TEWKSBURY - While the Market Basket saga could be described as a "family food fight" within a private business, any elected officials in Massachusetts or New Hampshire who choose not to get involved could wind up with pie in their faces, several political analysts interviewed by the Sun said Wednesday.

By the latest count on Wednesday - the sixth day of a 71-store customer boycott called for by long-serving Market Basket managers and other employees in last Friday's rally at the chain's Tewksbury headquarters - more than three dozen Massachusetts state senators, representatives, mayors, and nine Lowell city councilors had declared their support for employees demanding the return of ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, and asked fellow politicians to follow suit.

New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan also offered her impassioned support of the boycott, along with at least 68 New Hampshire state lawmakers.

Only U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey failed to issue a comment on the controversy, and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick told reporters Tuesday that he did not plan on getting involved.

"I want economic peace in the Commonwealth, but that is a private dispute, as far as I can tell, among private family members in a private company," Patrick told reporters Tuesday. " "No, I don't have a comment about it."

The Market Basket saga was a topic of discussion this week as far away as London, England, where Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University communications professor with 30 years experience as political consultant, was attending a conference.


Advertisement

"It's basically a family food fight that's been going on for a long time, but what's different about this is, and the reason politicians are now weighing in, isn't because they want to get in the middle of a struggle between the company's upper management, but because it's such a big news story," Berkovitz said. "It's a chance for politicians, especially for people in a district that has a headquarters or store, to speak out, and for state politicians, who need to get their name out there to get involved."

In Tewksbury, the town where Market Basket's headquarters is located, however, members of the town's most powerful governing board officially balked at their opportunity to take a side on Wednesday.

In a special board meeting that was scheduled Wednesday afternoon to discuss the Market Basket situation,Tewksbury selectmen opted not to get involved in the dispute. Board members raised concerns about the strain on the Tewksbury police, but said the town wasn't paying for the increased police presence and that the staffing of regular shifts has not decreased.

Selectman James Wentworth said that as representatives of all those in town, including Market Basket employees, customers and the company itself, the board should not take a position one way or the other.

For most state senators and representatives, and other elected officials, however, who are embedded in their communities, it makes perfect sense that they have taken a side in such a unique instance, that cannot be described as solely a "private business" matter, according to former seven-term (1997-2011) state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, of Lowell.

"Because it's a community outpouring, the politicians, who are the voices of the community, are swept up in it," Panagiotakos said. "They know what this business - and more importantly, this family - has done for people. So yes, it's unusual. Yes, it's unique, but what you're dealing with is a unique company that's earned that type of loyalty."

Had he still been serving in elective office, Panagiotakos said he would have been among the first to sign onto the Market Basket boycott.

"Market Basket is unique with regards to having been the epitome of the responsible, corporate citizen of the community. And the outpouring of loyalty you're seeing - you can't manufacture that; you can't buy that; that's earned by doing so much, over so many years, for so many people," Panagiotakos said. "You can't get people to turn out for anything these days, and here you're getting thousands, and they are putting their jobs on the line... That's something."

In a statement released Monday, the Massachusetts and New Hampshire elected officials said they stand with the thousands of unhappy Market Basket employees, including the hundreds who were fired, or walked out of jobs they held for decades, in protest of the direction the chain's new management has taken.

"These employees know that Market Basket has been the chosen supermarket of so many people looking to save money on groceries," the elected officials statement reads. "They know the leadership of Arthur T. Demoulas is the reason Market Basket has been able to keep prices low while delivering quality products to mainly under-served areas. The current actions of the board and officers is one motivated by corporate greed and will only serve to destroy the legacy the Demoulas family has worked generations to establish."

Peter Ubertaccio, a Stonehill College political science professor of 13 years, said observers ought not view the long list of politicians who are now backing Market Basket employees with cynicism, as if they are strictly hunting for votes.

"There has been such a surprising surge of support for the workers that politicians in an election year are apt to take notice of that, but also Market Basket is very much a community anchor, and for many of these communities their store is not only an important source of groceries but of jobs, so politician are apt to take notice of it for that reason," Ubertaccio said. "The kind of turmoil that you're seeing would have raised the interests and concerns of elected officials, even in a non-election year, simply because of Market Basket's status of being an important institution of the community."

Ubertaccio, a resident of Sandwich, revealed to the Sun that he and his wife are regular customers of the Market Basket store at the Sagamore Bridge, and the couple is partaking in the boycott.

During WCAP's Wednesday radio show on Market Basket, a caller remarked that Patrick recently showed himself capable of "shedding tears for illegal immigrants," but incapable of shedding tears for Market Basket employees. It was a comment Ubertaccio views as unfair, given the governor's designated role.

"Ultimately, it's a private company, and you want big government to be limited in its dealings and pronouncements toward same, and you do want to be careful," Ubertaccio said. "You have to remember, there's no evidence the chain is abusing its workers. The workers are (taking action) because they want CEO 'A' over CEO 'B.'"

Ubertaccio said Patrick's refusal to get involved was probably a prudent course of action for the governor of a state who must tread more carefully in such matters than locally elected officials.

"It's not that he's 'not shedding tears,' but these folks don't like change in their company's leadership, and it's appropriate for a governor not to get too heavily involved at this point," Ubertaccio said. "But I'd say it is appropriate for elected representatives to speak out about how this is affecting their communities."

During a "Market Basket On-Air Rally," a call-in show hosted by WCAP radio on Wednesday, Lowell Mayor Rodney Elliot, City Councilor Rita Mercier and Greater Lowell Technical High School Committee member Joe Espinola, among others, phoned in to voice their full support of the customer boycott, and employees' demand for the return of Arthur T. Demoulas to the company's helm.

"I am fortunate enough to have known both Mr. Demoulas who started the store, and I don't think they would approve of what's going on right now," Espinola said. "I've been a part of organized labor my whole life, and to me this is just amazing. (Market Basket employees) are not a union; I call it 'organized love.'"

Mercier said she drove to Market Basket stores in Lowell, Woburn, Wilmington and Reading to show her support of the picketers. "I'm surprised my car horn still works," Mericer told the radio audience. "These are my constituents, and I'm very proud of them, and very supportive of them."

Elliott said the Council planned to follow up its 9-0 vote Tuesday in support of the Market Basket boycott with a letter stating the reasons for their action.

"People are standing up for Arthur T., and the way the company has been run for so long, which is standing up for the little guy, and being good to your employees and customers; it's the perfect storm where everybody is coming together," said Elliott. "We don't want to fall into the trap of so many corporations in this country that put profit before people, and that get caught up in this whole corporate culture that says, 'Even though you worked for the company for 40 years, you can still be replaced tomorrow.'"

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, who identified herself on her Facebook page as "a Market Basket customer since 1969," composed a letter which she sent Monday to the company's board of directors, informing them that she intends to support of the boycott.

"Losing Arthur T. Demoulas is a loss to families across Massachusetts, and I worry about how his abrupt departure will impact the future of Market Basket and its loyal employees and customers who benefitted from Arthur T. Demoulas at the helm," Tsongas said.

Press secretaries for both Senators Markey and Warren, who were contacted directly by the Sun at their Washington offices on Wednesday seeking a comment on Market Basket, have yet to respond by email.

Stopping short of adding his name to the list of prominent boycott supporters was UMass-Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan, who offered instead a dire prediction for Market Basket's board of directors, if they continue with the current course of business.

"In this case, they're risking the success of the highest-value supermarket chain in America," Meehan said. "Market Basket has had incredible success because of the culture that took 75 years to develop, and Arthur T. Demoulas epitomizes that culture... They're jeopardizing an incredible asset."

Even more active this week in supporting the Market Basket boycott than the 68 legislators who signed their name to the "Save Market Basket" organization's list was Republican U. S. Senate candidate Andy Martin. Martin held a news conference Tuesday announcing his personal funding of a statewide advertising campaign backing Market Basket employees, "in their conflict with a rapacious new management team," Martin wrote. Martin also publicly lambasted his opponent in the Republican primary for New Hampshire's U.S. Senate seat, Scott Brown, for not supporting the Market Basket boycott.

"Corporate greed and executive greed, of the type Scott Brown supports, is destroying America," Martin said. "I am a conservative who stands shoulder-to-shoulder with working families."

Sun staff reporters Grant Welker and Chelsea Feinstein contributed to this article.

Follow John Collins on Twitter and Tout at johncolowellsun.

The growing list of elected officials supporting the Market Basket boycott in Massachusetts includes: Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Lowell; Sen. Barry Finegold, Andover; Sen. Jen Flanagan, Leominster; Sen. Jamie Eldridge, Acton; Rep. Thomas Golden, Lowell; Rep. Dave Nangle, Lowell; Rep. Colleen Gary, Dracut; Rep. James Arciero, Westford; Rep. Kenneth Gordon, Bedford; Rep. Bradley Jones, North Reading; Rep. Dennis Rosa, Leominster; Rep. Steve DiNatale, Fitchburg; Mayor Rodney Elliott, Lowell; Lowell City Councilors John Leahy, Rita Mercier, Corey Belanger, Edward Kennedy, Edward Martin, James Milinazzo, Dan Rourke, William Samaras; Rep. James Dwyer, Woburn; Rep. Tim Toomey, Cambridge; Rep. Frank Moran, Lawrence; Rep. Marcos Devers, Lawrence; Mayor Daniel Rivera, Lawrence; Mayor Jim Fiorentini, Haverhill; Mayor Stephen Zanni, Methuen; Mayor Lisa Wong, Fitchburg; Rep. Diana DiZoglio, North Andover; Rep. Marjorie Decker, Cambridge; Rep. Tom Sannicandro, Ashland; Rep. Ryan Fattman, Sutton; Sen. Joan Lovely, Salem; Sen. Richard Moore, Uxbridge; Sen. Mark Montigny, New Bedford; Sen. Pat Jehlen, Somerville; Sen. Kenneth Donnelly, Arlington; Sen. Sal DIDomenico, Everett; Rep. Mike Brady, Brockton; Rep. Rosalee Vincent, Revere; Rep. Dan Ryan, Charlestown; Rep. Paul Frost, Auburn; Rep. Denise Provost, Somerville; Rep. Kate Hogan, Stow; Rep. Viriato deMacedo, Plymouth; Rep. Sean Garballey, Arlington; City Councilor Bob Cronin, Newburyport; City Councilor John Michitson, Haverhill; City Councilor Josh Turiel, Salem; City Councilor Ari Herzog, Newburyport; Greater Lawrence Technical School Committee Jessica Finocciaro, Methuen; Mayor Jon Mitchell, New Bedford. New Hampshire counted 68 state representatives backing the Market Basket boycott, including: Rep. Terie Norelli, Speaker of the House; Rep. Steve Shurtleff, Rep. Renny Cushing; Sen. David Pierce; Sen. Bette Lasky; Rep. Peter Sullivan; Rep. Jan Schmidt; Rep. Will Infantine; Rep. Katherine Rogers; Rep. Pat Long; Rep. David Campbell; Rep. Suzanne Vail; Rep. Melanie Levesque; Rep. Daniel Sullivan; Rep. Mary Beth Walz; Rep. Cynthia Sweeney; Rep. Mariellen MacKay; Rep. Tim Smith; Rep. Timothy Horrigan; Rep. Pam Hubbard; Rep. David Karrick; Rep. Brenda Grady; Rep. Pam Hubbard; Rep. Sue Gottling; Rep. Laura Pantelakos; Rep. Ruth Gulick; Rep. Donald LeBrun; Rep. Dianne Schuett; Rep. Laura Pantelakos; Rep. Anne Grassie; Rep. Charles Weed; Rep. Laurie Harding; Rep. David Cote; Rep. Mary Stuart Gile; Rep. Amanda Merrill; Rep. Christy Dolat Bartlett; Rep. Donna Schlachman; Rep. Marjorie Porter; Rep. Michael Cahill; Rep. Bernard L. Benn; Rep. Elaine Andrews Ahearn; Rep. Suzanne Vail; Rep. Melanie Levesque; Rep. Eileen Flockhart; Rep. Mel Myler; Rep. Brian Wazlaw; Rep. Joel Winter; Rep. Efstathia Booras; Rep. Deanna Rollo; Rep. David Borden; Rep. Mario Ratzki; Rep. Kelleigh Domaingue Murphy; Rep. John Cloutier; Rep. Judith Spang; Rep. Bob Backus; Rep. Rick LeVasseur; Hon. Eileen Spratt Ehlers; Hon. Brendon Browne; Hon. Nickolas Levasseur; Rep. Rick Watrous; Rep. Barbara Shaw, also a current member of Manchester Board of Aldermen; Rep. Timothy Robertson; Rep. Lorrie Carey; Rep. Caroletta Alicea; Rep. Lucy McVitty Weber; Rep. Martin Jack; Rep. Paul Berch; Rep. Sylvia Gale.