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Local News

March 3, 2014

Salem chief's candidacy raises issues

SALEM — Paul Tucker could be breaking new ground.

The Salem police chief is running for state representative while still serving as chief, which appears to have never happened before in this city. Tucker announced his candidacy a few days ago and said he plans to remain as chief through the election next fall and then step down if elected.

Has this happened before in Massachusetts? Has any sitting chief in any city or town ever run for the Legislature while still on the job?

“I don’t know of one,” said Wellesley police Chief Terry Cunningham, who was legislative chairman for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.

Jack Collins, the association’s longtime general counsel, couldn’t think of anyone either, although he said several sitting police chiefs have run for town selectman.

Last fall, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian ran for Congress while still in office. But sheriff, it could be argued, does not have as close or direct a relationship with citizens as a police chief does.

So, if the Salem chief is going where no one has gone before, does it raise any issues or concerns?

“I think there are issues any time that a public official runs for office,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, a government watchdog group.

“For those with real responsibility and public standing, a police chief being one of the most responsible positions, there are real problems that can arise, and that’s why the law is very clear about setting up this arm’s-length relationship with fundraising, never wearing anything that designates you as the police chief when you’re campaigning and not mixing those two roles — and that’s a difficult thing to do. It can be done, but it’s a difficult undertaking.”

A political campaign by a police chief can challenge a mayor, as well, Wilmot said.

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