McMurtry Joins Democrats in State House

The day after being elected to the Massachusettes State House as an independent, Paul McMurtry has switched his registration and will serve as a Democrat in order to have a maximum amount of influence. He believes that by being a member of the majority party in the legislature he will be able to best serve the people of District 11.


After defeating the two major-party candidates in Tuesday’s special state representative election, independent Paul McMurtry of Dedham quickly cast his lot with the legislative majority.

Around 10 a.m. Wednesday, he went to Dedham Town Hall and changed his voter registration to Democrat. During his campaign against Republican Douglas Obey of Westwood and Democrat Stephen Bilafer of Dedham in the 11th House District, McMurtry had said that if he won, he would switch his registration to be more effective on Beacon Hill.

“The majority is Democratic,” he said in an interview shortly after his visit to Town Hall. “I want to have the relationships and cooperation in the Legislature to bring back what the district needs. If I remained an independent, I wouldn’t be included in active committees.”

A businessman making his first bid for public office, McMurtry captured 38 percent of the vote to the 31 percent Obey and Bilafer each won.

McMurtry won by rolling up big support—53 percent—in Dedham, the largest community in the three-town district. He finished a distant third to Obey and Bilafer in Westwood and the district’s one precinct in Walpole.

“Paul was born and brought up in Dedham,” said Marie-Louise Kehoe, a Dedham select woman and former state representative. “Let’s call it a hometown vote.”

Selectman Thomas Polito, who like Kehoe supported McMurtry, said, “He never held office before, but he’s a Dedham guy.”

There are no registered independents in the Legislature now and haven’t been since the mid-1990s.

“Independents sometimes get elected, but they usually either become Democrats or get defeated for reelection,” said Brian McNiff, spokesman for William Galvin, Massachusetts secretary of state.

In winning the House seat, McMurtry had to overcome the resources of the state parties, which threw their support to their nominees, providing staff help, money, and voter information.

With the balloting over, state Democratic Party chairman John E. Walsh was quick to welcome McMurtry into the Democratic fold.

“We’re happy to retain the seat in the Democratic column,” he said.

Walsh, an Abington resident who was Governor Deval Patrick’s campaign manager last year, said he does not consider the 11th District outcome a defeat for the party, even though the Democratic nominee, Bilafer, finished third, 42 votes behind Obey.

“There were essentially two good Democrats running,” said Walsh. “When you come out of the race with over two-thirds of the vote, it’s a good day.”

Obey, who is chairman of the Westwood Republican Town Committee, was top vote-getter in Westwood and Walpole.

“We beat the official Democrat,” said Thomas Gorman, Republican activist and Dedham Republican Town Committee member. “It’s a small victory in the trenches.”

The House seat became vacant in January, when two-term Democratic incumbent Robert K. Coughlin of Dedham resigned to take a job in Patrick’s administration.

McMurtry, 41, had supported both Democratic and Republican candidates in the past.

Last year, he contributed money to Republican gubernatorial candidate Kerry Healey, and provided Democratic candidate Chris Gabrieli use of the Dedham Community Theatre, which McMurtry owns, for a campaign event.

On issues, McMurtry lined up with the official Democratic positions in support of gay marriage and abortion rights, but was more conservative on fiscal issues, saying he would work to lower taxes.

Owner of several businesses over the years, McMurtry is well-known in Dedham. He is co founder of Dedham Square Circle, a civic and business organization in downtown Dedham, and owner of the Dedham Community Theatre.

The two-screen art house theater, a 1927 Art Deco original, is a beloved institution in Dedham and houses the whimsical Museum of Bad Art in its basement.

“When I was knocking on doors, some people would say, ‘I’ll vote for you, as long as you make sure you keep that wonderful theater open,’ ” McMurtry said.

With his increased duties at the State House, McMurtry plans to turn over much of the day-to-day operation of the theater to his staff.

McMurtry also has worked for the past 25 years as a disc jockey. He said he will give up that work now but still has a few weddings and other events to which he is committed.

“There will be some families who will have a state rep as their DJ,” he said.

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