Gun violence prevention advocate eyes 6th District seat

Courtesy photoAngus McQuilken of Topsfield is weighing a potential bid for Congress in the 6th District.

TOPSFIELD — Topsfield Democrat and gun violence prevention advocate Angus McQuilken is the latest to announce he's exploring a run for Congress in the 6th District. 

The seat is held by Congressman Seth Moulton, a Salem Democrat who in April launched his presidential campaign. 

McQuilken said his announcement isn't a challenge to Moulton, a 40-year-old Harvard graduate and Iraq War veteran who is in his third term in the House. 

"I like Seth Moulton. I think he's been an important voice," said McQuilken, 49. "I particularly appreciate what he has had to say about gun violence prevention. He brings a unique perspective to that as a veteran. So, I'm not announcing a challenge to Seth Moulton, I'm considering running for this seat and we'll see who else runs for this seat when people make decisions about that." 

McQuilken said his potential congressional run is fueled by frustration over a lack of progress in Washington, D.C. on what he feels are priorities for the 6th District: gun violence prevention, economic development, health care, transportation challenges in the region, climate change issues for coastal communities and affordable access to higher education.  

McQuilken is the co-founder of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, which has more than 80 organizational members, and manages business development for the life sciences practice for the law firm McDermott, Will & Emery. He also spent nine years as vice president of communications and marketing with the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

From 2005 to 2009, McQuilken ran the advocacy and communications programs for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts — a position he says helped spark his concern about health care and women's access to it. He's also a cancer survivor — he was diagnosed at age 38 — and is caring for his disabled 72-year-old father, George, after he suffered a series of health setbacks. 

McQuilken is a 1991 graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, an institution he says is becoming increasingly unaffordable. The cost of college is on McQuilken's mind — he has two children from a previous marriage, ages 11 and 15; and his fiance, Diann Slavit Baylis, has two children, ages 8 and 16.

As he mulls a run, McQuilken has been meeting with local town Democratic committees.   

"What I'm intending to do is to let people throughout the district know that I'm considering a candidacy for this seat," McQuilken said Tuesday in an interview in Salem. "And I'm going to spend the summer out at events, meeting a lot of people, hearing about their lives and their concerns and building the base, so if we decide to move forward with the candidacy, we'll be ready to go."

He joins a handful of other Democrats who have said they're considering a congressional run: Marblehead state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, former state Sen. Barbara L'Italien of Andover, Salem State University trustee and women's health advocate Jamie Zahlaway Belsito of Topsfield, former nine-term Congressman John Tierney and Governor's Councilor Eileen Duff of Gloucester. 

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll has also said she would look to run for Congress if the seat were open. Moulton has said that if he is unable to secure the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, he intends to seek a fourth term in Congress.

McQuilken is no stranger to politics. In 2004, he served as the deputy communications director for the Democratic National Convention Committee in Boston. He also spent 11 years as chief of staff to former state Sen. Cheryl Jacques. 

When he lived in Millis, McQuilken was twice unsuccessful in challenging former Republican state Sen. Scott Brown for the Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex senate district. 

Brown wound up beating McQuilken in a special election by just 349 votes in 2004. Brown defeated McQuilken again in a general election later that year.

McQuilken said it may be some time before it is known how the race for 6th District might shake out. The race will not become official for another year.

"A lot can happen in a year," McQuilken said. "I've certainly learned that lesson in life."

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.