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Senate hopefuls tout their ties, skills

As election looms, the 4 candidates seek to set themselves apart

One candidate touts the endorsement of professional boxer John "The Quiet Man" Ruiz. Another likes to bring up that his father was once the Massachusetts Speaker of the House, while a third candidate frequently mentions that he is fluent in four languages.

"Well, I was just endorsed by US Senator Dianne Feinstein, so how's that?" said quadrilingual candidate Jeff Ross, 38, a Cambridge lawyer who interned for the California senator in the early 1990s and yesterday secured the only congressional endorsement.

In a special election that has largely taken place in the doldrums of summer, any distinction counts for the four Democrats vying for a spot in the state Senate. The seat was vacated in July by Jarrett T. Barrios, a five-year senator who left to head the Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation.

Because there are no Republican or unenrolled candidates running, the race will be decided in Tuesday's primary, when voters go to the polls in sections of Boston, Cambridge, Everett, Somerville, Revere, Chelsea, and Saugus.

Anthony Galluccio, a 40-year-old city councilor and former mayor of Cambridge, is considered by many observers to be the front-runner because of the name recognition he's gained through numerous campaigns. But he also has widely-publicized drunken driving convictions; the other candidates did not talk directly about that during much of the campaign, but they have begun making references to issues such as character and proper public conduct in the final days of the race.

"I'm far from a perfect human being. But the way I conduct myself as an individual will make young kids be proud," said Paul Nowicki, 38, an eight-term Chelsea city councilor who secured the endorsement of Ruiz, a Chelsea resident who in 2001 defeated Evander Holyfield. "My personal conduct and how people view me is important to me. It may not be important to someone else."

At a debate in Cambridge on Thursday, Timothy Flaherty asked his opponents whether anything in their personal or professional lives would embarrass those who endorsed them.

"I thought it was a fair question," said Flaherty, 42, a former assistant district attorney and the son of former House speaker Charlie Flaherty.

Galluccio did not bring up the drunken driving charges at the debate but acknowledged he has made mistakes.

"I don't think the personal issues of any of the candidates have been a major issue," Galluccio said yesterday in an interview. "I've been a very high-profile political figure, so I've been subjected to more personal scrutiny than other candidates. That has made me a stronger person and a more resilient public servant."

In December 2005, Galluccio triggered a four-car accident at a downtown Boston intersection at 2 a.m. No sobriety test was administered, but Channel 5 aired an investigation two months later where three witnesses told the station that Galluccio appeared to be drunk, which Galluccio denied. A clerk magistrate at Boston Municipal Court later ruled that he had been drinking, but said there was not enough evidence for a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Galluccio's driving record includes two DUI convictions, one in 1984, when he was 17, and a second in 1997.

In a district that includes Cambridge homes of Harvard professors and blue-collar neighborhoods in Everett and Chelsea, the candidates have sought to tackle a wide range of issues, but few have stood out in a field that is ideologically indistinguishable.

They have all said that residents should be protected from a massive expansion by Harvard University, and they have argued for more after-school programs as a solution to gang problems in the district.

One issue that has divided the field is whether casino gambling should be legal in Massachusetts, an issue that could have a large impact on the district if one were built at Suffolk Downs in East Boston.

Flaherty and Nowicki support legalizing casinos. Ross is opposed to it, and Galluccio has not made a final decision.

Combined, the candidates had spent $182,341 as of Aug. 24, according to campaign finance reports.

Flaherty had raised the most money, $103,535, but Galluccio had spent the most, $61,441.

"This is not a race about the issues or a statement on ideology," said Jeffrey M. Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University. "This race is defined by a low turnout and a need to get every last voter to the polls."

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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