By Thomas Grillo
A Republican for just eight years, Rick Wood is running for a seat on the Massachusetts GOP State Committee.
“I’m running to raise the profile of our Republican party,” he said. “I’ve been an active member of the Lynn Republican City Committee by participating in sign-holding standouts, gathering nomination signatures, and doing neighborhood leaflet drops.”
But first, the 60-year-old president of Wood & Associates Insurance Agency will have to defeat an incumbent who has been active in Republican politics since his high school days when Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater challenged former president Lyndon B. Johnson for the White House in 1964.
Stephen Zykofsky, 72, has served Lynn and the Third Essex District, which also includes Lynnfield, Marblehead, Nahant, Saugus, and Swampscott, for more than five decades.
Members of the State Republican Committee help build the party by recruiting candidates, fundraising, and registering voters. One state committeeman and one state committeewoman are elected from each of the state’s 40 senate districts every four years.
“All those years, while I was out working for the Republican Party and raising money, Rick was not doing anything for the party,” said Zykofsk.
In making his case for re-election, Zykofsky said he has not only been a loyal Republican, but has the experience. He has been chairman of Massachusetts Young Republicans, served on Republican National Committee, and chaired the Lynn Republican City Committee.
“I know the players, I have lots of institutional knowledge, and I know about the election laws,” he said.
Zykofsky has secured the backing of longtime party members.
Massachusetts Chairman James Lyons said the incumbent understands the challenges Republicans face and has been a huge proponent of GOP policies.
“You can’t replace the kind of experience he brings to the table,” he said.
National Committeeman Ron Kaufman said Zykofsky is committed to the GOP and has worked tirelessly to raise the party’s profile.
“I have known Steve for a long time and while he sometimes ruffles feathers, the first thing to know about him is, when he tells you something you can take it to the bank,” he said. “He is straightforward and that quality in politics is rare.”
State Committeewoman Amy Carnevale of Marblehead said she committed to Zykofsky early on, before Wood entered the race.
“I’m standing by my support of Steve,” she said. ‘Each of the candidates present different personalities, and would bring different attributes to the position,” she said. “But Steve has lots of experience and with that comes lots of expertise and knowledge on how the State Committee works. I have seen how he has translated that knowledge here. Those are valuable skills.”
Still, Wood has already lined up support from some of the city’s high profile Republicans. Former Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy has pledged her support.
“I told Rick I would support him,” she said. “But it has nothing to do with my feelings toward Steve. I love Steve. I just feel as though he has served us well for a few decades and it might be time to try something different.”
John Krol, chairman of the Lynn Republican City Committee and Kennedy’s former chief of staff, said over the last few years he and Wood have held signs and distributed literature on behalf of Republican candidates.
“He has shown through words and deeds that he is up for the job,” he said. “He has hosted several successful Republican fundraisers at his home. He’s out there doing things for the party. Rick would do a good job.”
Ward 2 City Councilor Richard Starbard agrees.
“Steve has done a good job, but Rick will also do a good job and bring different skills to the party,” he said.
When Wood turned 18 in 1977, he registered as a Democrat. At the time, President Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Micahel Dukakis was governor, U.S. Rep Michael Harringotn (D-Mass) represented the 6th District, while U.S. Senators Edward M. Kennedy and Edward Brooke, a Republican, were in office. But that changed in 2012.
“I felt like the Demcratic Party left me,” Wood said of his decision to move to the Republicans. “The Democrats have become left leaning. I consider myself a moderate and believe in a strong border, limited government, free enterprise, and law and order. I just felt like I wasn’t in tune with the Democrat Party anymore.”
Wood is well known for his involvement in the community through his business, as a Chamber of Commerce officer, and as a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals.
“It’s important to have someone that’s well received and known and someone who stands up as Republican,” he added.
A Lynn Republican is hard to find. Of the 53,415 registered voters in the city, only 6 percent are party members while 42 percent are Democrats.
Most Lynn voters, 50 percent of them, are unenrolled, and do not identify as Democrat or Republica, but they can choose a Republican primary ballot.
The candidates will face off during the presidential primary on Super Tuesday, March 3.