Anyone who comes to Wrentham, probably can tell from the signs in front of house after house that the town residents for the most part are big fans of Senator Scott Brown.
The story of someone who was an elected property assessor in 1992 only to become a US Senator in 2010 is an improbable one and it is one of a town that has stood by and supported. Brown is running for reelection against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.
If there were to be a Republican star from Massachusetts, it makes sense that Wrentham would be home to that person.
In a state that mostly supports Democratic candidates, Wrentham, along with surrounding towns like Plainville, Norfolk, and Foxborough, have been consistently supportive of Republican candidates or when the Democratic won, it was by a very small margin.
Wrentham’s support of the republican party goes beyond Brown. Next to the Brown for Senate lawn signs are more signs for state Rep. Dan Winslow from nearby Norfolk and State Senator Richard Ross of Wrentham. The signs are displayed despite the fact that both candidates are unopposed for reelection.
Brown’s first foray into politics wasn’t a grand effort to run for Congress or even as a state representative, but rather as the elected property assessor for the town of Wrentham in 1992.
Three years later, Brown successfully ran for selectman where he continued to be an active part of local government.
“He’s always been hardworking and dedicated back when he was on town boards and a selectmen and kind of moved his way up,” John O'Neill said.
O’Neil, who also serves as the chair of the Wrentham Republican Town Committee, called Brown, “thoughtful, considerate, compassionate, dedicated and focused on what he believes.”
The venture into politics was not a shock for those who knew Brown. As someone who was interested in solving problems and helping others, the time spent in local politics was not surprising.
“He always had a consideration," Wrentham resident Alicia Giovannelli said. "What I liked about him was he was always involved in town, always wanted to fix things, always cared what people had to say.”
His time helping people extended beyond public service and to a personal level. When King Philip School Committee member Jim Killion fell on hard times, Brown was there to help him keep his house and get him in contact with the right people.
“He came to my home and I never expected that," Killion said. "He put me in touch with the right people and they were a huge benefit to myself. I can’t thank him enough for that.”
While Brown spent plenty of time at Wrentham Town Hall, he was often seen as a parent on the sidelines of a soccer game or in the stands of a basketball game. With a daughter, Ayla, who went on to play basketball for Boston College, the Brown family could often be seen participating in Wrentham youth sports
As one of the coaches of a youth soccer team featuring Brown’s daughter, Arianna, and sponsored by Brown while he was a state representative, Mitchell Halpern saw in Brown a committed father who took the time to take an interest in his children’s activities.
“I just thought of him as another father of a kid on the team. He always struck me as being involved with in that case Arianna. He just seemed like another good guy,” Halpern said.
While Halpern never had a conversation at the time about Brown’s future in politics, he did admit that he thought Brown did have aspirations for higher office at the time.
Taking the opposite view, O’Neil felt that it wasn’t necessarily Brown aiming for higher office, but others around Brown pushing him to run.
“That’s the surprising thing. I never got the impression that he aspired to be at a higher office. It seemed to me that the calling just kept going to a higher level,” O’Neil said. “I really think it was more people calling on him to run than any aspirations he had on his own.”
Elected as a state rep. in 1998 and then a state senator in 2004, Brown’s time wasn't necessarily filled with legislative achievements in part because of the Democrats’ stronghold on both chambers at the State House; he found his niche as a member of the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee.
Talking to the Boston Globe in 2010, State Senator John A. Hart Jr. said: “He does his homework, he’s comprehensive in his approach, and on veterans’ issues, he’s one of them and has done a very good job on their behalf.’’
Brown, who serves in the United States Army Reserves, was at one point considered the go-to-person for veteran affairs.
In 2007, he helped create a bill that placed a check-off box on state income tax forms for veterans to mark off if they served in Afghanistan or Iraq. The information provided allows the state to notify veterans of services and benefits that may be available. One of those benefits was the “Welcome Home Bonus’’ that provides $1,000 for those returning from active duty from the two countries.
Brown’s time as a state senator was not without controversy however. A minor controversy broke out in 2007 during an appearance at King Philip High School after Brown directly quoted multiple profane statements made about him and his daughter, Ayla, online by students from the school. Brown did later apologize for his actions.
With an open senate seat with the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, Brown saw a chance to capture a position that no Massachusetts Republican has held since Senator Edward Brooke represented the state from 1967-1979. While some were confident that Brown could win supporters over time, there were questions whether Brown could beat Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley who led Brown by 30 points in an early poll taken by Suffolk University.
“I know he had a lot going against him…but for the most part I thought he was one of the stronger candidates for the seat. I thought Scott was so much more in touch with the people of Massachusetts,” said Killion. “Coakley, I think she just had that support but as Scott reached each town and got his voice out there and put some more mileage on that truck of his, I definitely see that it was going to swing his favor.”
By election night in January, 2010, Brown had shocked many with a four-point win over Coakley, who saw her lead deteriorate going into the election. The reaction from Wrentham, predictably, was excitement and joy that one of their own residents was now a US Senator.
“Thank god one of us is going to be in there,” Giovannelli thought with Brown’s victory.
Killion also added, ”When he won the seat we were extremely proud and happy for him, it was a huge win for everybody.”
Since being elected to the Senate, Brown has attempted to make the case that he has been a bi-partisan member of Congress’ upper chamber. According to rankings released by the National Journal in 2011, only Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins both of Maine, voted with the Democrats more often than Brown. A similar study from Bloomberg Business found similar results and a study from the Washington Post showed Brown voting with the Republican in 66-percent of all votes taken during the 112th Congress, tied for the second lowest rate for any current member of the Senate.
After becoming a US Senator, at least around town, Brown changed very little as a person. Moving from St. Louis to Wrentham in 2009 by way of Ireland, Kevin Murphy did not have the advantage of seeing Senator Brown in the way that someone who had lived in Wrentham for at least 20 years has. What he has seen has impressed him.
“I’ve been to a couple of Wrentham Days and both times it’s just him, It’s not Scott Brown and his handlers, it’s just Scott,” Murphy said. “He strikes me as a very genuine chap and he seems to do what he says he’s going to do.”
With eight days left until the election, Brown faces a tough battle against Warren. During the election, it can be argued that Brown’s reputation has taken a hit because of the competitive and somewhat negative nature of campaigning.
“You can’t at some level allow a constant barrage of mudslinging. At some point, you have to stand up. He’s not doing it in a nasty way at all, you see these other political races and they are frightening,” Murphy said, defending Brown.
With the election only days away and with Brown trailing Elizabeth Warren in the polls, there is a chance that the hometown guy may lose his seat. While the majority of the state may sway blue, it is safe to say that Wrentham will come out for the man that started his career in town as a property assessor.