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The Lowell Sun - Helping People "In My Blood"

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Location: Lowell, MA

The Lowell Sun - Helping People "In My Blood"

Barry Finegold relishes a challenge.

On the gridiron, in love, in politics.

A "no talent" athlete, he wanted to play football at Andover High School.

By his senior year, he was a 6-foot-1, 230-pound starting defensive tackle, on his way to playing on the line at Franklin & Marshall College.

After college, and some advice from a mentor, he came home to Andover, full of politics. He ran for the town's Board of Selectmen. No one gave him a chance. Some laughed at the 23-year-old kid, daring to jump in the pool during adult swim.

He began with five supporters, 40 percent of them his parents.

He applied his knuckles to door after door. He maxed out his credit card at $5,000 to fund his campaign.

He identified voters and got them out to the polls.

By the time he won, he was 24.

Within two years, he was at the Statehouse, representing the 17th Essex District (Andover, Lawrence and Tewksbury), the youngest member of the freshman class. The five-term state representative still holds the seat as he runs for the 5th District seat in Congress.

Surveying the landscape of a Boston bar one night, he saw a stunning redhead.

"Wow," he thought, "who is that?"

His buddy happened to know her. Amy.

They met briefly.

"She completely blew me off," he says.

"He took it to be some royal snub," she says. "I was on a date, not exactly looking to meet another guy."

Twenty minutes later, on his way out, he slammed his business card onto the bar in front of her.

She was taken aback at his boldness. And impressed with his confidence.

She kept the card. She called him two weeks later.

During their courtship, he visited the store she was managing in Boston and "bought more clothes than I ever have. I mean, $600-$700 worth. I don't spend that much in a full year."

They married in May of 2002. He whisked her to Paris, proposed in French.

But it began with football, he says.

"That taught me if you believe in yourself, you can accomplish something."

He can still rattle off the score of every game his senior year.

Lynne Brown-Zounes lays down the rules.

"No political stuff, no speeches," says the executive director of the Lowell Senior Center.

No problem, says Finegold.

Finegold, 36, works the center's cafeteria, table by table. He introduces himself, chats individually.

Amy, 35, and daughters, 3-year-old Ava and Ella, 1, are there, too.

More than one of the seniors notes what a "handsome family" Finegold has. Ava smiles.

The biggest presence in the room is Fred Simon of Tewksbury. Simon, 70, born in the Acre, knows not only the political landscape, but just about everyone in the room.

Simon introduces Finegold with one meaty handshake after another. He is slowed only by a bum knee, and carries a cane.

Finegold asks a 93-year-old woman the source of her longevity.

"A lotta lovin' " she says, giggling.

Finegold blushes.

He buys $2 worth of raffle tickets.

Simon hears fate on the loudspeaker.

"Table 33, Table 4…"

"We've gotta move him," says Simon, waving his cane toward the door. "Bingo starts soon, and we've gotta move unless you wanna get trampled."

Ella is antsy. Amy and the girls depart.

In Lowell, Finegold also visits the Community Family Inc., a nonprofit, "dementia-specific" daytime care center, and the Olympia Restaurant.

As waitresses weave through with plates of food, Simon makes the introductions at the ornate Olympia.

Finegold, now a slim 190 pounds but still a gym regular, is hungry enough to eat.

Too hungry and he gets "grumpy," says Amy, 35.

She was concerned enough about this on Dec. 9, 2005. Though a fierce snowstorm blew as they headed to the hospital, she had the Andover firefighter driving them stop at a McDonald's drive-through window to hold Barry over.

Ella was born that night.

At the Olympia, Finegold orders a chicken plate.

In 1992, his junior year in college, he spent the spring semester at American University and interned at a government-relations firm.

He caught the political "bug."

He got to know Ben Palumbo, his college roommate's father.

Palumbo, 70, is a lobbyist whose rich, 36-year background in Washington D.C. includes chief of staff for New Jersey Sen. Harrison Williams, and campaign director for Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen's 1975 presidential bid.

"Barry is very quick on the uptake," says Palumbo by phone from Washington. "I've always considered him to be a highly intelligent young guy, very, very interested in issues and committed to trying to resolve problems. He soaks things up like a sponge."

Palumbo recalls Finegold enjoying the current that flows though Washington's corridors of power, "which is very easy to do."

And when Finegold asked Palumbo for advice, the sage veteran told the kid, "go home."

Rather than working on someone's staff, Palumbo told Finegold, he should consider running for office. Legislators have the power to solve problems.

"Staff people are like moonlight, a reflection of the members they work for," says Palumbo. "The moon can be beautiful, but the real energy comes from the sun."

Finegold returned home to his summer job. He unloaded trucks at Super Value Warehouse. He thought about the sun.

Finegold is a graduate of Massachusetts School of Law. He attended while running for his state rep's seat. He also worked full time at Mercantile Bank in Boston to pay for school. He earned his master's degree in public administration from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School in 2003.

Admitted to the bar in 1998, Finegold is a partner in Dalton & Finegold LLP, which he formed with William Dalton in 2000. His specialty is real-estate law and estate planning.

With the campaign, he's "less active day-to-day, but have good partners who step it up."

He's up at 5:30, in the gym by 6. If there's a morning campaign coffee, he'll be there before heading to the law office or the Statehouse. He's on the phone raising campaign funds three to four hours a day.

That's "the hard part. Every dollar raised has been through calling people. Not through a big national organization. I call old college buddies."

Talking to voters about issues, he says, is the fun part.

He is "intense" about politics, says his wife.

Family is everything.

"They're the reason he believes in doing the things he does," says Amy.

Finegold says "it has always been in my blood to help people."

Both his parents, Michael and Sondra, were teachers, public servants, for 33 years. She was a special-education teacher in the Andover school system, he a music teacher at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill.

His dad, who plays sax, clarinet and flute, gave Finegold, who plays trumpet but also enjoy heavy metal, a passion for music. And worked three jobs to help send the kids through college.

Finegold's older sister, Joni, teaches at George Mason University. His younger sister, Diana, works for the Federal Trade Commission. They both work in Washington, D.C.

Barry would like to make it three.

You could tell him he'd be guaranteed victory by showing up at a Friday night event and he still wouldn't do it.

Fridays are sacred, not just because the Jewish Sabbath begins then, but because it is "family night" at home.

A good meal, a movie, conversation. The political intensity subsides.

Saturday night is "date night" for the Finegolds.

"And if you want me to be somewhere Sunday, you're going to see my kids, too," he says.

Four years ago, Finegold suggested to his wife, a veteran of Boston fashion stores, she should open her own clothing store.

"It's your dream, the thing you aspire to," he said. "Why not?"

"I can't, I can't," she said.

"Yes, you can," he said.

She opened Dresscode in Andover.

"It's been overwhelmingly successful," he says. "Best of Boston two years in a row."

Now it's his turn to "step it up."

"Huge" district. Summer campaigning, when people vacation.

You knock on doors, and make phone calls and find voters at senior centers and in restaurants.

If he survives the Sept. 4 primary and wins on Oct. 16, there's just a year in office. He'll be the newest kid among the 435 members of Congress.

He'll start raising money for re-election on Oct. 17.

"Politics is like golf," he says. "You have the sand traps, the bad shots. But it's the one or two good shots that make you want to come back and play the next day."

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