Tuesday, April 29, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Jeff Napolitano always knew his friend and colleague Tim Carpenter had an uncanny way of getting his point across, but he didn’t realize quite how much until one day last fall, when he saw U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern on television denouncing President Obama’s plans to bomb Syria.
Two days earlier, Napolitano had sat in McGovern’s office and listened to Carpenter give one of the most articulate, impassioned and well-grounded arguments he’s ever heard about why this was a bad idea.
“That personal conversation from Tim, it had an impact,” said Napolitano, who often worked with Carpenter on social justice issues as director of the American Friends Service Committee of Western Massachusetts. “You just had to be there. That’s the kind of effect Tim had on people.”
It was an example of the kind of behind-the-scenes work the Florence resident had become renowned for in his role as founder of the Progressive Democrats of America, a national organization whose members are in mourning this week at the news of Carpenter’s death Monday to cancer.
The 55-year-old political activist died just a few days shy of the group’s 10-year anniversary celebration planned for May 10 in Northampton. That event will carry on in Carpenter’s honor, organizers said.
Carpenter spent more than 35 years working for peace, nuclear disarmament, single-payer health care, campaign finance reform and many more issues. He was a regular guest on TV and radio nationally and routinely worked with senators and congressmen on a bevy of social justice issues.
Carpenter is survived by his wife, Barbara Considine, and their daughters, Sheila and Julia.
“I considered Tim a dear and treasured friend,” McGovern said from his Washington office Tuesday. “He was a passionate fighter for peace and justice and all causes that are good. He was a remarkable person with a spine of steel and heart of gold.”
Despite battling terminal melanoma, Carpenter kept up his busy work schedule as co-director of the Progressive Democrats of America. McGovern recalled spending time with Carpenter a couple of months ago in Washington, where Carpenter was leading a conversation on alternative budgets and also lobbying senators and congressmen to cut the Pentagon’s budget and protect food stamps.
“He was in his typical very enthusiastic form,” McGovern said.
McGovern said Carpenter always kept him and other members of Congress on their toes. Those who stood against him would often incur the wrath of Carpenter’s organization. Allies were encouraged to work harder and do more.
“Tim was very powerful that way,” McGovern said. “He represents the true American spirit by being actively engaged in the life of his country. He wanted to make it better so he could love it even more.”
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said there aren’t enough people like Carpenter in the world.
“His passing leaves us saddened but also more committed to the causes of peace and justice that were his hallmarks. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and daughters,” Sanders said in a statement.
According to the organization’s website, Carpenter worked for the presidential campaigns of the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1988 and Gov. Jerry Brown in 1992. He also served as deputy campaign manager in Dennis Kucinich’s run for president in 2004. As a delegate, Carpenter addressed the 1992 Democratic National Convention.
Carpenter was named Democrat of the Year in Northampton in 2007 and Progressive Activist of the Year by The Nation magazine.
Conor Boylan, who recently took over as co-director of the Progressive Democrats of America along with Carpenter and Andrea Miller, recalled the first time he met Carpenter some time ago at a five-day event in Denver.
“He was sitting on a stool and, as usual, had a phone to his ear and people surrounding him asking questions,” said Boylan, who joined the group in 2009. “I was able to sneak in and introduce myself.”
Boylan believes Carpenter’s legacy is his success at growing the Progressive Democrats of America on a shoestring budget into an organization that made a difference in people’s lives. Carpenter built strong relationships with many in Congress, and his “inside-outside” strategy of moving the Democratic Party toward his progressive agenda has made strides in recent years, colleagues said.
“His mantra was ‘This is a marathon, not a sprint,’” Boylan said. “There have been defeats along the way, but he stressed that we’re building this one block at a time.
Boylan noted that despite appearing to be a workaholic, Carpenter was a devoted family man who loved spending time with his wife and children. He also loved baseball, and would often scope out games to attend — from professional to high school — while on the road.
“That was one of his ways of relaxing, going to a ballgame,” Boylan said.
Another friend and colleague, Jo Comerford, said Carpenter’s heart “beat equally for his friends and family as it did for the cause.”
“He was just one of the most loyal friends I’ve ever had,” said Comerford, executive director of the National Priorities Project. “He treasured his wife and daughters and loved them with all of his heart and soul.”
Comerford said Carpenter is the most sublime example of a life well lived. She said he kept the long arc of social justice in mind while every day chipping away at injustice.
Bill Newman, who frequently interviewed Carpenter on his weekday radio program on WHMP, admired his friend’s boundless energy, extraordinary idealism and his drive to accomplish as much as he could while alive.
“People really loved Tim Carpenter,” said Newman, director of the western Massachusetts legal office of the American Civil Liberties Union. “He drew people in with his passion and his ideals. He was a fighter for people.”
Others who worked with Carpenter over the years admired his long-term vision and ability to be pragmatic.
“Tim never compromised his ideology, but at the same time he could be realistic and pragmatic about how things can and will get done,” said Elizabeth Silver, chairwoman of the Northampton Democratic City Committee.
In a recent interview with the Gazette a week and a half ago, Carpenter talked excitedly about the lineup of experts who had agreed to participate in the Progressive Democrats of America’s anniversary May 10. Boylan confirmed the event will take place, with a possible public dedication to Carpenter in the morning, followed by an afternoon of political strategy sessions, which is what the group’s founder envisioned.
“He was a giant among activists ... there’s a huge chasm for losing him,” Silver said. “I’m going to miss Tim terribly.”