Election season has put Cong. William Delahunt in a dark but feisty mood.
Despite coming to the Vineyard yesterday to celebrate a victory he helped spearhead - restoring the Menemsha Coast Guard station to full status - the congressman wasn't leaning back on laurels.
Instead he was stumping for Democrats, rallying for greater protection of the ocean, assailing President Bush's Iraq policy and lauding grassroots initiatives aimed at offering health insurance to the uninsured and underinsured.
"It's become a very close race again," Mr. Delahunt said of the run for the White House. "My colleagues in the battleground states, they're optimistic."
In a conversation with the Gazette yesterday morning, the congressman from Quincy then sharpened his attack on President Bush.
"The president throughout the world is not respected," he said. "If Bush is reelected, the rest of the world will be perplexed and we'll see a transference of that negativity to the United States."
Congressman Delahunt is known for a cheery disposition and sense of humor, but when the topic is George W. Bush, the demeanor is decidedly serious, the rhetoric biting.
"This is the most secretive administration in modern history. It doesn't consult. It's arrogant," he said offering up examples such as the recent Medicare prescription bill pushed by the Republican majority.
Mr. Delahunt quickly shifted gears to a political race closer to home: a Republican challenge to Cape and Islands Sen. Robert O'Leary's bid for a third term.
He is actively involved in helping Senator O'Leary win reelection.
"Senator [Edward M.] Kennedy and I just held a fundraiser for him in Boston, raised $35,000 to $40,000," he said.
Congressman Delahunt isn't shy about taking some shots at Mr. O'Leary's challenger, a pediatrician-turned-Fidelity financial analyst named Dr. Gail Lese.
"He's up against a well-financed candidate, who has the backing of the [Gov. Mitt Romney] administration and, in this case, Fidelity," he said. "Look at Fidelity, who's benefited from influence in the legislative process and enjoys hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks. We don't need an in-house lobbyist like this."
Mr. Delahunt said of Mr. O'Leary: "He's Ted Kennedy's state senator."
The congressman had some choice words reserved for one of the region's front burner topics, the proposed wind farm for Nantucket Sound.
The Cape Wind project has split environmental advocates; some favor the implementation of a renewable energy source while others decry the potential negative impacts to marine life and migratory birds.
But Mr. Delahunt does not hedge his views about the controversial wind farm proposal. "We can't choose one set of environmental priorities to the degradation of another," he said. "You don't degrade an ecosystem to achieve a new energy that creates less dependency on fossil fuels."
The attempt to build 130 turbines over a 24-square-mile swath of the sound will become a litmus test for similar projects along the eastern seaboard, he said, but there is a serious gap in federal policy. What's missing? The ocean, he said.
"Until we make a commitment to managing our oceans - the waters around the Vineyard and Nantucket Sound - this natural resource is really at risk," Mr. Delahunt said. "There's not this sense of urgency in Washington about oceans."
A federal report issued last April offered some hope, in his view, highlighting the need to treat the ocean with as much care as the land.
"We have zoning," he said. "We have policies for forests, for mining, but all we have now is the Army Corps of Engineers with statutes that date back to the 1800s."
As for Cape Wind specifically, the former district attorney predicts years of litigation. "It's a disaster in terms of the process that exists now," he said. "There's no coherent process that exists to permit these kinds of proposals."
It's not difficult to detect Mr. Delahunt's passion for the subject. It's the same passion he brought to Capitol Hill in his fight to fund the Coast Guard and to bring back the Menemsha station to full strength.
Sidestepping the credit, he said the restoration of Station Menemsha demonstrates the power of a community speaking out.
"The Vineyard's a great cauldron of diversity and diverse opinion," he said, admitting that for him the plight of Menemsha became a galvanizing force.
"It's a long ride from Woods Hole. How many lives will be saved as a result of this?" he wondered out loud.
Congressman Delahunt drew a parallel between the outcry over Menemsha and the latest Vineyard efforts to establish a rural health clinic. "The hope is the grassroots stuff," he said. "In a Republican-controlled Congress, we've got to rely on ourselves."
The message was sobering, and Mr. Delahunt quickly turned the conversation back to the Presidential election and the job performance of Mr. Bush on the Iraq question.
"This is such a colossal mess with nothing to do with the war on terror, but a vision leading us down the road where our national security will be at greater risk," he said.
Asked about efforts by some Vineyard voters to reject some provisions of the U.S. Patriot Act, he responded bluntly: "Let me really cause you some concern," and then described a House bill seeking to expand the Patriot Act.
But Mr. Delahunt won't allow politicians to take all the blame. Citizens need to inform themselves, he said. He pointed to American culture and the country's prowess for economic productivity as part of the problem.
"Other nations have six weeks vacation, and they're better off for it," he said. "When I grew up, there was a dinner table and we had conversations with people. We don't do that today."
In his view sport utility vehicles are lumped into America's cultural ills. "If we went from 25 to 30-mile-per-gallon cars, we'd no longer be dependent on Mideast oil," he said.
Despite the serious tones, Mr. Delahunt's humor managed to seep into the conversation, largely through geographic exhortations.
How's the mood in Washington?
"Stay on the Vineyard," he warned.
What can Massachusetts voters do to help Senator Kerry defeat Mr. Bush?
"Move to Ohio," he offered.
Finally, what if the Democrats don't prevail in November?
"Some people say if Bush is elected, ‘I'll leave the country,'" he said, a smile spreading across his face. "We can't do that or we'll all be in Ireland."