By Jesse Roman Staff writer
The Salem News
---- — Two candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot you might not know, Eileen Duff and Maura Ciardiello, are running for an office, the Governor’s Council, that you might know nothing about.
But both women are working hard to change that, and hopefully get elected to the statewide council.
“I tell my friends I’m running for Governor’s Council and they say, ‘Oh, that’s great. .... What’s that?’” Duff said. “I say it’s the most important thing you’ve never heard of.”
The eight-member Governor’s Council has the responsibility of vetting and confirming the governor’s appointment of judges and other judiciary officials. It also acts on issues such as payments from the state treasury and criminal pardons and commutations.
The council meets briefly each Wednesday at the Statehouse. Members are paid $26,025 a year and receive health insurance benefits, travel expenses, a Beacon Hill parking space and creditable service toward a state pension.
Duff, a Democrat, and Ciardiello, a Republican, have a stunning amount in common aside from their gender. Both come from political families — Duff’s father, Paul Duff, served on the Peabody City Council and once ran for mayor. Ciardiello’s father, William Ryan, is the former mayor of Haverhill and a current city councilor.
Neither candidate is a lawyer or has a legal background. Neither has run for public office before. Both have attended Cambridge College. Both are eager to serve.
This year’s election is particularly interesting because there is an open seat for the first time in more than a decade. Current councilor Mary-Ellen Manning stepped down to run an ultimately unsuccessful state Senate campaign this fall.
The 5th District has also changed dramatically since the 2010 election. Each of the eight Governor’s Council districts is composed of five contiguous Massachusetts Senate districts. After the 2010 census, the Legislature changed the 5th Governor’s Council District by cutting out the 3rd Essex Senatorial District (Lynn, Lynnfield, Marblehead, Nahant, Saugus, Swampscott) and adding instead the 1st Middlesex Senatorial District (Dunstable, Groton, Lowell, Pepperell, Tyngsborough, Westford).
“It’s a big district,” Ciardiello said.
Ciardiello grew up in Haverhill, in the thick of the city’s politics.
“Politics runs in my blood. I’m from a political family and have been involved in many campaigns throughout my life,” she said. “This is the first time I’m running, but I’ve always been involved. I thought, instead of being one of the people complaining, I decided to jump in the race.”
After attending Salem State, Ciardiello was a schoolteacher in her hometown for seven years before she met her husband, Massachusetts state trooper Dan Ciardiello. Now Ciardiello, 36, is a stay-at-home mother with three young children. She is studying for a master’s degree in education at Cambridge College.
The tragic death of Woburn Police officer Jack Maguire, killed in a 2010 shootout with a released longtime felon, spurred Ciardiello’s interest in getting more involved and ultimately running for the council, she said.
“I have a special interest in the Governor’s Council because with my husband being a patrolman and having three small children, public safety is my top priority,” she said.
Like her opponent, she’s amazed by the lack of knowledge about the council and what it does.
“I go and knock on doors and meet people, and every person says, ‘It’s great you’re running, but what is Governor’s Council?’ Once they know, they’re shocked that’s how judges get on the bench,” she said. “I want to absolutely, 100-percent, make sure that we have the best, most qualified people on the bench.”
Why is she the right person to do that?
“I’m not a lawyer. We need regular people on (the council) representing the people of the commonwealth,” she said. “I am not involved or have any affiliation with any lawyers; I’m not beholden to anyone. I will be a strong voice and ask the right questions and tough questions.”
The council should be more transparent and the public should be better informed about when judges are coming up for confirmation and their background, she said. She proposed creating a blog or website to better publicize the council’s activities.
Asked if being a Republican might hurt her chances in a blue state like Massachusetts, Ciardiello said that, if anything, it should improve her chances with voters. There are now only two Republicans on the eight-member council.
“We need balance in government. The same old one-party rule does not serve the people in the right way, and it doesn’t work,” she said. “We do not need another Democrat on the Governor’s Council; I am sure of that.”
She has been endorsed by the State Police Association of Massachusetts, which is the union representing state troopers, as well as the SEIU Local 5000 union, according to her website.
As a youngster growing up in Peabody, one of Duff’s earliest memories in politics was campaigning for her father when he ran for mayor. She was 7 years old.
“It’s something I grew up doing,” said Duff, now 53. “I was always interested in government.”
That interest led to an internship at the Statehouse, when she actually attended a few Governor’s Council meetings as a teenager. Her mother worked in the governor’s office as an assistant.
“I was there every week. I could probably give a pretty good tour of the Statehouse,” she said.
Duff, who was president of her Peabody High School class, worked as as a regulatory analyst for a large telecommunications company for several years and later for the Federal Communications Commission in Washington. One of her duties there, along with research and speech writing, was to decide who was able to meet with the commissioner and when during the debate over the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996.
“I’ve done vetting before, I understand how this is supposed to work,” she said, thinking back to her FCC days. “It’s a skill, and not many people realize that. I have learned to say no to a lot of important people, while staying polite.”
Duff later returned home to the North Shore and lived in Beverly for a time before moving to Gloucester. She has never run for public office before, but was active in Beverly serving on the city’s Conservation Commission and the Golf and Tennis Commission, as well as being a member of the Beverly and Salem chambers of commerce and chairwoman of the Beverly First Night Arts Festival.
Currently Duff is a real estate agent and also a chaplain at Hospice of the North Shore. In addition to a degree from Trinity University in Washington, D.C., she has a master’s degree in management, organizational development from Cambridge College, and a doctorate in ministry from Wisdom University in San Francisco.
Duff also thinks the fact that she’s not an attorney is to her advantage.
“My background is in policy; people don’t understand that policy is the writing of law,” she said. “I think I would add a nice balance to the council. I would bring a unique and needed perspective. ... I have a reputation for being very fair with people and being polite and objective. I don’t mind listening to someone else’s opinion, even if I don’t agree with it, because that’s how you learn.”
Asked why people should vote for her, she said: “Because I will represent them well and they will be heard. I have an open door to listen to people, and I’m the best-qualified person running.”