O’Brien with Dementia to Finally Bow-Out
Councilor Duff Will Pursue County Post In 2024
By Sam Doran
State House News Service
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, AUG. 2, 2023…..Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff, a member of the elected panel that vets new judges in Massachusetts, announced Tuesday that she will vie for a new post in the next campaign cycle: register of deeds for the Southern Essex district.
Councilor Eileen Duff chairs a hearing in the Governor’s Council Chamber in 2019. [Sam Doran/SHNS File]
A Gloucester Democrat and Peabody native, Duff has served on the council since 2013. She also works as a realtor with Keller Williams Realty, and often references her experience with real estate and the Housing Court during council sessions.
John O’Brien, the incumbent Southern Essex register, announced earlier this year that he plans to retire in September after years of living with dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
O’Brien’s departure would open the door for a rare open race for the obscure position, which incumbents often hold down for years. O’Brien himself has been reelected for nearly 50 years, The Salem News reported.
Unlike some other elected court positions where the governor can nominate a successor, the deeds post would be Secretary William Galvin’s to fill with an “acting” register to helm the office until after the 2024 election.
A Galvin spokeswoman said the secretary will often appoint the district’s first assistant register to fill the position until the next election. But, she said, Galvin did not plan on making a decision about Southern Essex until O’Brien files paperwork with the State Retirement Board.
On the council, Duff has become known for candid, sometimes sharp, lines of questioning particularly around management of the state’s parole system. She also routinely quizzes judicial nominees on their thoughts about the disability, LGBTQ, and minority communities.
“I worked across the aisle with Democratic and Republican administrations to bring fairness and common sense into the Massachusetts justice system. I look forward to earning the support of Essex County so I can continue that work as Register of Deeds,” Duff said in a statement.
The councilor did not respond to a phone call or email Wednesday afternoon.
On her website, Duff has laid out a campaign platform featuring public records access and “user friendly” customer service for registry visitors.
“After all, the Registry is a sort of large library, but if you can’t find what you are looking for, it is frustrating,” she wrote.
Winning the Essex post would mean a lot less campaigning — the register is up for reelection every six years, compared to every two for councilors — and the move would boost Duff’s state paycheck by around 332 percent.
O’Brien, the current register, makes an annual salary of $155,892, according to the state comptroller’s database. Duff currently earns $36,025 per year for her council service. The council only meets on Wednesdays, though most members also conduct private interviews on their own time throughout the week.
The House adopted a budget amendment in April that would have awarded councilors a 25 percent raise, but that measure does not appear to have survived conference negotiations with the Senate after this week’s fiscal 2024 budget deal.
Duff holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Trinity Washington University, a master’s in management from Cambridge College, and a doctoral degree in ministry. She worked in the 1990s as a confidential assistant to the commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, and has served as a hospice chaplain in Massachusetts. Duff was first elected in 2012 after Councilor Mary-Ellen Manning ran for Senate, losing in the primary to now-Sen. Joan Lovely.