Politics the Old-Fashioned Way

Tackey Chan '95
Tackey Chan '95

The newly elected Massachusetts Representative Tackey Chan ’95 took office 75 years after legendary Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill got his start in the same state legislature. Though their paths never crossed, Chan would be the first to agree with the outspoken, liberal Democrat on at least one important point: All politics is local.

The proof: To win the 2010 election, Chan and a team of almost 100 volunteers knocked on 3,000 doors and talked with 9,000 people to win the Democratic primary and a three-way final race for the 2nd Norfolk District in his hometown, Quincy, Mass. Chan became one of the first Asian-Americans elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and one of only five in the state legislature. In fact, Quincy had never elected a minority candidate before Chan’s victory in 2010.

“I did something no one else did, and it really all started with my politics degree at Brandeis,” says Chan, a Democrat who grew up in a working-class family in a city where issues like collective bargaining rights and affordable housing are important. Chan says he was motivated to run for the state office after two veteran Quincy legislators vacated their seats.

“My campaign was largely about jobs and about getting as much money back from the state as I can for the city,” Chan says.

At Brandeis, Chan lived on the first floor of Usen Castle his freshman year, but then ran out of money and commuted for the following three years. Working his way through Brandeis as a political science major and later attending New England Law School at night, he says, altered his viewpoint on many issues. He and his mother shared a car; she worked nights and he worked days, balancing the demands of college with work-study assignments in the Usdan Student Center and the library, in an internship at state Rep. Michael Bellotti’s office, and in a job at a local gas station.

“I was fortunate to have some friends who saved a seat for me at lunch,” Chan says. “That was a big thing for me.”

Graduation from law school only hastened his work pace. Positions as a systems administrator for the technological consulting company Onsett International, as general counsel and legislative director for state Sen. Michael Morrissey and as assistant attorney general working in the Office of Ratepayer Advocacy were partnered with stints at local organizations like the Asian American Association of Quincy and service on the town’s zoning board. He even started a private law practice and co-founded Quincy Asian Resources, Inc.

“Eventually you figure out what you’re good at,” says Chan, who is also a licensed real estate broker and a member of the Screen Actors Guild who has appeared in commercials and training videos. “I actually found something that’s a combination of things I really like — history, philosophy, cultural differences.”

Just a few months into his first term as a state representative, Chan is already planning his 2012 re-election bid. His personal mantra, however, suggests that he’s prepared for any outcome.

“There are worse things in life than losing,” Chan says, “but winning never hurts either.”

— Debra Filcman