MASSACHUSETS Democrats - in the midst of a heated, three-candidate gubernatorial primary race - are at the same time lashing back at Republicans for their alleged role in disrupting a state Democratic convention earlier this month. Last week the state Democratic Party filed suit against GOP presidential aide Ronald Kaufman and two others, accusing them of orchestrating a police-union picket line in front of the Springfield, Mass., convention hall.
Many of the 4,824 convention delegates chose not to cross the picket line, and the convention was delayed for several hours.
Democrats say the suit was not politically motivated.
``We don't view this as a tool for winning the election,'' said James Roosevelt, state Democratic Party legal counsel. ``[It is] to redress the injustice that was done. ... This is a protection of our constitutional rights in the future.''
In the suit, Democrats charge Mr. Kaufman, his associate Stephen DeAngelis, and Springfield police union president Robert Jacobson with civil rights violations. Mr. Roosevelt says picketing police blocked the convention entrances as well as assaulted and spit on delegates. The suit contains unspecified damages.
Kaufman, deputy assistant to the president for personnel, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. He has acknowledged, however, that he had been in contact with Mr. Jacobson a few weeks prior to the convention, although he says there was no discussion of the picketing.
GOP state executive director Alexander Tennant says Democratic officials themselves should be blamed for the picketing, because they handled the union dispute badly.
``It's clear the Democrats want to try to cover up the disaster of the Democratic state convention,'' Mr. Tennant says. ``What they would like to do is avoid the ballot box and go for the jury box.''
According to Tennant, the police union had been threatening to strike for months before the convention.
``This union has had a labor problem for two years. For months and weeks in advance they said they would picket,'' he says. Democratic leaders failed to secure an agreement in writing that the union wouldn't strike, he said.
The state Democratic Committee, nevertheless, feels it has enough ammunition to make a good case. ``We definitely have enough evidence, including direct statements by a former employee of a Republican campaign to believe there was involvement,'' Roosevelt says.
The employee, Sean Keegan, worked for GOP candidate for state treasurer Joseph Malone. Mr. Keegan said that Mr. DeAngelis, also a Malone campaign worker, bragged to him about how he and Kaufman encouraged the police union to disrupt the convention. DeAngelis was seen milling around the Springfield convention hall using a portable telephone. He reportedly made calls to Kaufman's hotel room that day. Washington Meeting
Besides Keegan's testimony, state Democrats are now investigating a Washington meeting involving Jacobson and Kaufman on May 15. In addition, Democrats say they also have a videotape of police assaulting delegates.
According to Marty Linsky, public policy lecturer at Havard University, the Democrats stand to gain more politically than legally from the lawsuit.
Some observers say it could take as long as six months before the suit goes to trial, after the fall elections are long over and forgotten.
``If their objective is to win the lawsuit, I assume their chances are no better than 50/50,'' Mr. Linsky says.
The Republicans are aware of the move as a political tactic, Linsky says. The lawsuit, however, may potentially have broad negative implications for the GOP. ``If it continues to receive national publicity, then it creates a warning signal [for the GOP]. ... It sets some constraints on their flexibility in the election season,'' he says.