Born and raised in western Massachusetts, Martha Coakley built her career as a prosecutor in the eastern part of the state, and has been a high-profile political figure statewide for the better part of a decade. A native of North Adams, Coakley attended Williams College in neighboring Williamstown and then went on to Boston University Law School.
After several years in a private law office, she began work in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office in the mid 1980s. As a local prosecutor, she is perhaps best known for leading the prosecution of British au pair Louise Woodward, who was accused of shaking eight month-old Matthew Eappen to death. A Cambridge jury convicted Woodward of second-degree murder, but the judge in the case reduced the sentence to involuntary manslaughter, and she was deported.
In 1998, the year after the Woodward trial, Coakley was elected Middlesex County District Attorney. Eight years later, she was elected Attorney General of Massachusetts (succeeding Thomas Reilly, who had also preceded her as Middlesex County D.A.). She is the first woman to have been elected to that position.
As attorney general, she successfully secured major settlements from lending institutions, filed suit against the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and recovered millions for the state following the deadly 2006 collapse of a ceiling tile in Boston’s Ted Williams Tunnel. She was unsuccessful in defending the state’s controversial abortion clinic “buffer zone” law, which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014, and her office was unable to secure a corruption conviction against former state Treasurer Tim Cahill over controversial ads for the state lottery.
In 2010, Coakley received national attention when she became the Democratic nominee to run for the U.S. Senate seat long held by the late Edward M. Kennedy. In a stunning upset in deeply Democratic Massachusetts, Coakley was defeated by then-state Sen. Scott Brown, the first Republican to win a Massachusetts senate race since 1972. Coakley quickly rebounded following the loss, however, and ten months later was comfortably re-elected as attorney general.
In the 2014 race for Governor, Coakley lead her Democratic rivals Steve Grossman and Donald Berwick in the polls, but she finished second among delegates at the state Democratic convention in Worcester back in June. In the September primary, however, she came out on top to secure the party’s nomination.
Coakley lives in Medford with her husband, Thomas F. O’Connor, Jr., who is a former police deputy superintendent.
Where they Stand
Where candidates for Mass. governor stand on casinos
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