided to challenge Lynch, and was defeated 78%–22%. After voting against the Affordable Care Act, he was challenged in the 2010 Democratic primary by Mac D'Alessandro, a first-time candidate for office. D'Alessandro served as the New England political director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which spent almost $300,000 on direct mail and other support for him. The Boston Globe also endorsed D'Alessandro. In September, Lynch defeated him 65%–35%. In November, he defeated Republican Vernon Harrison and Independent Candidate Phil Dunkelbarger. After redistricting, Lynch decided to run in the newly redrawn Massachusetts's 8th congressional district in the 2012 election. His new district includes the city of Quincy, Massachusetts and some other towns on the South Shore. In November, he defeated Republican Joe Selvaggi 76%–24%.
Campaigns for the U.S. Senate
Upon the death of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts state law triggered a special election to be held in January 2010. On September 4, 2009, a representative for Lynch took out nomination papers to run in the special election. After speaking with his family and citing the short time frame in which to conduct a campaign, Lynch decided against seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat.
Lynch announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate on January 31, 2013, seeking to fill the seat then held by John Kerry, who resigned to become U.S. Secretary of State. Lynch's candidacy in the 2013 special election had been portrayed as an uphill battle against liberal Democratic Rep. Ed Markey, who boasted a larger war chest and several major party endorsements. A Politico profile compared Lynch's "common-man touch" and moderate views to that of Republican Scott Brown, who won an unlikely Senate bid three years earlier by connecting with independent voters. Lynch lost to Markey in the April 30 Democratic primary.
Lynch dated Margaret Shaughnessy for 10 years before the two married in 1992. Shaughnessy, an aide to state Senator Marian Walsh, was from another South Boston family, one of seven children, and majored in graphic design at the Massachusetts College of Art. She had gone to high school with Lynch's sisters, and she and Lynch were members of the South Boston Residents Group. As of 2010, Stephen and Margaret Lynch live in South Boston with their daughter Victoria Bailey Lynch and a niece, Crystal Shaughnessy.
Along with his wife, Lynch is a Roman Catholic, which he says "sets the moral compass" for his political beliefs. He prefers not to publicize his faith politically, saying, "I don't want to appear as someone who's preaching, or come off as ... 'Holier than thou.'"