Blogster's Miscellany: A Fond Farewell, a Delayed Maiden Speech and More

Friday, March 16, 2018

FORRY FAREWELL, PART 1.  It’s been about a month since Linda Dorcena Forry left the Massachusetts Senate for the more remunerative pastures of John Fish’s Suffolk Construction Co. and already the State House seems a less exciting place.  Former Senator Forry, a proud daughter of Haiti, oozes charisma.  She’s got a smile and a laugh so good as to make a portrait of J. Edgar Hoover break into a grin.  When she goes out in public, men and women who want to be her friends form a line behind her. This past Valentine’s Day, when Forry gave her farewell speech in the House chamber, the place was filled with bold-faced names, including Governor Charlie Baker, former Governor Deval Patrick, former Senate President Therese Murray, State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Boston City Councilors Frank Baker and Ayanna Pressley, New England Council President (and former Dorchester rep) Jim Brett and Israeli Consul General Yahuda Yaakov.  “There is no one in this building with whom I can’t work or laugh with and find common ground,” said Forry.  “We have shown what’s possible when good people come together.  We can use more of this Massachusetts form of leadership across the country.”  I’ll drink to that. 

IN NO HURRY TO SPEECHIFY.  “Never speak when you can nod.”  That was the maxim of Martin Lomasney, a Democratic ward boss from the West End of Boston back when mostly poor folks lived there. Lomasney’s been dead since 1933.  It’s doubtful most politicians today have heard of him.  But I can’t help but wonder if Rep. Tackey Chan, D-Quincy, maybe has.  Chan, 44, worked for a number of years as a top legislative hand for former Senator and now Norfolk County DA Michael Morrissey and as an assistant district attorney before running for and winning the 2nd Norfolk House seat in 2010.  With his experience and drive, Chan was a mover in the House from the start.  In 2017, he became House chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.  Yet, it was not until last month, on Feb. 14, that Chan rose, at long last, to deliver his maiden speech on the House floor.  He devoted that speech to a forceful appeal for the enactment of House Bill 4232, An Act Removing Fees for Security Freezes and Disclosures of Consumer Credit Reports.  “With free credit freezes and thaws and lifts, there is a great savings for customers,” he said. “…I think we should be proud of the fact we’re able to address this in a timely manner, and tell people at home we’re creating a new consumer protection for everyone in the Commonwealth.”  On a roll call vote, H.4232 was promptly adopted.  House members gave Chan a sustained round of applause.  Then, as is customary upon the conclusion of a maiden speech, every representative came forward, shook Chan’s hand and congratulated him, both on his speech and the winning vote for his bill.  Maiden speeches have always been treated as a big deal.  It’s one of the many customs I love about the Massachusetts legislature.  I cannot recall there ever being a seven-year lag between a legislator taking office and making his maiden speech, but it’s probable there has been a similar or longer lag at some point in our state’s long history.  Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with that. Less talk can be a smart career move, if combined with a good brain for strategy and a good personality for alliance building, as Tackey Chan has shown us.

MUCH-NEEDED WORKER PROTECTIONS.  On Friday, March 9, Gov. Baker signed into law House Bill 3952, An Act to Further Define Standards of Employee Safety, which applies federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) workplace standards to municipal workers.  Good thing he did.  An estimated 400,000 workers are getting protected under this law.  It’s great the Commonwealth will be enhancing safeguards for municipal employees who handle many inherently risky tasks, like working on pipes in trenches.  And it would be even better if our state found a way to address a somewhat parallel situation involving commercial fishermen, who are not covered by any federal workplace safety mandates.  That’s right, OSHA stops at the shore.  The men and women employed in one of the world’s most dangerous industries lack workplace protections that have been taken for granted on land for decades.  Franklin Roosevelt’s Fair Labor Standards Act also does not apply to fishermen, meaning such good things as child labor laws and overtime rules do not apply to fishermen.  It’s not like there isn’t sufficient profit in the consumption of seafood to enable modern, reasonable protections for fishermen.  It’s just that the money does not trickle down to the persons who do the actual hard work of catching fish. While the seafood industry in Massachusetts is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry, the average fisherman makes $35,000 a year. Approximately 6,000 full- and part-time fishermen (or “harvesters” as they are often termed in official documents) support 90,000 jobs on land -- everything from seafood processors and delivery truck drivers to chefs and waitresses in seafood restaurants.  It’s about time you hugged a fisherman.

FORRY FAREWELL, PART 2. Former Senator Linda Dorcena Forry got her start in the legislature as chief of staff to former Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie in 1996.  In 2005, she won former House Speaker Tom Finneran’s House seat after Finneran left the legislature for a job in private industry, and she held the seat until 2013, when she won a special election in the 1st Suffolk Senate district, Jack Hart’s, Steve Lynch’s and Bill Bulger’s old bailiwick. It was nice that Forry, during her Feb. 14 farewell, acknowledged the support she received early on from former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, whose career in politics did not end well.  DiMasi’s wife, Debbie, was in the audience.  Said Forry, “I was fortunate to serve under Sal DiMasi.  Sal saw promise in a young woman from Dorchester.”  When Sal was holding all the cards, he treated people well, regardless of their status, rank or situation.

OLD WISDOM FOR NEW DIGITAL ERA. If you’ve heard this before, please bear with me.  I love this piece of Boston political folklore and am wont to recite it at odd moments.  The full “never speak when…” Martin Lomasney credo goes like this:  “Never write when you can speak. Never speak when you can nod.  Never nod when you can wink.”  Were he alive today, Lomasney would not ever be undone by the publication of an email or text tapped out late at night in a weak moment.

NO SUMMER VACAY FOR DEAN.  The longest-serving member of the House, Rep. Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park, will likely have two opponents when he stands for re-election in the Democratic primary this September: Gretchen Van Ness and Segun Idowu.  “The Dean,” as he is known to one and all in the lower branch, has been in the House, with only one two-year interruption, since 1973.  He’s now in his twenty-second two-year term and is on the outs with current House leadership.  Van Ness, a former head of the Women’s Bar Association, was dubbed “the patron saint of underdogs” in a 2006 profile in Boston Magazine.  Idowu served as an aide to former Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey and organized the Boston Police Camera Action Team in 2014 to promote the adoption of body cameras by the BPD. Neither Van Ness nor Idowu has ever held elective office but both are obviously fighters.  At the least, they’ll make it interesting for The Dean.

TAKE THAT, SNOOTY CONDO BOARDS. The Senate has moved to a third reading Senate Bill 1117, An Act Relative to Solar Drying of Laundry, meaning it is now one quick step away from passing in the upper branch.  Sponsored by Senator Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, the bill would authorize municipalities to enact laws preventing homeowners’ associations from barring clotheslines on their properties.  Clothes dryers may not be real energy hogs, but, in an era of climate change, every bit of carbon is worth keeping out of the atmosphere.  

GUV’S ENEMY: THE CALENDAR.  We’re entering the biannual hourglass phase of the legislative session, when time available for lawmaking is fast running out and everyone more or less acknowledges that a lot of good -- and maybe even quite necessary -- bills just won’t get done.  It’s about calendar math.  This is year two of the session, an election year for all legislative offices.  By law, the legislature must adjourn by July 31; no formal sessions of the House and Senate may be held after that.  In the less than five months remaining on the calendar, the legislature will be mainly occupied with formulating and passing a new state budget for Fiscal Year 2019 (July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019), and then dealing with overriding  gubernatorial vetoes of various budget items.  The annual budget process mercilessly crowds out other legislative business and priorities; however, the crowding out is especially problematical in the second year of the session because virtually all unaddressed bills die at midnight on July 31 of the second year.  This past Monday, March 12, at the end of a State House press conference promoting a bill to spur housing construction, Gov. Baker was asked by the State House News Service if he was concerned by the legislature's slow the pace and frustrated by the lack of action on major bills he’s proposing.  Never one to pick a fight with a legislator, any legislator, Baker answered, “I fully expect that we’re going to have to push and advocate with our colleagues and others to try to get all of this stuff done over the course of the next four months, but the one thing I think we can all agree on is that there’s a tremendous amount of traffic and activity that takes place in the legislature in the last four months of the session, and we’re anticipating a big piece of that agenda will get done over the next 120 days.”  Translation: “Yes, the calendar is my enemy.  I don’t like my situation but it would only get worse if I tried to crack the whip on the legislature.”     

FORRY FAREWELL, PART 3.  Like any good, natural performer, former Senator Linda Dorcena Forry ended her farewell speech with a tantalizing hint of things to come.  “I’m excited to move into the private sector and join John Fish (as Vice President, Northeast Region, Diversity), but I will not be a stranger.  And I won’t promise I won’t be back some way, somehow.  You never know what tomorrow brings.  For the people! The people!”  According to the State House News Service, she choked up at that point and could not continue, whereupon everyone in the chamber stood and applauded.  Forry regained her composure and concluded thusly: “To the people I’ve been honored to represent, this is not a forever goodbye.  This is a time to say, ‘Thank you and I love you.’  Thank you and God bless.”  Always leave them wanting more, right?











Revocation of Casino License Would Punish 88% of (Non-Culpable) Owners

Friday, March 9, 2018

“Wynn Boston Harbor,” the name of the Las Vegas-style casino under construction now in Everett, is sinking faster than a gambling addict’s spirits.

Wynn Resorts founder Steve Wynn has been revealed as an alleged abuser of women and our governor and attorney general say the casino cannot possibly bear his name.  Countless women no doubt share that view with Governor Baker and AG Healey.
But if all Wynn Resorts had to do now was devise a new casino moniker, the folks running the show would be sitting prettier than a high roller in a penthouse suite.

With the Massachusetts Gaming Commission trying to determine if persons in the company hierarchy other than Wynn helped conceal Wynn’s reputed history of sexual misdeeds in its license application, Wynn Resorts could forfeit its right to do business here.
“A central question,” Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby has said, “is what did the (Wynn Resorts) board of directors and staff know, and when did they know it, about the settlement (with Wynn’s woman accuser) and the associated allegations.  That’s a critical point for us and the public of Massachusetts to know ASAP.”

Healy says, “I’m not convinced the company should have a license at all.”
Elaine Driscoll, gaming commission spokesperson, says, “Currently, all options are on the table.”

The tales of sexual abuse swirling around Wynn are being treated, as they should, with utmost seriousness.   Wynn Resorts, a publicly traded company, did the right thing in bouncing him.
License revocation by the state of Massachusetts is a whole other matter.

As bad and as reprehensible as Wynn’s behavior may have been, I don’t see how the commission can justify revoking his former company’s license at this advanced point in the development of the casino.  This betting mecca on the Mystic is on schedule to open in mid-2019. 
First, there’s the issue of ownership. Wynn holds only 12% of the stock in Wynn Resorts.  Punishing the many who own 88% because of the alleged actions of the one who owns 12% would not be fair to the 88%.  (It would be fair to compel Wynn to liquidate his stake in the company so that he can no longer profit from it, but that's a matter for the company and securities regulators to decide.)

Secondly, although Wynn was clearly in the wrong not to inform the gaming commission of his dealings with women who had accused him of abuse, too much has transpired in the development of the casino, too much money has been expended, too many lives have changed courses, and too many interlocking, far-reaching moves have been made since the casino was licensed in 2014 to turn the project on its head now. 
After years of planning, strategizing, investing, site preparation and building, we’re seeing the casino as the amazing project it was destined to be when Wynn Resorts committed to spending $2.4 billion dollars on it.  There’s never been anything like it on this scale in Massachusetts, and I say that as someone who never gambles and will set foot in the casino just once to satisfy my curiosity as to its excesses and spectacles.  We’re also seeing that Wynn, despite having been the project’s public face and its most persuasive salesman, was just one component of this complex, multi-year undertaking. 

By 2014, the project had achieved a life and a force all its own.  Had Wynn, who is 76, died in 2016, it would have gone on without him.  So should it now that he’s been dishonorably discharged.
Thirdly, if the commission takes back the Wynn Resorts license, forcing the company to sell the unfinished casino, what you’ll have is a fire sale.  In distress, the company would never get the price it would if it were selling an up-and-running casino at a time of its choosing.   Post-fire sale, can anyone doubt that Wynn Resorts would sue the Commonwealth for hundreds of millions in lost profits and damages?  Company shareholders would demand it.  One hell of a lawsuit it would be. If the state lost, we the taxpayers would be on the hook. Talk about a bad gamble.

I end with a question on requiring Wynn Resorts to ditch the “Wynn Boston Harbor” name: Is it the state’s business to tell businesses what to call themselves?
If Wynn Resorts makes the judgment that keeping Wynn’s name on its Massachusetts casino (and others) is good for business – and who’s to say it might not be, given we’re talking about enterprises founded on a vice and sustained by delusion and human weakness – I don’t believe the state has the right to deprive the company of its preferred label. (Remember, we’re living in Trump’s world now. Presidents can pay off porn stars and no one really cares.) 

If Wynn Resorts is willing to risk offending women and hurting its bottom line with a controversial name choice, who are we, the public in whose name our government acts, to say they can’t?    



Republican, Democrat Frenemies Always Ready to Slip Their Knives In

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The working relationship between our Republican governor and the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate is a beautiful thing, so beautiful you might be lulled into thinking partisanship in Massachusetts is practically extinct. 

Don’t be lulled.
Yes, Charlie Baker is sincerely committed to working well with others in the legislature.  You’re no more likely to hear him criticize House Speaker Robert DeLeo or Senate President Harriette Chandler -- or any legislator for that matter -- than you are to hear President Trump apologize for a Tweet.  The same goes for DeLeo and Chandler vis-a-vis Baker.

They all want to get things done, they all fundamentally agree on many issues, and they’re all glad to work together on a positive agenda for the Commonwealth.
However, while valuing, and occasionally extolling, the benefits of bi-partisanship, both parties still know they are enemies.  They know they’re obligated by the conventions of politics to act like foes in public, sometimes ferociously so.  

For proof of that, you do not have to look far.
In a Feb. 5 fundraising letter, for example, Kirsten Hughes, Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman, said:

“Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito have run a transparent, accountable administration that has put taxpayers – not Beacon Hill politicians – first.
“But for all of this progress, there are still those who want to take our state back to the dark days of one party rule and all the ugliness that went along with it…like sky high taxes, uncontrolled spending, cronyism, and corruption.

“Just to name a few.
“The Beacon Hill status quo politicians will fight tooth and nail against the Republican agenda of keeping taxes low, creating jobs, building stronger communities, and supporting education."

Now consider a Feb. 19 press release from the Massachusetts Democratic Party regarding a big donation from disgraced ex-casino mogul Steve Wynn to the Republican Governors Association.
Headlined, “Outrageous Emails Show Gaming Commission Ducking Responsibility on Wynn," the press release featured a statement by Democratic Chair Gus Bickford in response to emails by Gaming Commission board members and staff.  Those emails, Democrats allege, “demonstrate a shocking lack of commitment and direction regarding allegations against Steve Wynn.” 

Here’s the core of what Bickford said:
“The growing scandal over the Commission’s botched review of Wynn’s suitability for a Massachusetts gaming license will not just go away.  The Commission must investigate the $2 million donation that Steve Wynn funneled to Charlie Baker through the Republican Governor’s Association in 2014.  It violates the law that established this Commission and threatens the integrity of the gaming industry in Massachusetts.

“Both Wynn and Governor Baker have a long history of relying on dark money to try and get what they want.  The Steve Wynn ‘stink bomb’ is right up there with Charlie Baker’s ‘nothingburger.' ”
So, we have Republicans conjuring “the dark days of one-party rule” on Beacon Hill and “all the ugliness that went along with it.” 

What?  Might they be referring to the immediately prior administration of Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, who held sway at the State House with House Speaker DeLeo, the same speaker whose hand Governor Baker is eager to clasp?
And, we have Democrats playing their variation on the darkness theme, wherein Wynn and Baker allegedly have a “long history of relying on dark money to try and get what they want.”

What? That $2 million donation from Wynn, isn’t that the same donation previously blessed by the chief enforcement lawyer for the Gaming Commission, a donation this lawyer determined did not violate state campaign finance laws because Wynn gave the money to the Republican Governors Association after the commission had decided to grant his company the Eastern Massachusetts casino license?
To paraphrase the Book of Ecclesiastes, there is a time in Massachusetts for Republicans and Democrats to work together, and there is a time for them to work each other over.

Footnote #1. I gave Kirsten Hughes and Gus Bickford the titles they themselves use in documents.  Hughes prefers Chairman; Bickford prefers Chair.
Footnote #2. The term “Charlie Baker’s ‘nothingburger’ " refers to a mini-controversy that erupted late in the summer of 2016.  When it was reported that the chair of the state’s elementary education board, Paul Sagan, had donated $100,000 to a referendum campaign to authorize more charter schools, some Democrats called upon Sagan to resign.  Baker dismissed the situation as a “nothingburger.”




Death Robs House of 'One of the Good Ones,' Northampton's Peter Kocot

Monday, February 26, 2018

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in the Pioneer Valley town of Northampton will be overflowing with legislators and other elected officials tomorrow morning when the funeral Mass for Peter Kocot is held there.  A member of the Massachusetts House since April of 2002, Kocot died this past Thursday, Feb. 22, at the age of 61

He represented a district, the 1st Hampshire, which includes his hometown, Northampton, and the communities of Hatfield, Southampton, Westhampton and Montgomery. Before getting elected to the House, Kocot was employed for many years on the staff of the man who preceded him, former House Majority Leader William Nagle. 

Kocot, an Ivy Leaguer, was at the pinnacle of his legislative career, literally the top of his game, when stricken with an illness that proved fatal in short order.  Only four months ago, he had been appointed by Speaker Robert DeLeo House chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.  This committee has perhaps the most daunting task in Massachusetts government: devising new laws and new parts of existing laws to slow down the relentless growth in the cost of health care.

That Kocot was loved and admired by his House colleagues, that he was indeed a legislator’s legislator, is evident in the tributes to him that poured forth as soon as word got around the State House that he had passed away.
“Chairman Kocot,” said Speaker DeLeo, “was one of the most kind, decent, and selfless individuals that I have had the pleasure to know.  I am devastated by his loss…Peter was the consummate gentleman: gracious with his time, energy and intellect.  As a former staffer and, most recently, chair of one of the most challenging committees, Peter’s work was marked by his respect for the House and love for the people who work here.  He was a passionate advocate for his district and constituents…We relished hearing Peter’s stories from his district, including his fishing trips and his appreciation for its natural resources.”

Jim Eisenberg, who served as DeLeo’s chief of staff for 11 years before joining us at Preti Strategies in January, said, “Chairman Kocot was one of the good ones.  He had no trace of the ego or bluster that powerful politicians often portray.  He treated everyone with a gentle kindness and genuine respect regardless of their rank.  I can’t think of a member or staffer who disliked him – and though he was soft-spoken, he always spoke with authority.  I am deeply grateful to have worked with him on major pieces of state policy, such as the 2009 Ethics Reform bill and, more recently, health care cost containment.  The House has lost one of its best.  We all feel an intense sense of grief and sadness at his passing.”
Everybody on Beacon Hill respected Kocot, said South Hadley Representative John Scibak, House chair of the Joint Committee on Education, “because he never rushed into decisions, he thought them through.”

Steve Kulik of Worthington, vice chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, observed that Kocot “led through information, knowledge, and soliciting other ideas,” adding, “That’s just a powerful way to do your business as a legislator.”
Another Western Massachusetts legislator, Joe Wagner of Chicopee, House chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, said Kocot was “the definition of what a public servant should be.”

Even government watchdogs admired Kocot!  The State Ethics Commission issued a formal statement to pronounce that, "...we are deeply saddened by the passing of Representative Peter V. Kocot.  In his years of public service, Representative Kocot was a champion for transparency and accountability in government and a strong advocate for the mission of the State Ethics Commission.  His friendliness, helpfulness, and commitment to good government will be greatly missed."  I never saw anything like that before from the Ethics Commission.

The last time I saw Peter Kocot was on Oct. 18, 2017, in a meeting in his office on the second floor of the State House.  He had just succeeded Jeff Sanchez of Boston at the helm of Health Care Financing, Sanchez having been named chair of House Ways & Means.
We were scheduled for a half-hour discussion with him and several members of the Health Care Financing staff regarding the state’s Employer Wellness Program Tax Credit, which provides incentives to small businesses to offer their employees wellness and fitness programs.  The group I was with was advocating for an extension of the Employer Wellness Program Tax Credit.

Chairman Kocot arrived at the meeting after everyone else. He came into the room in a hurry, as if he had been delayed en route at the last minute.  He had about him a slight air of impatience.
Now Peter Kocot was easily the largest man in the legislature.  He stood about six foot nine and was built like a lumberjack.  (He played varsity football at Brown University in Providence.) He physically dominated any gathering he was in. But he did not seek to dominate with his personality, intellect or ego.

To me, he always seemed intent on finding out what was on your mind, and what was making you tick.  When you spoke, he concentrated on you so keenly that you could not help but feel some qualms about the power of your thoughts and words to persuade him.
On that day in October, fortunately, the Employer Wellness Program Tax Credit was a subject that more aroused his interest than his skepticism. He asked for more information on some of the points in our presentation and wondered aloud about what might be the best approach -- the best legislative vehicle to employ -- should he and his colleagues come to see the tax credit as something worth keeping.

The discussion was nearing its end when he asked of no one in particular, “Has anyone ever thought about giving credits directly to individuals to get them to work out and take better care of themselves?”  
We on our side all smiled.  We were not expecting that.  A wellness tax credit for individuals was too novel, too audacious, to get off the ground now, or maybe ever, in Massachusetts. Yet we would be the last to discourage any movement toward such a thing.  One member of our group said something like, “That would be a long discussion -- and we’d love to have it.” 

Chairman Kocot laughed in agreement. It was a full and an honest laugh.  We pushed our chairs back, rose slowly from our seats and began saying our good-byes.  Some business cards were pulled from folders and coat pockets and exchanged.  The chairman exited in as big a hurry as he had entered.
In the weeks that followed, our side developed and refined the answers to the chairman’s questions.  We also had meetings and phone discussions with other legislators, legislative staff, and members of the Governor Baker administration on the Employer Wellness Program Tax Credit. 

At the time of his death, we had a request in to see him again.  Ours was just one issue that will be affected by his passing.  There were hundreds of others on his plate, some quite momentous.  Peter Kocot’s death is a major blow to our Commonwealth.






























Senate Will Miss the Judicious Mr. Barrett as He Deals with Threat to His Health

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lexington’s Michael J. Barrett, a member of the Massachusetts Senate from the 3rd Middlesex District, was just diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APS) and will be confined to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston while undergoing treatment.  Because the disease has compromised his immune system, Barrett needs to avoid everyday situations where one may be exposed to bacteria and viruses, and, in particular, crowds.

“My doctors tell me I won’t be leaving the hospital for a month, and that, for some additional period of time, I’ll need to avoid crowded situations where people may have bad colds, etc.,” Barrett told the State House News Service on February 13.
The good news is:  APS is curable and Barrett, a trim and vigorous 69-year-old, is likely to make a full recovery.  “With the help of my fantastic staff, I expect to advance my legislative agenda quite effectively throughout my convalescence, and to resume my duties in full thereafter,” he said.

A graduate of Harvard and Northeastern University law school, Barrett takes his role and duties as a senator seriously every waking hour.  When confronted with a problem or big decision, he puts his emotions aside and methodically collects and weighs the facts.  He would make an excellent judge.  Consider, for example, how he handled himself on February 6 when the State House News Service came calling, but first a little background…
On February 3, The Boston Globe reported that Bryon Hefner, husband of former Senate President Stan Rosenberg, had allegedly been given access to Rosenberg’s Senate email account and had lobbied legislators in 2017 for funding of a social services program he was connected to professionally.  (Before being elected president, Rosenberg promised his colleagues there would be a “firewall” between Hefner and the business of the Senate.)  The February 3 article was the second Globe expose about Hefner within 10 weeks.

Because Barrett had sponsored the budget amendment that provided funds to the Hefner-favored program, the news service wanted to know if Hefner had personally lobbied him.  “I was totally clueless about his apparent interest (in the budget amendment),” Barrett responded. “…I happen to be a state senator that he hasn’t lobbied on anything.”    
On February 6, you could still find many at the State House who believed that Rosenberg, who relinquished the gavel to Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler on December 4, had a plausible path back to the presidency if ongoing investigations produced no evidence of official wrongdoing.

No one seems to be thinking that way now. But, it was reasonable for Barrett to be discussing on February 6 how Rosenberg could become president again.

“I hate to think that he (Rosenberg) might be entirely innocent and yet thrown out of the job. That would disturb me,” Barrett said that day. “I would have felt like I quailed due to the pressures of the moment and I don’t want to believe that I would do that.  Still, it looks difficult.”
Barrett continued, “If he’s exonerated by an independent investigator, yes I do (think Rosenberg could reassume the presidency). 

"Does the weight of circumstantial evidence become heavier and heavier?  Yes, it does…

"Constructing a narrative that permits Stan to return as Senate president becomes more and more difficult.  I could still construct one, and when I say construct one, I don’t mean a fantasy, but a possible sequence of facts.”

Because Barrett allows the members of his own staff to keep tabs on his Senate emails, he said the sharing of access with a spouse “isn’t the killer violation for me.”
He continued, “I’m looking for the smoking gun.  It’s corruption.  It’s skewing the Senate’s business because you promised someone sexual favors.  That would be an indictable offense and a condemnable one. 

"Am I happy about the prospect of sending him (Rosenberg) packing because the weight of circumstantial evidence seems too much to bear and because I feel that his performance would  be impaired?  I would not be happy doing that.”

If proven innocent, Rosenberg could “survive” in the president’s office, Barrett said; however, he doubted the investigations would have such clear-cut results.
“I think it’s going to be a gray-area thing,” Barrett said.  “I don’t think he (Rosenberg) is as guilty as his critics would wish or as innocent as some of us would wish.  I suspect he gave a spouse, a kibitzer, things to do that he probably desperately regrets, and what am I to do about that?  I don’t know.”  

Shortly after Barrett’s February 6 discussion with the State House News Service, it became clear the Senate was in a kind of paralysis due to (a) the latest journalistic allegations against Hefner, and (b) the behind-the-scenes maneuvering by at least three senators who hoped to replace Rosenberg if the Senate Ethics Committee, the Attorney General or some other investigatory body came up with a case against him.
To end the paralysis and to put the Senate in shape to deal effectively with a number of major, pressing issues, Democrat senators, including Rosenberg, voted on February 7 to remove “acting” from the title of Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler.  She’ll serve as a fully empowered president through the end of the 2018.

In the fall of this year, statewide legislative elections will be held, meaning there will be a new House and new Senate when the legislature convenes the first week of January, 2019. 
There’s not much point in any senator trying overly hard to collect votes for the presidency following that of Chandler -- who has vowed not to seek the post next session -- if this fall’s elections could significantly change the Senate line-up.  And they could.  Nor is there much chance Rosenberg could recapture the presidency in the reconfigured Senate of 2019-20, assuming he's re-elected in his Pioneer Valley district, where he remains popular and retains wide support.

The Boston Globe has thrown a large, dark cloud over Stan Rosenberg, but not one piece of evidence against him that could be introduced in court has yet been presented by the Senate Ethics Committee or any other entity or authority.  All who have been quoted in the Globe saying damning things about Rosenberg’s husband were given the cover of anonymity.  Nevertheless, Rosenberg has had to leave one of the three most powerful positions in state government, a job he loved and was good at, because public officials are often held to standards higher than the law and to expectations that exist beyond the realm of their public duties.  Public officials should be held to such standards and expectations.  Still, I feel badly for Rosenberg because he is an exceedingly kind and decent human being; he cares sincerely about enacting good laws and instituting good policies; he was a highly effective Senate leader; he ran the upper branch collegially: members were respected, listened to, and given genuine sway within their areas of expertise and specialization.  Also, I'm convinced he's an ethical person: I believe no investigation will find that he "skewed the Senate's business" or became corrupt under the influence of his husband, from whom he is now separated, or anyone else. I understand why he’s out as president and won’t be back in, but I feel very badly about all that has befallen the man since early-December.

ADDENDUM: Rosenberg is gathering signatures on the papers he must file to be a candidate for re-election in the fall and is "looking forward to the resolution of the ethics investigation," MassLive's Shira Schoenberg reports in an article published yesterday, "Former Senate President Stan Rosenberg: 'I have a vote and a voice.' "  The article delves into the issues Rosenberg is committed to working on for the remainder of the 2017-18 legislative session, such as a climate change.  It may be found at:








Healey Fighting to Stop Bosses from Taking Wait Staff Tips, per Trump's Wish

Friday, February 9, 2018

It appears that someone high up in the Trump administration woke up one day and decided that waiters, waitresses and bartenders are making too much money from tips.

The result is a U.S. Department of Labor proposal to rescind portions of federal regulations that prohibit employers from accessing, or taking portions of, tips given to their employees.  Owners of retail establishments would be newly empowered to put all tips collected by their employees in a common pool and to decide how money from the pool would be used.
The Trump administration is positioning this change “as a boon to ‘back-of-the-house’ workers such as cooks and dishwashers,” reports Fortune magazine.  Hogwash, say the front-line workers who earn the tips by serving and pleasing the public, this is “wage theft” plain and simple.

Tipped workers would lose, in total, $5.8 billion per year in tips that could legally be pocketed by their bosses, the Economic Policy Institute estimates.
According to U.S. News and World Report, the median salary of waiters and waitress in the United States in 2016 was $19,990.  The magazine states on its web site:

“The pay for waiting tables varies greatly, considering waiters and waitresses earn customer tips. Wait staff in an upscale restaurant in San Francisco will most likely take home more cash each night than servers at a pie diner in an unincorporated rural area.  But even though they earn a combination of hourly wages and tips, waiters and waitresses don’t make much money.  According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Standards), in 2016, servers earned an average hourly wage of $11.73, or about $24,410 for the year.  They made a median salary of $19,990 in 2016.  The highest-paid earned $38,460, and the lowest-paid made $17,090.”
The law in Massachusetts does not allow employers to share any portion of employees’ tips.  In this instance, Massachusetts law takes precedence over federal rule-making; therefore, our waiters, waitresses and bartenders do not have to worry about their employers grabbing a portion of their tips.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is concerned, however, that, if the proposed rule change goes through, confusion among employers and employees would ensue “and may result in improper tip retention by employers” in Massachusetts.
That’s one reason Healey put her signature on a letter sent this past Monday, Feb. 5, to Trump’s labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, and to Melissa Smith, Director of the Division of Regulations, Legislation and Interpretation at the Labor Department, by 17 attorneys general from around the nation, protesting the proposed change, or “rescission,” in these rules, which have been in effect since 2011. Here’s a salient excerpt from that letter:

“The (Labor) Department’s proposed rulemaking contradicts centuries-old employee and consumer expectations about tipping and threatens to seriously injure workers and deceive consumers.  At present, tipped workers, regardless of how their base wage rate is calculated, are the lawful owners of tips and, with very limited exception, employers cannot partake in an employee’s tips.  The proposed rescission completely upends this certainty by failing to define who may participate in tip pools where a worker earns the federal minimum wage.  The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asserts that, by providing employers with greater flexibility to allocate tips among tipped and non-tipped workers, such as cooks and dishwashers, the primary beneficiaries of rescinding the 2011 rule will be the workers themselves.  Yet, absent concrete definitions of or limitations on valid tip pool participants, the rescission would permit employers to share in such tip pools or even collect all employee tips as their own.  In fact, the Notice (of the proposed change) itself acknowledges that rescinding the 2011 rule would permit employers to use gratuities left for the servicers to ‘make capital improvements’ or ‘lower restaurant menu prices’ and notes that tips may be ‘utilized in part (or in full) by the employer.’ “
Healey says, “When customers pay tips, they expect that money to go to workers.  This proposed rule change allows employers to keep all the tips for themselves, tricking customers and depriving low-wage workers of the wages they earn.”  

No one can be surprised to see her in the thick of this effort.  Legally speaking, Healey is always to ready to knock that bright-red, oversized “Make America Great Again” hat off the president’s head. 
Regardless of whether she and her like-minded attorneys general succeed here, there’s at least a personal upside: Maura Healey’s now guaranteed to receive five-star service from the wait staff any time she’s eating out in Massachusetts!


Amazon May Not Be Serious at All about Boston -- and that's a Good Thing

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

If a guest columnist for a major national newspaper is to be believed – and I hope he is – Boston is out of the running to be Amazon’s second headquarters city (HQ2).

This would mean that the old, seldom-used Suffolk Downs horse racing track, the prime intended Boston location for Amazon’s HQ2, can be redeveloped in a better, less intense way for East Boston and Revere, and for the state as a whole.
The proposal by the state, city and a private developer to build Amazon’s H2Q at Suffolk Downs includes housing, hotels and open space, but it is primarily about eight million square feet of new office space and a technology-driven business operation requiring the services of approximately 50,000 employees.

Creating jobs is, as it should be, a governmental priority in all times and seasons. 
As enticing as H2Q at Suffolk Downs seems, however, there’s something scary about having so many jobs materialize in one swoop at a 161-acre site amidst densely populated neighborhoods and busy industrial/commercial enterprises -- a site in the figurative shadows of a booming Logan International Airport and a built-up/heavily used Revere Beach. 

How are all those workers going to get to work on time every day when the roads in the area are already often at capacity or over capacity?  What will happen to the already high (and constantly climbing) price of a home in Revere, East Boston and nearby Winthrop when so many of those employees start looking for homes there?
If you share such worries, you may be encouraged by an op-ed piece that appeared this past Monday, January 29, in the Wall Street Journal, “Mayors, Say No to Amazon,” by Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto, a distinguished fellow at New York University, and editor at large for the Atlantic Magazine’s City-Lab.

Florida contends that Amazon’s HQ2 quest, conducted as a nationwide competition among cities, has never been completely on the level and that Amazon basically has its sights set on two metropolitan areas on the East Coast, neither of which is Boston.
“At heart the HQ2 competition is a ruse.  Amazon without a doubt already has a very good idea of where it wants to put its new headquarters,” Florida wrote.  “The map of the 20 cities on the short list has clusters that give away the game.  New York City and Newark are next to each other.  So are the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Md.  Clearly, Amazon wants to be in either the New York metro region or Greater Washington.  (Jeff Bezos [Amazon founder], not coincidentally, has homes in both.)  Those five options are in four separate states, plus the capital – and states are the entities likely to contribute the most money to incentive packages.”

You may find Florida’s column, behind a pay wall, at:
Appearing before the legislature’s Joint Housing Committee yesterday, Governor Charlie Baker said that the gap between housing demand and supply in Massachusetts “poses the most serious long-term hurdle to continued economic growth.”   

Testifying for a bill that would allow municipalities, by simple majority votes of their governing bodies, to change zoning laws to facilitate construction of new housing, Baker said, “It has been decades since this state produced enough housing to keep up with demand.  The result has been predictable.  A limited supply creates overheated demand and rising prices.  Young people, seniors, young, working and middle class families can’t afford to rent or buy a home here in the Commonwealth.” 
Baker’s right:  We need much, much new housing –homes, apartment buildings and condos – throughout eastern Massachusetts.

It’s a no-brainer to make a redeveloped Suffolk Downs a part of the Commonwealth’s housing solution as quickly as possible. 
Do it organically, with first-class design and construction. Have it complement aesthetically, rather than overwhelm, its adjoining neighborhoods and business uses.  Exploit to the fullest the race track’s contiguity to two very walkable stops on the MBTA’s Blue Line, which provides, on most days, the easiest and quickest rapid transit link to downtown Boston.

With a sigh of relief, abandon the dream of our singular Hub as one hub of Amazon.