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Public Statements - Martha Coakley, 1st Woman Elected Attorney General And Middlesex District Attorney, Hopes To Become Mass.' 1st Female U.S. Senator

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Martha M. Coakley, a native of Western Massachusetts, says there is no letting up as she pursues the state's open U.S. Senate seat.

"I'm still continuing to work every day," Coakley, the state's attorney general, said during an interview at the Hilton Garden Inn in Springfield, her final stop for endorsements during two days of campaigning across the region earlier this week. "I'm not confident until we count the votes on Dec. 8."

Coakley is on the cusp of making political history -- again.

She was the first woman elected district attorney in Middlesex County, the first woman elected attorney general and now is poised to become the first woman elected U.S. senator in Massachusetts.

In a poll taken on Monday by the respected Rasmussen Reports, of Asbury Park, N.J., Coakley held a commanding 15-point lead heading towards the Dec. 8 Democratic primary to fill the unexpired term of the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. The survey, including 567 likely Democratic primary voters, gave Coakley 36 percent.

Among other candidates, U.S. Rep. Michael E. Capuano, netted 21 percent, while Celtics co-owner Stephen G. Pagliuca and City Year co-founder Alan A. Khazei each received 14 percent. Only 10 percent of voters were undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The winners of the Democratic and Republican primaries will face off in the Jan. 19 special election. The winner of that election will serve out Kennedy's term that runs through January 2013.

Coakley would also become the first native of Western Massachusetts to be a U.S. senator since Frederick H. Gillett, a Republican born in Westfield and a Springfield lawyer who served in the Senate from 1925 to 1931.

Coakley, single for most of her adult life, hasn't become wealthy in public office. In financial disclosures for the Senate contest, Coakley reported a retirement account worth $12,000 and between $200,000 and $250,000 in financial assets held by her husband.

In addition, Coakley said she also has contributed over the years to her state pension. She said her $12,000 in savings was reasonable considering that she also has contributed to her pension and home.

She added that she and her husband bought and upgraded a brick house in Medford that isn't reflected in the disclosures.

Coakley, 56, said people don't know a certain side of her life outside law enforcement.

"I actually have a pretty good sense of humor," she said. "I enjoy my time when I'm not working. I enjoy the outdoors, both summer and winter. I enjoy biking, kayaking and skiing."

Her life changed dramatically one day in 1998 when Thomas F. O'Connor, then a deputy superintendent for Cambridge police, walked into her headquarters and dropped off a campaign donation. The two became engaged in 1999 and married nine years ago, she said. O'Connor, also never previously married, retired four years ago.

The couple has no children, but family is a big part of their lives. On her side of the family, Coakley has two nephews, a niece, plus seven grandnieces and one grandnephew.

"I never saw marriage as a goal," she said. "I think of marriage as something that happens when you meet the right person. I was very lucky to meet the right person."

She grew up in North Adams, the third child in a family of five children. Her late father, Edward J. Coakley, was an insurance agent and her late mother, Phyllis E. Coakley, a homemaker.

Coakley figures she was fortunate to be the middle child. Her parents were more strict with her two older sisters. "I always say I had the advantage," she said.

By the third-grade, she was on downhill skis and hitting the slopes at the now-defunct Dutch Hill Ski Area in Vermont. She walked to classes, first to the St. Joseph School in North Adams, where she was on the debate team, and then to Drury High School, where she transferred for her senior year in 1971.

She entered the first fully coed class at Williams College and graduated in 1975. She obtained her law degree from Boston University School of Law in 1979.

The Coakleys were a tight, Catholic family, but they were also wounded by tragedy. Coakley's only brother, Edward Jr., 33, the youngest in the family and a skilled pianist, suffered from manic depression and committed suicide. Like Coakley, he graduated from Williams College. "He was probably the brightest in the family," she said.

After law school, Coakley never lived in Western Massachusetts. She was a private lawyer in Boston and became an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County in 1986.

Coakley gained worldwide attention in 1997 when she helped prosecute au pair Louise Woodward, 19, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of a child she was baby-sitting. The conviction was later reduced to involuntary manslaughter and Woodward served less than a year in jail.

In the wake of the Woodward conviction, Coakley was elected Middlesex district attorney in 1998 and served two terms before being elected attorney general in 2006.

Coakley said she is running on her record as a district attorney and attorney general.

One of her accomplishments included securing $14 million for the city of Springfield in a settlement with the broker Merrill Lynch. The city lost the money when it invested in mortgage-backed securities with Merrill.

She said she has enforced fair labor laws, fought for lower utility and insurance rates and obtained restitution for consumers and the state from drug companies and insurers who drove up costs. She said she also protected people and children from identify theft and sexual predators.

"She is an experienced prosecutor and has a very knowledgeable and common sense approach to public safety and law enforcement," said Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett, who met Coakley 15 years ago and endorsed her for Senate. "Her views are closest to mine."

Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, also endorsed Coakley, citing her roots in Western Massachusetts.

If Coakley goes to Washington, she will pay more attention to the needs and concerns of Western Massachusetts than the region has seen in a long time in a U.S. senator, Rosenberg said.

"She doesn't put on any airs," Rosenberg said. "She is very straightforward. That's very characteristic of our region. She is in Boston, but she's not of Boston."

On some important issues, Coakley said that right now she opposes increasing troops in Afghanistan. She said she does not, however, support a withdrawal of troops, saying she lacks the intelligence at this stage to make that decision.

Coakley also supports a federal bill to overhaul health care. She has added that she would oppose any final bill if it includes a House-approved provision to ban federal money for insurance policies including abortion coverage.

A second federal stimulus law might be necessary, she said, but she first wants to make sure the first stimulus was used effectively and made a difference in creating jobs.

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