I'm Feeling Right Now that 'Senator Shortsleeve' Has a Certain Duende to It

Friday, April 21, 2017

Joe Shortsleeve, who achieved New England fame as a TV newsman, is seriously considering running for the Massachusetts Senate.

As a former newsman of the (glamor-challenged) print variety, I hope Joe runs for the Bristol-Norfolk District seat to be vacated soon (May 2) by Jim Timilty. 
My advice is he should adopt a campaign slogan once used by another newsman, Jimmy Breslin, when he ran in 1968 for city council president in New York City on a ticket headed by novelist/journalist Norman Mailer:  “Throw the rascals in!”

Counter-intuitive is working today in U.S. politics.  Just ask Donald “I-like-guys-who-don’t-get captured” Trump.  And people always like a guy who can poke fun at himself and have a little fun on the campaign trail.
Shortsleeve, 59, had a long career at WBZ-TV News in Boston before linking up in 2014 with the Liberty Square group, a communications/political consulting firm headed by Scott Ferson, who made his bones as a javelin-catching press spokesman for Ted Kennedy.

I have never met Joe Shortsleeve.  I can’t say what might be fueling his late-blooming interest in public office. If I had to guess, I’d say it has to do with the typical candidate’s desire to attain power, recognition and a voice in weighty matters, coupled with the feeling of, “Why shouldn’t I run? I can do at least as good as the pols I’ve been covering for years.”
Here I am no doubt projecting my own tiny temperament onto the poor Mr. Shortsleeve.  Sorry, Joe.

As someone who long ago covered city government and state government for a daily newspaper, I can identify with the spectator who thinks he’s cut out to be a player.  While witnessing a speech by a long-winded mayor or legislator, I confess that I sometimes dreamt of being in that person’s shoes.  I’d think, “Damn, I could do this! I’d look good up there.” 
Fortunately, I never put that hypothesis to the test; else the embarrassment of defeat at the polls, an experience likened by many losing candidates to “a public death,” would have been added to my bulging book of life regrets.  (The old Latin proverb comes to mind: Nemo sui iudex.  No man can judge himself.)

In any event, a member of a distinguished Massachusetts political family, a true gentleman who has served in the state senate for 13 years, Jim Timilty, Democrat of Walpole, is leaving the upper branch to take the post of Norfolk County Treasurer, and someone will be chosen relatively soon in a special election to succeed him.
“I’ve got to make a decision (to run or not) within the next week or so,” said Shortsleeve, a resident of Medfield and uncle of quintessential man-on-the-hot-seat Brian Shortsleeve, who serves in the Baker administration as the MBTA’s chief administrator.

If Joe Shortsleeve gives it a go – and I sincerely hope he does -- he’ll be joining two persons already with both feet in the race, Ted Philips, staff director for Stoughton representative Lou Kafka, and Paul Feeney, a former chief of staff to Senator Timilty, a former majordomo in the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign apparatus, and the current legislative director (lobbyist) for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 2222.
If Shortsleeve runs, he’ll have the widest name recognition by far throughout the race.  That’s the kind of thing that comes from having been the chief news correspondent for a TV station with a powerful broadcast signal and a vast, loyal viewership.

Pondering that name today, on the spur I did an Internet search, asking omniscient Lord Google, “What is the derivation of the surname Shortsleeve?”  The most plausible answer was, it’s an anglicized version of the French-Canadian name Courtemanche.  (Court means short in French, manche sleeve.)  
Following the Google-proffered thread, I found there are Shortsleeves residing in towns across New York State and New England, which brought to mind something an older colleague of mine in newspapering used to remind us greenhorns of.  “Well into the 1970s,” Loring Swaim was wont to say, “more residents of Massachusetts traced their ancestry to French Canada than to any other country, including England, Ireland and Italy.”

Speaking of persons who should run for office, I am hoping Rep. Christopher Walsh goes for mayor of Framingham, as he's thinking of doing when that community transitions next year from a town meeting form of government to the more conventional system for cities of its size, mayor and city council.
A four-term Democrat and licensed professional architect, Walsh is smart and easygoing, with a good grasp of policy and legislating -- someone who takes his job seriously and himself lightly.  Plus, he gave a great sound bite to the State House News Service when it asked him this past Tuesday why’s he’s interested in becoming Framingham’s first-ever elected chief executive.

“I love my job as a state rep,” said Walsh.  “It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.  But the ability to effect things at this local level as the first mayor, I think, is wildly interesting and I’m going to pursue that a little bit and see how possible it is.”
Anyone who can ingenuously declare that being a mayor today of a city of 68,000 souls is a “wildly interesting” proposition, and can describe the chance to be that mayor as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” has my vote.  






Kudos to Charlie Baker for Wanting Michael Ricciuti on Superior Court

Monday, April 10, 2017

Michael Ricciuti’s is an American success story. He clearly merits the superior court judgeship he’s been nominated for by the governor.

But do not be surprised if one or even two members of the Governor’s Council vote against confirming him.  A relic of Colonial Era government, the Council provides a haven for some of the most unpredictable and inexplicable politicians in Massachusetts.
The hearing on Ricciuti’s nomination was held before the eight-member Council this past Thursday.  Former Middlesex District Attorney Gerard Leone testified that he’d seen "no better lawyer" in his decades of practice than Ricciuti.

If confirmed, Ricciuti will fill a vacancy left by the recent elevation of Judge Kimberly Budd to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
Ricciuti grew up in Quincy, attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for two years, transferred to Harvard College, and went straight to Harvard Law School.  After law school, he clerked for the late A. David Mazzone, a federal judge who grew up in Everett, went to Harvard, and was renowned as much for his brains as for his courage. 

It was Mazzone who ordered the clean-up of Boston Harbor in 1985, a very costly and controversial undertaking that turned the harbor into Exhibit A of the value of large-scale, multi-year environmental remediation projects. 
Ricciuti told the Governor’s Council he came to the understanding that justice was administered properly in Mazzone's courtroom and asked him how to become a judge. "You need to experience the law fully," Mazzone told Ricciuti, recommending that he work in turn as a prosecutor, criminal defense lawyer and civil litigant. Ricciuti said, "I took all that to heart."

After clerking for Mazzone, Ricciuti worked for the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office and then as a trial lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.
Ricciuti was a federal prosecutor for a decade ending in 2005 and was chief of anti-terrorism and national security in the office for a long spell.

The case that stood out for him the most during that period, according to a State House News Service account of Ricciuti’s nomination hearing, was a Drug Enforcement Administration crackdown on a drug-dealing operation that had overrun a public housing complex in Fitchburg.  At the end, Ricciuti said, residents of the complex thanked law enforcement agents for their intervention.
At 55, Ricciuti is a partner at K&L Gates, the eighth largest law firm in the U.S., and teaches on the side at Suffolk University Law School, which has undoubtedly produced more members of the Massachusetts legislature than any other law school through the years.

Ricciuti’s grandfather was an Italian immigrant -- a stonecutter who started a business “quarrying stone from the hills of Quincy and making it into monuments,” he said Thursday.
Having inherited his grandfather’s work ethic and determination, he could have a monumental career on the bench.

The Governor’s Council is expected to vote on Ricciuti’s nomination later this week.

Footnote: My skepticism was off base.  The Governor's Council voted unanimously earlier today (April 12) to confirm Atty. Michael Ricciuti's appointment to the Superior Court bench.


This Month in Corruption: Smuggled Drugs, Bogus Billing, Tampered Equipment

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wrong Way to Keep Prisoners in Line.  The office of William D. Weinreb, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, announced March 3 that two former corrections officers at the Essex County Correctional facility in Middleton had been sentenced for their involvement in getting a drug used to treat opioid addiction into the jail and conveying it to inmates.  

The Weinreb announcement said that Katherine Sullivan, 32, of Londonderry, NH., was sentenced to 36 months of probation, 120 hours of community service, and was ordered to pay a fine of $5,000, after having pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring with inmates to distribute Suboxone, and that John S. Weir, 34, of Danvers, received the same sentence as Sullivan after a guilty plea on an identical charge.
Inmates who received Suboxone from Sullivan and Weir reportedly sold the drug to other prisoners.

Wrong Way to Fund Big Lifestyle. On March 15, a pain management physician pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston in connection with a scheme to defraud Medicare and other health insurers, and then using the proceeds of his illegal activity to support “his extravagant lifestyle.”
Fathallah Mashali, 62, pleaded guilty to 27 counts of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and 16 counts of money laundering, according to the office of Acting U.S. Attorney Weinreb.  Judge Rya W. Zobel set June 21 as Dr. Mashali’s sentencing date.

In describing Dr. Mashali’s lifestyle, federal authorities pointed out that “he ordered the construction of a carriage house, outfitted with a squash court and movie theater, at his Dover home.”

Wrong Way to Steward the Environment.  On March 22, Berkshire Power Company and Power Plant Management Services were sentenced in federal court in Springfield for tampering with air pollution emissions equipment. 
Power Plant Management Services was also sentenced for submitting false information to both environmental and energy regulators relating to the Berkshire Power Plant in Agawam.

Judge Mark G. Mastrioanni ordered Berkshire Power to pay $2.75 million in criminal fines for violations of the Clean Air Act and to make a $750,000 community service payment to the American Lung Association to fund a program for the replacement of polluting wood-burning stoves in western Massachusetts. 
Judge Mastrioanni ordered Power Plant Management Services to pay $500,000 in criminal fines for violations of the Clean Air Act and the Federal Power Act and to make a $250,000 community service payment to the lung association’s wood stove change-out program.

In addition to the criminal fines outlined above, the two companies have agreed to pay $3,042,563 in civil penalties and disgorgement, plus interest, to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for their misrepresentations to the operator of the New England power grid regarding the Agawam plant’s availability to produce power, according to federal authorities.

Hey, Tree Huggers, Where Are Those Odes to Our Roads of Rail?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I’ve been working for the railroad.  And not just to pass the time away. 

No, I’ve been lobbying, which is undoubtedly easier than working on the railroad, involving as it does heavy, outdoor work in all kinds of weather.

I am a registered lobbyist for the Massachusetts Railroad Association, the trade group for the state’s freight-hauling railroads. My colleagues at Preti Strategies and I have had this account for almost 10 years.

It’s good work, advocating for things such as state funding for industrial rail access projects, which create jobs and stimulate the economy.

And it’s good to work with the people who run the freight railroads.  They know their stuff, they tell you the truth, and they have the right touch in meetings with legislators.  They never break the furniture, if you know what I mean.

I feel good about our freight railroads. And not just because they send us a check every month. 

I feel good about the goods they keep flowing to Massachusetts and the trucks they keep off our roads. 

It would take about 300 trucks to haul what the typical freight train does.  Our highways would be much more congested than they already are – hard as they may be to imagine -- if we didn’t have the 11 freight railroads we have operating in the Commonwealth.

I feel good about the energy freight railroads conserve and the greenhouse gases they keep out of our already overheated atmosphere. 

Railroads can move one ton of cargo 476 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel.  For every ton of cargo moved on rail and not on truck, there’s a 75% reduction in greenhouse gases.

I feel good that railroads have continually invested a lot of their own money in maintaining and improving the critically-important-but-never-noticed rail infrastructure of Massachusetts – tracks and bridges, ties and roadbeds, switches and sidings, etc.

Result: Said infrastructure is now, generally, in far better shape than our highways and bridges for motor vehicles.

In a March 22nd op-ed piece in The Republican/MassLive (Springfield, MA), Ian Jefferies of the Association of American Railroads, noted that America’s freight railroads have collectively spent some $26 billion on upkeep and improvements in recent years. 

CSX, for example, spent close to $8 million in Massachusetts in 2015 alone. 

“Freight rail makes the tall task of fixing America’s infrastructure a little less steep,” Jefferies correctly observed.

Here’s just a partial list of items shipped regularly into Massachusetts by our freight railroads: automobiles, lumber and other building materials, propane, plastics and resins (vital to the medical instruments and high-tech industries), food (mostly canned goods and bulk products, such as flour and edible oils), fertilizer, petroleum products (lube oils and waxes), and animal feeds (agriculture and horse breeding remain important to our economy).

So here’s to you, Bay Colony and CSX, and here’s to you, East Brookfield & Spencer, and Fore River!   

Here’s to you, oh Housatonic, and to all the rest – the Massachusetts Central, Massachusetts Coastal, New England Central, Pan Am, Pioneer Valley and Providence and Worcester railroads!

Without you, our economy would rot from the inside, our highways would go into constant gridlock, and our climate would change for the worse even sooner.







MA Voices Hardly Heard as GOP Focuses on 'Freeing' Us from ACA 'Pain'

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The state’s largest union held an event this past Thursday at Boston’s Old South Church to call attention to the “the damage the Republican Affordable Care Act replacement bill will inflict in Massachusetts.”

The executive vice president of that union, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, Tyrek D. Lee, Sr., told a large gathering of his members and assorted health care advocates, “This bill is a tax break for the richest and will shift costs to low- and middle-income people in the state and across the nation.”
According to a physician-speaker at the event, James S. Gessner, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, there is “no federal policy that has had as positive an impact on my patients” as the Affordable Care Act. 

Thanks to the ACA, Dr. Gessner said, “more families here in the Commonwealth have been able to acquire health insurance, and more patients have finally had peace of mind about their ability to get the medical care that they need.  This bill to replace the ACA will ensure that patients fall through the cracks – patients who are among the most vulnerable.”
The Old South Church rally was, in part, an angry, mournful reaction to what had gone on earlier that day in Washington, where two key House committees voted to approve the Republicans’ first formal proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare.

GOP leaders said they were “fulfilling a political promise to uproot a law that had done untold damage,” the New York Times reported that day.
“This bill guts Obamacare and starts putting patients back in charge of their health care, without government bureaucrats telling them what they can or cannot buy,” boasted Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

Kevin Brady of Texas, the House Ways & Means chair, called the committee votes an “historic step, an important step, in the repeal of Obamacare and the freeing of millions of Americans, patients and local businesses from that pain.”
That’s an interesting formulation for a measure with the potential to take health coverage away from 24 million Americans:  “Here ,folks, let us stop the pain you’re suffering on account of that insurance that pays for your health care and protects you from a medically related bankruptcy.”

Do you ever wonder how many members of the House Freedom Caucus, the Republican vanguard in the long war against Obamacare, have refused the five-star, taxpayer-provided Congressional health plan?
It was a big mistake for President Obama and Democrat leaders in the Congress to enact the ACA without bipartisan support.

Eight years later, it will be an even bigger mistake for President Trump and Republican leaders in the Congress to kill, unilaterally, the ACA and replace it with some mangier, weaker program.
A one-party solution eight years ago allowed the opposition party endlessly to portray as a bad thing something that everyone agreed hundreds of years ago is a good thing, insurance.

I have no inkling if there’s a positive result to be had from the political battle over the dismantling of Obama’s greatest domestic achievement.
If there is, I suspect it will come from the inability of Senate Republicans to agree on an Obamacare replacement. 

At that point, with the Congress deadlocked, sane Democrats may join forces with sane Republicans. 
The sane collective, I hope, will then begin talking about what everyone in Washington should have been talking about during the years they were talking about freedom and the evils of big guvmint:

How does the world leader in higher education, medicine, science and technology, the USA, create a smart insurance system that enables every citizen to secure health coverage?


Rick Perry's No Ernie Moniz, and Other Ramblings of an Under-Capacitated Brain

Friday, March 3, 2017

NUCLEAR STEWARD ON STEEP LEARNING CURVE - Former Texas governor Rick Perry was confirmed by the U.S. Senate yesterday as secretary of the federal agency he once advocated eliminating, Energy, but whose name he famously could not recall during a big moment in a presidential debate, a lapse that doomed his faltering  candidacy.   Yesterday, Perry was quickly sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence.  Nice color photos of him taking the oath of office soon appeared online.  Perry’s wearing a Trumpian tie of blazing red and Clark Kent-style glasses.  He’s standing tall, erect and confident -- so confident he must have banished, at least for the moment, all thoughts of his illustrious predecessor as Secretary of Energy, Fall River’s own Ernie Moniz, a Ph.D. from Stanford, long-time professor at MIT, and world-renowned physicist.  When Trump offered Perry the top position at Energy in December, the New York Times reported, Perry “gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas energy that he had long championed in his home state.”  Only later did he discover “he would be no such thing – that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal.” 

A QUESTION THAT SCREAMS, ‘FINESSE ME’ - A late-January poll by WBUR and MassINC revealed that Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly favor the so-called “millionaire’s surtax,” which will be a referendum question on the November, 2018, statewide ballot.  Forty-eight percent of respondents indicated they “strongly support” the surtax; 29% said they support it “somewhat.”   If passed, the referendum would amend the state constitution in order to allow a 4% surtax on annual household incomes of $1 million or more.  The new tax would be in addition to the existing 5.1% flat income tax paid by all residents.  When he read those poll results, Charlie Baker reached, I imagine, for an aspirin bottle.  As a fiscal conservative, the flaws in the surtax are obvious to him.  As a practical politician, the risks of voicing opposition to it and/or openly campaigning against it next year are equally clear.  The beating he took this past November on highly contentious ballot questions is still fresh:  voters rejected Baker’s energetic and sustained arguments on legalizing marijuana for fun (against) and increasing the number of charter schools (for).   Referenda are rough for this Republican.  Running for re-election next year, and facing a Democrat who is certain to be hitting him hard for not hitting Trump hard, Baker will most likely punt on the surtax.   “I have some concerns about the possible unforeseen consequences of a surtax,” he will have to say, “but I will certainly abide by the will of the voters.”
TREADING CAREFULLY ROUND THE ‘PEOPLE’S LAWYER’ - Baker has to be relieved that Maura Healey, the Commonwealth’s popular, omnipresent Democrat attorney general, appears to have firmly ruled out running for governor next year.  About two weeks ago, responding to questions on WGBH Boston Public Radio, Healey said, “You know, as lawyers, sometimes you get in the courtroom and the other side objects and they say, ‘Asked and answered.’  That’s a little how I feel on this one (question of challenging Baker in 2018).  I’m running for re-election.  I think that my job as attorney general, it’s never been as important as it is now to do my job and do my job well.  Certainly we have our hands full, so that’s what I’m focused on.”  Others smiling broadly now that Healey’s staying put are Setti Warren, former mayor of Newton, and Jay Gonzalez, former secretary of administration and finance in the Deval Patrick administration, both of whom are already running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.  After one of Healey’s earlier disavowals of a run for governor, Warren issued a press release flowing with Maura love.  “I am glad that she will be a leader of the Democratic ticket in 2018 as she asks voters for another term as the People’s Lawyer,” Warren said.  You bet he is.

A LISTENING TOUR ON THE LEVEL FOR ONCE - There’s nothing I usually laugh at more than the notion of a would-be candidate going on a listening tour.  My problem with this staple of politics is that I’ve never seen anyone come back from such a jaunt and tell us he wasn’t going to run because he’d earnestly sought to discern the mood of the electorate and the electorate had told him, “We think you’d be a lousy candidate. Don’t run.  Please.”  I’m making an exception in the case of the estimable Dan Wolf of Harwich, former Democrat state senator from Cape Cod, as Dan is a sincere servant of the public, one who truly listens, and enjoys listening, to people.  Wolf also has the honesty to tell the world at the conclusion of his particular tour, which commenced on Feb. 16: “I’d like to be the governor of Massachusetts.  I believe I’d be a very good governor.  However, I did not sense that my candidacy would be successful.  Therefore, I shall not make the extraordinary effort required of a committed candidate for governor.”  Wolf did not build Cape Air, a regional airline, into a behemoth from scratch by missing the facts.  I hasten to add that Wolf’s listening/speaking tour could legitimately uncover much evidence that he’d be a strong candidate.  Charlie Baker, Setti Warren and Jay Gonzalez have likely already come to that conclusion.
A STRATEGIC RETREAT, PERHAPS  – Evan Falchuk’s dream of building his baby, the United Independent Party (UIP), into a legitimate third party expired quietly on Feb. 13, a purported victim of the widespread anxiety induced by the Trump presidency.  In an announcement that day, Falchuk said he was changing his party registration to Democrat because the Democratic Party is “the only organization strong enough for the fight against the excesses of the Trump administration.”  Normally, guys who start their own political parties are uncontrollable egomaniacs and/or conspiracy theorists.  Falchuk was the exception:  a young, charming family man and lawyer cum health care executive from Auburndale -- a graduate of Noble and Greenough, Lehigh, and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.  Not at all a nut.  I remember watching him in a televised debate in 2014 when he was running for governor.  He was patently intelligent, had charisma, and the camera loved him.  Thoroughly at ease, he actually seemed to be having fun, which made it fun to watch him.  Do not be surprised if Falchuk seeks some office as a Democrat next year, say lieutenant governor or secretary of state.  


This Month in Corruption: Contractors Fined for False Billing on Assembly Sq. T

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Two contractors involved in building the Assembly Square T station knowingly submitted inflated payment estimates for materials and will pay large fines and penalties to resolve the case, according to the Office of Attorney General Maura Healey.

A press release from Healey’s office, issued this past Friday, Feb. 24, announced: 
“S&R Construction Enterprises, its president Stephen Early, subcontractor A&S Electrical LL and its manager, Gregory Lane, agreed to resolve allegations that they violated the Massachusetts False Claims Act by knowingly submitting false and inflated pay estimates to improperly front load payments under their contracts. 

“In addition, S&R Construction and A&S Electrical are barred from bidding on and accepting new public contracts in Massachusetts for five years and one year, respectively.”
S&R Construction was the general contractor for the Assembly Square station construction project.  The T awarded the company a $29 million contract in October, 2011; the station opened some three years later.

The “false and inflated requests for payment” reflected that the companies “had purchased construction materials in greater quantities or at higher prices than they had actually purchased, in order to receive larger payments than they were entitled to at the time under the lump sum contract,” the press release said.
Under the terms of a consent agreement finalized last week in Suffolk County Superior Court, the parties will pay over $420,000 to resolve the allegations, including civil penalties of at least $110,000.

S&R Construction has also been cited by the Attorney General for “failure to pay the prevailing wage and failure to submit true and accurate time records on both the construction of the Assembly Square station and the Wachusett Commuter rail station on the Fitchburg line.” 
These citations will require S&R Construction to pay more than $40,000 in restitution to its employees and more than $25,000 in penalties, the Attorney General’s office reported.

The investigation by the Attorney General began with a referral from the Office of State Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha.  Reportedly, the Inspector General had been tipped off that A&S Electrical allegedly asked one of its subcontractors to submit inflated invoices.
“Building new public transportation infrastructure is how we will move Massachusetts forward,” said Healey, “and taxpayers deserve confidence in how we spend every dollar.  Overbilling and front-loading create unacceptable risks of delays and degrade the integrity of our public contracting.”

She emphasized that “taking on this fraud is a top priority.”
The first new station in the metro subway system since 1987, Assembly Square has been the linchpin of the revitalization of a large, formerly industrial site in East Somerville, which is now filled with apartments, condominiums, offices, restaurants and stores.