BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Police Chief Paul Tucker was 54 when he decided to run a half-marathon last year with his son, Dan, a Salem detective and former college runner.
Tucker trained for the event, the longest distance he had ever attempted, by running 60 miles a week. He finished with an impressive time and ahead of his son.
Years earlier, when he was a sergeant taking the captain’s exam, he studied almost every day in his off hours at Winter Island, often in six-hour stretches. He topped the exam and was named captain, jumping over the rank of lieutenant.
And while he was captain of detectives, he went to law school and passed the bar.
Now, after five years as chief, he is the first person to announce for state representative, seeking to succeed John Keenan, who announced this week that he will step down after 10 years at the Statehouse.
So what drives Tucker? Is it pure and simple ambition?
When he hears the word, Tucker winces. He doesn’t like the word “ambition,” concerned it sounds like someone who will do anything to get ahead, climbing over anything or anyone in the way.
He prefers dedication and determination.
“I have a thing,” he said, after a slight pause during an interview yesterday in the chief’s office at Police Headquarters. “I never want to embarrass myself. ... I ran 60 miles a week because I didn’t want to embarrass myself. ... It’s that kind of focus that drives me.”
While campaigning for state representative, Tucker said he plans to stay on as chief.
“I have no doubt I can do both,” he said. “I’ve dedicated my life to this job. I’m not going to walk away from it.”
Asked if he is concerned about possible conflicts of interest — accepting donations, for example, from someone whose family might be dealing with the police department — he said he realizes he is facing a “unique set of circumstances,” but he stressed that he places his own integrity above all else.
When his son applied for a job as a Salem police officer, Tucker said he got a written opinion from the State Ethics Commission. If necessary, he said, he will seek advice again.
“If I have even a question of a conflict, I’ll be guided by what the (Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance) and the Ethics Commission guidelines are,” he said.
“I’ve spent 32 years in the job here, and I’ve called it the way I saw it. ... I’ve had people speak to me (since announcing his candidacy) about my integrity. That means a great deal to me.”
Tucker, the son of a Navy veteran, lived at Rainbow Terrace, originally veterans’ housing, before moving to Lussier Street, not far from Salem State University. He is the middle of five children. His sister, Sheila, is married to Brian Cranney, a well-known North Shore businessman.
A 1976 Salem High graduate, Tucker was class treasurer for two years.
“That was my last campaign,” he said.
He majored in criminal justice at Salem State, earned a master’s degree and later a law degree at the Massachusetts School of Law. He briefly opened a part-time law practice with Brian Gilligan, who is now a police captain.
Tucker worked as a campus police officer at Salem State and was a patrolman in the Nashua, N.H., Police Department before joining the Salem force 32 years ago. He was head of the detectives’ division for 17 years.
“A 32-year career in the police (35 years counting all his service) is a long time,” he said.
Tucker has nine pins in his right hand, the result of a scuffle with a drug dealer. He also took part in the 1998 shootout with bank robber Chad Austin.
In 2007, he received the department’s highest honor, the Medal of Valor, for wrestling a would-be jumper off the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
“I was off duty,” he said. “My wife and I were coming back from Beverly.”
When he’s not on duty, Tucker teaches criminal justice courses at Salem State and North Shore Community College.
Although the decision to run for state representative might look like a blind leap into the dark, Tucker sees it as natural progression of a career of public service — and a perfect fit with one of his pet interests.
“I’ve got to say I’m a political junkie,” said the man who watches “Morning Joe,” a morning cable TV talk show with former Congressman Joe Scarborough, and “Meet the Press.”
As a police officer and now chief, Tucker said he has spent a career dealing with “constituents” and speaking at public meetings. He also started the Community Impact Unit, specifically to deal with nagging neighborhood issues.
“I like working with people,” he said. “I like to try to make a difference.”
He is proud of his record, especially overseeing the department when it became one of the few in Massachusetts to earn state accreditation.
Asked whether he considers himself a liberal or conservative, Tucker said: “First, I’m a Democrat. ... I’m not sure that one hat fits. I would say I’m probably more socially moderate than some people would suspect.”
As evidence, he said the 2003 Goodridge decision legalizing same-sex marriage in this state “righted some wrongs.”
Tucker said his career as a police officer and his interest in public service and the law have set him on a path to the Statehouse.
There was no single moment, he said, no epiphany that prompted him to run. He admits, however, that Keenan’s announcement last year that he was weighing his political future played a part.
“That got me thinking,” Tucker said.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.