John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
LOWELL -- Governor Deval Patrick, who is crisscrossing the state this weekend to kick off his reelection campaign, began his trek today with a stop at a local diner where he talked to a group of supporters and shook hands with the regulars enjoying their eggs and bacon.
In the first of 20 stops he and Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray are planning, Patrick stressed the importance of seizing the moment in the November election.
“This is a really important campaign, and I say that not personally, I say it because we’re at a really critical point here in the Commonwealth about whether we’re going to choose to go forward or go back,” the Democrat said to the crowd of a couple of dozen people at the Owl Diner. “It’s as simple as that.”
Democrats for months had all but given up hope of holding onto the governor's office, but they are now convinced that the first-term governor's campaign has come to life, in part because of his reengagement in the political process that he shunned during much of his term, the Globe reported this week.
Charles D. Baker and Christy Mihos are vying for the Republican nomination. Timothy P. Cahill, the state treasurer and a former Democrat, is running as an independent. Grace Ross is also seeking the Democratic nomination.
Outside the Lowell diner, nearly 100 supporters of the Lowell Police Association held signs criticizing the governor.
Patrick and the Legislature over the past year have scaled back funding for the Quinn Bill program, which compensates police officers who seek higher education. Another point of contention is the state's new policy that flagmen should be used instead of police details at some road construction sites, which will also cut the pay that officers receive.
"There’s a lot of frustration not just with the Lowell police department, but with law enforcement throughout the Commonwealth,” said Timothy M. Burke, an attorney and spokesman for the Lowell Police Association. “Many officers took out loans or bought homes with the understanding that they would be receiving the Quinn Bill benefits.”
Patrick in his remarks inside the diner acknowledged the protesters and said he was committed to investing in public safety.
“When you hear about the [cuts to the] Quinn Bill, it’s not because the Quinn Bill is evil,” Patrick said. “It’s because we’re at a place right now where we’re having to make a lot of hard choices.” He spoke briefly with police union leaders at the end of the crowded diner counter.
Patrick worked the crowd, going from table to table greeting families. Geoff Pierson, 44, of Lowell, was eating breakfast with his wife, two daughters, and mother-in-law when Patrick came by to chat. Afterward, Pierson said the visit was pleasant and unexpected.
“Every incumbent will be facing an uphill battle,” Pierson said. “I’d like to see what his opposition is going to look like.”
One Lowell police officer signaled his frustration outside, as passing cars honked in support.
“We feel like we’re shouldering all of the problems in the state,” said Michael Giuffrida, 41, of Lowell, who said he has been a patrolman for 15 years. “We just want to be treated fairly.”
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