Known to his colleagues as fair and reasonable, N.Y. native aims to be the city’s next mayor
By AARON NICODEMUS, Standard-Times staff writer
NEW BEDFORD — How did someone born on Long Island, who went to college in Wisconsin and law school in Washington, D.C., end up in New Bedford?
And how, 27 years after moving to the city and never having held elective office, did Scott W. Lang jump into the mayor’s race six weeks before a preliminary election with a field crowded with eight other candidates — including four-term Mayor Frederick M. Kalisz Jr. — and become the front-runner?
Many who know Mr. Lang say the same talents that make him a successful attorney helped him put together a campaign so quickly and effectively.
Mr. Lang, 54, is widely praised as an excellent lawyer. In interviews, lawyers who have worked with or opposed Mr. Lang are consistently positive.
“He is completely above board, fair, he never loses his temper, and he puts all his cards on the table,” said Jay Lynch, an attorney with Lynch & Lynch in Easton. Mr. Lynch opposed Mr. Lang on a number of cases involving insurance claims and personal injury. He’s known Mr. Lang professionally for 20 years, and while they are not friends socially, Mr. Lynch said he respects him. He has not donated to Mr. Lang’s campaign, but plans to.
“He’s the sort of person who lawyers and judges will go to with a legal issue or a problem, and he’ll help them through it,” he said. “I liken what Scott is doing to what (Mayor) Jack Yunits did in Brockton. He’s been spectacular, and I think Scott will be, too. I don’t know of a more respected lawyer in all of Southeastern Massachusetts.”
Mr. Lang not an excitable guy, other lawyers say.
“He’s low-key,” said Daniel C. Perry, a New Bedford attorney who has worked with him and opposed him. “He’s not a shouter. He addresses issues very straighforwardly and he tries to keep personalities out of it.”
Mr. Perry initially supported Matthew A. Morrissey for mayor, but said he will now support Mr. Lang.
As an accomplished attorney with his own firm, Mr. Lang certainly does not need the job of mayor. In addition to his own law practice, he teaches courses at UMass Dartmouth and serves as a mediator. In his early days, he was a sports agent, representing more than 50 NBA players and coaches, including Boston Celtics coach Bill Fitch and players Nate “Tiny” Archibald and Gerald Henderson. He has extensive contacts within the Democratic National Committee.
Although he said he will likely give up teaching and mediating if he is elected, Mr. Lang said he will continue to work at his law firm. He owns his home on Stetson Street near St. Luke’s Hospital, is part-owner of his law office on Orchard Street and owns a small parcel of land, estimated value of $7,000, in Maine.
Although he would not discuss his income, he said that if elected, the mayor’s salary of $88,000 per year (the salary will rise to $108,000 by 2007) will be a pay cut.
“I’ve never looked at it from the standpoint of money,” he said. “There’s absolutely no doubt there’s going to be a financial hardship. This is something I really want to do. I can tell you this, though: I won’t be a career politician. I’ll always have my career to go back to.”
Mr. Lang has a long history of representing unions.
In the late 1980s, Mr. Lang represented the United Auto Workers in their often bitter arbitration hearings with Chamberlain Manufacturing, then one of New Bedford’s largest employers. James J. Flaherty Jr., the president of Chamberlain in Scranton, Pa., was the general manager of Chamberlain from 1986 until the plant closed in 1991.
Mr. Flaherty called Mr. Lang “very fair. He did a very good job of adequately representing the union. I didn’t always agree with his position, but I was able to understand where he was coming from.”
The union went on strike for 20 weeks in 1986. Mr. Lang only got involved after negotiations went to arbitration.
“In my opinion, had Scott been involved, it would have been resolved much sooner,” Mr. Flaherty said. “Scott recognized that nobody wins with a work stoppage. He was always working to find the common ground, always looking to solve problems rather than cause them.”
Walter Smith, a Dartmouth attorney, estimated that he and Mr. Lang have opposed each other “dozens of times” over the course of their long careers; Mr. Smith as counsel for the Union Street Bus Co. while Mr. Lang represented the bus drivers’ union. Mr. Smith said he and Mr. Lang know each other professionally, and that he attended a campaign fundraiser.
“He thinks very well on his feet, he’s reasonable, he advocates very well on his client’s behalf,” Mr. Smith said. “I’ve gone up against union lawyers who are completely unreasonable, and Scott is not that at all. He’s willing to listen to arguments and resolve things in a way that is beneficial to all.”
Mr. Lang’s 12 years as a prosecutor have been criticized by the Kalisz campaign, with the mayor singling out three cases in which Mr. Lang plea bargained on serious charges, netting light sentences for crimes of armed robbery, sexual assault on a child, and attempted murder.
“I did what every other ADA in the country does with plea bargains,” Mr. Lang said. “We never backed down from a trial, ever. We always tried to be a part of the administration of justice. The judge made the final decision, and all of the cases were argued in open court. If I had made a mistake, believe me, the press and my bosses would have been all over me.”
Ronald A. Pina, an attorney now in private practice, was the Bristol County District Attorney for most of Mr. Lang’s tenure as a prosecutor.
“He did an excellent job, and if he didn’t, I wouldn’t have given him any cases,” Mr. Pina said.
When asked if there was a perception that Mr. Lang plea-bargained too many of his cases, Mr. Pina said no. “I would have known about that. I ran for re-election in 1990 and nobody raised that issue at all. If those complaints had been out there, they would have hit me in the face,” he said.
Mr. Pina said it is unfair of Mayor Kalisz and his campaign advisor, George Leontire, to focus on these cases without any supporting documents.
“He knows you can’t answer it because it happened 17 years ago,” Mr. Pina said. “Scott was a very intense prosecutor, and he was very focused. Nobody ever complained about his performance.”
Mr. Lang has represented numerous other cases as well. Perhaps the most high-profile of those was his representation of female troopers who sued the Massachusetts State Police for gender discrimination.
He had this to say about the State Police in a 2004 Boston Magazine story: “Instead of holding press conferences about security or crime prevention, the state police are bogged down with stories about troopers gone bad, the integrity of their systems, personnel problems, questions about discrimination, and the constant back and forth with the unions. It’s not what the taxpayers deserve. It’s a dysfunctional agency.”
Mr. Lang won a $100,000 settlement for a Latino bank clerk who alleged she was passed over for promotions by Citizens Bank. He pursued a case on behalf of a bakery clerk at Shaw’s Supermarkets who alleged she injured her back on the job and was fired after disagreeing on what job she should return to. The case was eventually dismissed by a federal appeals judge.
Mr. Lang’s involvement in politics stretches back to his college years, when he worked as a field coordinator for the 1972 presidential campaign of Hubert Humphrey, and covers nearly three decades of work with the Democratic National Committee.
He also worked with Ted Kennedy’s 1980 presidential campaign, and was campaign manager for John Bullard’s mayoral campaign in 1983 and 1985. In 1992, Mr. Lang negotiated at the Democratic National Convention on behalf of former California Governor Jerry Brown.
In 1997, when Mr. Lang penned a letter criticizing the Democratic Party for not adequately addressing a fundraising scandal that was engulfing the DNC, his name appeared in newspapers across the country. He was consistently referred to in those national news stories as a “distinguished lawyer” and “longtime Democratic party activist.”
Paul G. Kirk Jr., DNC chairman from 1984-88, is a longtime friend of Mr. Lang.
Mr. Kirk said that Mr. Lang provided him with “clear, unvarnished advice” when he was chairman of the DNC. Mr. Kirk also went to Mr. Lang for advice in the early 1990s when Mr. Kirk pursued the post of commissioner of Major League Baseball. The post eventually went to Bud Selig.
“I’m kind of surprised that Scott would get into this thing,” Mr. Kirk said of the mayor’s race. “He’s worked hard to get a successful law practice going, but I think there’s a fire in his belly to improve things, and so he’s well on his way.”
Mr. Lang’s run for mayor is his second run for public office. He ran second to Sylvester Sylvia of Dartmouth for Democratic State Committee in 1988.
He is connected to some of the most politically influential people in the region.
Mr. Lang counts as close friends some of the most politically influential people in the region, including two former mayors (John Bullard and Rosemary Tierney), two retired judges (John Xifaras and John Tierney) and a member of the Democratic National Committee, Margaret “MarDee” Xifaras, who is one of Mr. Lang’s law partners at Lang, Xifaras and Bullard. Peter C. Bullard, John Bullard’s brother, is another partner. William Straus, state representative from Mattapoisett, is a close friend who also works for Mr. Lang’s law firm.
“I’ve known him since he first arrived in the city,” Mrs. Tierney said of Mr. Lang. Mrs. Tierney was mayor of New Bedford for six years. She said last week that she is a supporter of Mr. Lang’s campaign.
“He was a nice, young bright lawyer who came from a sports background in D.C., and my husband and he talked baseball endlessly. He was forthright, honest and humble. I’ve kept tabs on him over the years, and I’m ready to help his campaign as much as I can,” she said.
Mrs. Tierney said she expects nothing for her support. After the election, she said she plans to head to her summer home in Florida, join up with former New Bedford residents Tony and Elsie Souza, and help Democrat Bill Nelson in his U.S. Senate race against Kathleen Harris, Florida’s former secretary of state.
“The people I know who are helping Scott are helping him for the same reason I am, because he is the best candidate with the best reasons for running,” she said.
Urban at Heart
Scott Lang was born on Oct. 25, 1950, in Oceanside, N.Y., on Long Island. He was the oldest of four children born to Richard and Norah (MacLean) Lang. His father was Jewish, his mother was Catholic, and he was raised in the Jewish faith.
After graduating from high school, he was accepted to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisc. He would earn a degree in history and political science in 1972.
Mr. Lang’s introduction to New Bedford came through his mother. She had divorced his father when her son was 15, and remarried. In 1973, she moved to New Bedford with her new husband. Mr. Lang visited the city once or twice a year, mostly on holidays, while he was working for the Democratic National Committee. She lived in New Bedford until her death last year.
Mr. Lang and his wife, Marguerite “Gig” (Sheehy) Lang, have been married for 32 years, having met while they were both attending Mepham High School in Bellmore, N.Y.
After receiving a job offer from John Tierney, Mr. Lang said he and his wife were drawn to New Bedford because it is so close the water and had good schools. He’d met Mr. Tierney in D.C., through a mutual friend at the DNC.
“My wife and I fell in love with it immediately,” he said of New Bedford. They moved into the second floor apartment of a two-family building on Ocean Street.
Asked if he ever considered moving to the suburbs, Mr. Lang laughed. “I need to be in the middle of a city to feel comfortable. \ I’d be going crazy, checking my head for ticks all the time,” he said. “I’m a city guy.”
Mr. Lang had an ongoing dispute with one of his neighbors several years ago that involved a loud pool filter located near his bedroom. The dispute has been settled, and the homeowner who owns the pool said her family and the Langs are still friends.
The Langs have three children. Nathan, 26, is pursuing a career in acting with a comedy troupe called the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City. Andrew, 24, is still chasing his dream of becoming a major league baseball player with the independent Kalamazoo Kings of the Frontier League. Sarah, 19, is a sophomore at Fordham University. They were raised as Catholics, their mother’s faith.
All three children attended Friends Academy in Dartmouth through eighth grade. Andrew and Nathan attended New Bedford High School, while Sarah attended Tabor Academy in Marion.
The Langs are empty-nesters now, supporting their adult children without having to attend baseball games and science fairs.
His children being grown and gone played a part in Mr. Lang’s decision to run for mayor.
“I wouldn’t have done this without the support of my family,” he said.