MARBLEHEAD — Former state Rep. Doug Petersen made his presence known on Beacon Hill, particularly in a lonely fight against those who control the Legislature.
Seen as a comer, Petersen, who died on July 1 at age 66, climbed to the chairmanship of the Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee before he found himself unable to stay quiet regarding a leadership he saw as corrupt and authoritarian. He bristled, for example, at Speaker Charlie Flaherty’s midnight pay raise and linked him once to the word “gangster.” He spoke out over what he saw as Speaker Tom Finneran’s efforts to water down a clean elections law. Petersen’s chairmanship was taken away.
Eventually, all three of the speakers he served with — Flaherty, Finneran and Sal DiMasi — were convicted of felonies. But it brought little in the way of vindication for the Marblehead representative.
Born on Long Island, Petersen started his public career a little late in life. Trained in social work, he was for a time a therapist and director at the North Essex Health Resource Center. In 1990, he ran successfully for the Legislature representing Marblehead, Swampscott and part of Lynn as a Democrat.
Barbara Schneider, now publisher of the Jewish Journal in Salem, was a Petersen aide for 13 years.
“He was a really good guy,” she said. “He believed in the process.” She ticks off his legislative accomplishments, including his work passing brownfields legislation, leading to the reclamation of polluted sites statewide. He was an early supporter of gay rights, lending his office to the effort.
Petersen was “very intelligent” and straightforward, she said. “What you see is what you get. ... He stood up to the leadership. He believed in what was right.” If he had a weakness, it was expecting others to be the same way.
One day, returning to the office from a meeting with Finneran, he said, shocked, “Barbara, he looked me in the eye, and he lied to me.”