Nov 20, 2023 - Politics

John Walsh, 'godfather' of modern grassroots campaigns, dies at 65

Then-Mass. Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh speaks during a party to celebrate Ed Markey's U.S Senate special election victory at the Park Plaza Hotel in  2013.

John Walsh addresses a party celebrating Ed Markey's U.S. Senate special election victory in 2013. Photo: Christopher Evans/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

Politicians across Massachusetts are mourning the loss of John Walsh, the political adviser behind former Gov. Deval Patrick’s unprecedented victory in 2006.

Why it matters: Walsh’s grassroots campaigning playbook for sending Patrick to Beacon Hill — the same strategies he used on Sen. Ed Markey’s reelection campaign in the 2020 Democratic primary — became a model Barack Obama built upon to win the presidency in 2008.

Catch up fast: Walsh died in hospice care Monday at age 65, the Globe first reported.

  • He had been diagnosed with stomach cancer earlier this year.

What’s happening: Politicians and friends, from U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley to Larry Carpman, John Kerry’s former press secretary, shared their memories of Walsh in the wake of his death.

Flashback: The son of Irish immigrants, Walsh graduated to Princeton University and returned to Plymouth County, where he helped a friend launch an unsuccessful campaign for Abington School Committee in 1981, according to the Abington News.

  • His friend lost.
  • Walsh ran for the local board of selectman two years later and went onto serve 10 years on the board.
  • He rose up the ranks in local politics, ultimately leading Patrick’s campaign for governor before serving as chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party between 2007 and 2013.

What they’re saying: With Patrick's campaign, Walsh brought relational organizing back to the forefront of Massachusetts politics, at a time when campaigns relied on TV ad buys.

  • "He knew that the path of justice runs through the kitchen tables, civic centers, schools and town squares in every corner of Massachusetts and our country," Markey said in a statement.

Alex Goldstein, CEO of 90 West communications, started his career on the Patrick campaign with Walsh, who served as Patrick's campaign manager.

  • “To have the opportunity for your first job in politics to be learning from John Walsh, the godfather of the grassroots, as a grassroots organizer is about as good as it can possibly get,” Goldstein said.
  • Goldstein remembers most Walsh’s optimism and compassion: “He was always the one to pull the rest of us out of the darkness when things got bad.”

It’s why Carpman, a public relations veteran and a close friend of Walsh, said he started calling him “Captain Sunshine.”

  • The nickname stuck through the years, even into Markey’s campaign in 2020.

The bottom line: "It's hard to imagine a world without John Walsh,” Carpman said.


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