Oct. 17–State Sen. Daniel Wolf was still a week away from Election Day last year, but rumors were already swirling that his first re-election campaign for the Legislature would be his last.
So as they held campaign signs at a busy Harwich intersection, state Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, and Harwich Selectman Ed McManus talked about how the chips might fall if the Cape Air founder decided to run for governor and leave the Cape and Islands Senate seat without an incumbent.
“She indicated that, if he did run for governor, she fully intended to run for state Senate,” McManus said. “If she did that, she thought I should think about getting ready to run for the state representative seat.”
Sure enough, the dominoes went down. Wolf announced his gubernatorial run in July. Peake announced her run for Senate. And other candidates have since expressed interest in her House seat.
But as Wolf works to clear himself of an ethics issue stemming from his stake in Cape Air, Peake and those anxious to replace her say their 2014 plans are now “up in the air” — no pun intended.
“If Senator Wolf runs for re-election, I’m not going to run against him. That was never the idea,” Peake said in a recent interview. “I think everything is up in the air now, and we’re all sort of in a holding pattern. We’ll get a snapshot later this month from the Ethics Commission.”
At its meeting today at 12:30 p.m., the five-member commission is scheduled to further discuss an exemption to the conflict-of-interest law that might allow Wolf, a Harwich Democrat, to maintain not just his 20 percent share of Cape Air but also his political career.
On Aug. 2, the commission informed Wolf that his share in the airline and its dealings with Logan International Airport in Boston created a conflict of interest preventing him from holding office.
Wolf has said he could not “in good conscience” end the airline’s agreements with the Massachusetts Port Authority — an option he said would “destroy” the company — or saddle its employees with serious debt by divesting his shares under Cape Air’s employee ownership plan.
Last month, however, the commission voted 4-1 to begin drafting an exemption that could potentially make room for contracts like Cape Air’s, which Wolf and even some ethics commissioners have likened more to operating licenses than the business agreements that the ethics laws were meant to address.
The question now is whether that exemption will go far enough to address Wolf’s conflict and whether the commission will vote to approve it.
Wolf’s attorney, Carl Valvo, said the commission could be contemplating an exemption that would allow the senator to remain in the Legislature but prevent him from maintaining his interest in Cape Air if elected governor.
Time is another consideration.
If the commission takes months to adopt an exemption, Wolf might decide that it is too late to mount a credible gubernatorial campaign.
Wolf said Friday that he will make that decision by the end of the year.
“I have definitely not ruled out running for the Senate again,” Wolf said Friday. “I haven’t ruled it in, either.”
The uncertainty is keeping prospective candidates from fundraising at a time when they would otherwise be gauging their level of political and financial support.
It is having a similar effect on the other side of the aisle.
Leo Cakounes, a Republican member of the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates, said in July that he was seriously considering a run for Peake’s seat. At the time, he expected Peake’s 4th Barnstable seat to be open.
But with the possibility of Peake running for re-election, Cakounes said his campaign is now “pretty much on hold.”
“If Dan gets a green light and can remain senator but maybe not be governor, Dan might decide to stay in his Senate seat. If that happens, I’m sure Sarah won’t run against him,” he said. “And if that happens, the 4th isn’t really an open seat now, and someone from the Republican ticket would have to run against Sarah. I wouldn’t be prepared to do that.”
Cakounes said it would be too difficult to raise the money necessary to unseat an incumbent, and while he disagrees with her at times, he said Peake has “done an OK job for us as a representative.”
If Peake decides to run for re-election rather than the Cape and Islands Senate seat, Cakounes said he will set his sights on winning County Commissioner William Doherty’s seat.
County Commissioner Sheila Lyons, who lost to Wolf in the 2010 Democratic primary, feels that there’s a “very strong likelihood” that he will run for Senate re-election rather than for governor.
“But I’m waiting to see,” said Lyons, who changed the purpose of her political committee from the county commissioner post to the 4th Barnstable seat. “I have no intention of challenging (Peake). Quite frankly, right now we’re in a status quo mode, so I’m going to wait and see like everyone else.”
Like Lyons, 31-year-old Provincetown resident Nathaniel Charles Mayo said he will support and defer to Peake and Wolf in 2014.
Mayo, once an aide to former state Sen. Robert O’Leary, now helps manage Cape Codder Guests, a guesthouse on Commercial Street in Provincetown. He organized his candidate committee with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance on Aug. 1 — the day before the commission informed Wolf that his Cape Air ties posed a conflict of interest.
“I took a step back in deference to people I know and work with. It’s not really in my hands,” Mayo said. “If the seat became available, I’d strongly consider it, and I think I’d have a decent chance at winning that seat. But at this point, I want Senator Wolf and Representative Peake to be in the highest public office possible.”