It's Still 'The Economy, Stupid,' but You'd Never Know It by Coverage of Gov Race

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Both major party candidates for governor have plans to improve the state’s economy but we’re not hearing much about them.  The news media remain focused, per usual, on the horse-race aspects of the election:  who’s ahead in the latest poll, who’s trending up or down, whose “unfavorable” are higher, etc.  The media’s also fixated on Charlie Baker’s supposed gender gap and Martha Coakley’s supposed need to redeem herself for losing the Senate election to Scott Brown.

Meanwhile, the most important issues facing citizens over the next four years, all of which have to do with money, seem mired in the background.  I’m talking about stagnating personal incomes, the crazy costs confronting first-time homebuyers, the lack of good paying jobs for our children and grandchildren, and the soaring price of electricity at a time when the U.S. is awash in the natural gas needed to generate it.
On their campaign web sites, you can easily find what Baker and Coakley say they’ll do to strengthen and stimulate the economy.  You can acquaint yourself with the details of both plans in less time than it takes to watch a TV sitcom.  See links below to Baker and Coakley web sites.

Maybe you’re real busy and don’t have the time.  Maybe you’re not willing to spend half an hour on such an exercise.  Worry not.   The other day I decided to print out the Baker and Coakley economic plans, and to circle what I consider the five top highlights in each, and to reproduce them verbatim below.
Charlie Baker

“Promote Entrepreneurship: Reduce Fees for Starting and Maintaining a Business.  Forming an LLC (limited liability corporation) costs $500 and each such business must also pay an annual filing fee of $500 to the state.  The state should eliminate the initial filing fee and reduce the annual fee to $125.”

“As Governor, Charlie will designate a member of his staff to be the point person for entrepreneurship and economic growth.  This person will be empowered to engage and coordinate state agencies to maximize their responsiveness and collective impact on business formation and growth.  In addition to playing this intergovernmental role, he or she would be responsible for pro-actively identifying barriers to new business formation and making recommendations to the Governor’s cabinet and the legislature for reducing or removing those constraints on entrepreneurship.”

“If state revenue increases, total local aid will increase: Level-funding local aid is not sufficient if state tax revenue increases.  In the first year of a Baker administration, total local aid (including education funding and unrestricted aid) will increase by at least 75% of the revenue growth rate; in each subsequent year, local aid will increase by 100% of the revenue growth rate.’
“There are close to 25 separate federal and state programs that support revitalization of distressed cities and neighborhoods.  In addition, there are numerous other infrastructure, public safety, education, and workforce development programs that could have a direct impact on enabling or stimulating economic growth.  As Governor, Charlie will consolidate economic development programs in order to create Opportunity Zones in high-need communities and regions.  These zones will be established through a competitive process, whereby public-private partnerships representing individual cities or regions submit focused and actionable strategic plans to stimulate sustainable economic growth and job creation.  Successful proposals will not only address key infrastructure, tax and regulatory barriers to business growth, they will also include ambitious and creative approaches to: encouraging entrepreneurship; deepening connections between employers, career technical high schools and community colleges; expanding high-quality PK-12 school options; and improving public safety.”

“Housing that’s affordable for working people is an important component of thriving communities, but there is no single solution to the insufficient supply of affordable and market-rate housing.  The state needs to be flexible and provide a range of tools, assistance and encouragement to cities and towns to build more housing that working families can afford.  Continuing to support tax credits for affordable and market-rate development, working with communities on zoning reform and maximizing federal housing dollars are all important strategies.  The state can lead by example by pursuing the use of currently unused state-owned land near transit as an opportunity to develop market-rate housing.”
Martha Coakley

“The core foundation of the Coakley-Kerrigan growth strategy is to invest in our people.  The Commonwealth’s educated workforce is our global calling card and most important strategic asset.  Everyone deserves an outstanding, affordable educational experience from pre-K through college or vocational training.  We know the best way to build an economy that is fair and prosperous, that creates opportunity for all and levels inequalities, is to invest in providing a world-class education and workforce training aligned with our new economy.”
“We need to build an economy that works for everyone – in every region of Massachusetts.  This means identifying the unique strengths and needs of each region, and working with local leaders to determine how the state can be an effective partner to address any challenges…The Coakley-Kerrigan growth strategy includes a community-and-region-based partnership model, providing collaborative investment and support to cities and towns, allowing regions to harness and maximize their unique and diverse industry strengths and economic opportunities.”

“We must ensure Massachusetts is a welcoming place for new and established businesses to grow and stay.  This requires a predictable and collaborative business environment, where regulatory red tape can be tackled, government partners and dialogues with employers of all sizes, and we all work together to confront the spiraling costs of health care and energy.”
“Technology innovation is driving our economy in new ways every day.  Nearly 40% of our economy is now defined as within the innovation economy.  Our Commonwealth’s legacy industry strengths in areas like health care, manufacturing, and financial services are adapting and transforming into globally-leading, innovative industries…To create a great environment that encourages new technology-based industries to thrive, government must be an active partner with industry and academia.  We can continue to lead the world in life sciences and clean technology and support our emerging industries like big data, eHealth, digital marketing, and robotics by supporting talent retention and workforce development and investing in research and development.”

“To ensure economic growth in all regions, communities, and sectors, we must be constantly striving for a more level and inclusive playing field for the Commonwealth’s workers and businesses.  Economic fairness is the backbone of sustainable, healthy economic growth, allowing all people and companies the chance to attain their maximum potential…We need to ensure that the Commonwealth is a home for good jobs which provide workers with the opportunity to earn a decent wage, support their families, and save for their future.”


What Hurts Bottle Bill Expanders More: Ads that Lie or a Case that Doesn't Cut It?

Friday, October 10, 2014

On July 9, I posted an item on what I considered the weak point in the case for Question 2.  If interested, you can read it by clicking on:

Question 2 on the November 4 ballot proposes to amend the Bottle Bill by requiring deposits on a wider array of beverage containers. 
Under the existing version of the Bottle Bill, we have to pay a five-cent deposit on every beer and soda can or bottle we buy. If Question 2 passes, we’ll have to pay deposits, as well, on containers for all non-alcoholic, non-carbonated drinks.

I said on July 9 that voters could reject Question 2 because: (a) tens of millions of dollars in container deposits go unclaimed every year, and (b) those unclaimed deposits wind up in the state’s general fund, where they support the overall functioning of our government.
“When Bottle Bill foes complain that the law is outmoded, and that it has created an everlasting, hidden tax and a spending crutch for the legislature and governor to quietly lean on, it’s hard to dismiss those arguments out of hand,” I said.

I should have searched for the actual text of Question 2 before writing on this topic.  It was clearly a mistake not to…but I don’t know if it was a mistake so large as to negate my fundamental point, which was that voters are naturally skeptical of the effectiveness of government spending and reluctant to put new dollars in government hands.
If I had read the Question 2 text, I would have seen the subsection of the amended version of the Bottle Bill calling for creation of a stand-alone account to be known as the Clean Environment Fund.  All abandoned deposits collected under the Bottle Bill shall be deposited into this new fund, the subsection stipulates, and the fund “shall be used, subject to appropriation, for programs including but not limited to projects supporting the proper management of solid waste, water resource protection, parkland, urban forestry, air quality and climate protection.”

At first blush, the Clean Environment Fund looks like the perfect answer to those who complain that an expanded Bottle Bill will only give government more money to play with.  No longer would abandoned, or unclaimed, deposits go to the general fund, where they could be spent on anything.  Instead, they’d be sequestered and could be spent only on projects good for the environment.
Well, not exactly. 

The bill language contains that key phrase of lawmaking: subject to appropriation.  That means the legislature would have to vote specifically every year to authorize expenditures from the Clean Energy Fund on those enumerated environmental purposes: “the proper management of solid waste,” and so on.
In a bad year, a time when the state budget is running in the red, the legislature could vote to take money from the fund and spend it on something deemed more urgent -- health care or law enforcement, for example.

Even in a not-so-bad year, like the one we’re having now, the legislature could vote to take money from the fund and spend it on something like a larger workforce in the Department of Children and Families.  It would not be hard to make the argument that we need social workers to protect vulnerable kids more than we need new parks, say, in 20 different middle-class suburbs.
One has to wonder, also, about the elasticity of terms like “water resource protection,” “parkland,” “urban forestry,” and “climate protection.”  Legislators of a creative bent, which is to say any veteran rep or senator who knows her way around the budget process, could make a lot of projects in their districts fit those categories: a new road that happens to better protect an aquifer from salt run-off, new trees on Main Street, a new baseball diamond at the high school, solar panels at city hall to reduce the burning of oil to heat the building, etc.

Well over $30 million in container deposits will go unclaimed during the current fiscal year.   If the new version of the Bottle Bill becomes law, that figure could increase by as much as $20 million.
This past summer, proponents of expanding the Bottle Bill were touting polls indicating that 62% of Massachusetts voters favored the expansion.

Now that the polls have flipped, with 60% saying they oppose expansion, the “STOP Litter: YES on 2” group is blaming their declining prospects on a big-budget, deceptive advertising campaign by the “NO on Question 2: STOP Forced Deposits” group, which they say is just a front for the beverage and bottling industries.
That may be the case.  It could also be that voters are taking a close look at what an amended Bottle Bill would do and are thinking the results would be nebulous, burdensome, and not worth the costs.

Ever Increasing Municipal Retiree Health Costs a Big Problem in Places Like Everett

Friday, October 3, 2014

After reading the latest Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF) bulletin on the oversized burden retiree health care costs put on municipal budgets, my first reaction was, Steve Wynn can’t build that casino in Everett fast enough.

Everett was cited in the bulletin because it is a good example of a bad situation -- a place where the average citizen barely gets by, and where the cost of providing health coverage to retired municipal employees consumes an ever larger share of local revenue.

An independent non-profit research organization, the MTF used two criteria in selecting Everett and eight other municipalities for analysis.  First, a city or town had to have a population of at least 10,000.  Second, the average annual per capita income in that city or town had to be among the lowest in the state.  Besides Everett, those municipalities are Amherst, Chelsea, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Lawrence, New Bedford, North Adams and Springfield.

“Between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2013, the total costs for retiree health care coverage in the nine municipalities rose from $71.8 million to $88.8 million, an increase of 24 percent, while property taxes grew at half that rate, a modest 12.1 percent,” the bulletin said. 

The bulletin said that “The jump in retiree health care spending is especially striking when considered in the context of the tiny two percent growth in the total budgets of these nine communities between 2009 and 2013.” 
The bulletin pointed to the irony of local taxpayers funding a benefit for municipal retirees “that most of them do not receive,” i.e., private health coverage in their golden years.
“Few residents have access to any (private) retiree health care benefits themselves,” the bulletin said, “let alone the generous ones provided by municipalities.” 

It went on to cite figures from the Agency for Health Care Quality and Research showing that, in 2013, only 7.3 percent of Massachusetts private sector establishments offered health insurance to retirees over age 65, and only 8.8 percent offered it to retirees prior to age 65.
The MTF has long argued that the system governing health care benefits for retired public employees should be reformed.  It restated that case in its latest bulletin.  The MTF called upon the legislature, for example, to double the years that a municipal (or state) employee must work before qualifying for health benefits in retirement, from 10 to 20, and to eliminate altogether pre-Medicare coverage for retirees.

If I were back living in Everett, I’d be writing letters now to my rep and senator asking them to support every change in the system supported by the MTF.  Otherwise, I’d say, the tens of millions of dollars promised to the city every year by the Wynn Everett casino might end up going mainly to retiree health care.
Of course, retired city workers, once they got wind of my letters, would soon be writing letters to the same legislators saying don't you dare change that system.

To find the MTF bulletin, go to the foundation’s website, and click on “Retiree Health Care Costs Are Straining Budgets in the State’s Poorest Cities.”






Blogster's Miscellany: Casino Foes' Woes. Photo-Ready Plates. A Clinton BFF

Thursday, September 25, 2014

DID ANTI-CASINO GROUP PEAK 10 MONTHS AGO? As the ballot fight over repeal of the state’s casino-enabling legislation nears its decisive phase, Repeal the Casino Deal (RCD) looks like it’s gasping for breath.  The State House News Service reported earlier this week that the group “owes consultants, lawyers and supporters about $440,000 and has less than $11,000 in cash.”  An RCD spokesman, David Guarino, put a brave face on that body of red ink.  “While we always knew we would be out-spent by the deep-pocketed casino bosses who wrote two checks to fund the first $1.7 million of their campaign, we are encouraged by the steady growth in support for stopping the casino mess,” said Guarino, a principal of Melwood Global.  RCD reportedly owes $36,000 to Guarino’s firm alone.  Question 3 on the Nov. 4 ballot, if approved by the voters, would repeal the state’s casino law.  If voters reject Question 3 – and polls to date suggest it will be defeated -- we will look back at November of 2013 as RCD’s high-water mark.  That was when the group led a successful local referendum in East Boston against a casino at Suffolk Downs, a defeat that surely had some impact on the decision last week by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to grant the Eastern Massachusetts casino license to Wynn Resorts for its proposed casino in Everett.  The losing alternative was for a casino located entirely on the Revere side of Suffolk Downs.  The Suffolk Downs folks have said the final races at the track, probably ever, will be held on Saturday, Oct. 4.  I grew up in Revere.  My uncle was on the City Council when the track was approved and built in the Thirties.  My father worked a second job on Saturdays at the track for many years during racing season, counting money.  Though I never placed a bet there, I am sentimentally attached to the old place. I’ll be sad to see it go…but I’ll get over it quickly.  What will eventually arise on those 130 acres in Revere and East Boston now occupied by the racetrack will be so good as to make us wonder why we ever thought it was a good idea to have horses racing there.  With direct access to the MBTA’s Blue Line, it has huge upside potential as a mixed-used development with housing (apartments and condos), shopping and offices -- and room left over for plenty of green space.  It doesn’t strain the imagination, for example, to see a beautiful elevated pedestrian walkway/bicycle path bringing hundreds of residents and visitors from “Suffolk Downs Village” to nearby Revere Beach every day when the sun is shining.  By contrast, it’s hard to see something good and exciting being built on the Everett casino site, a former Monsanto chemical factory, if Steve Wynn isn’t in the picture because the site is severely contaminated and it will cost upwards of $30 million to clean it up.  Wynn has $1.6 billion on hand to build the Everett casino and can take the clean-up costs in stride in a way that a regular real estate developer can't do.  The Gaming Commission must have regarded the site clean-up as a big plus for Everett,  Charlestown and Somerville, and for the Mystic River and Boston Harbor, whose waters are threatened by toxins washed from the site by rainwater.  The commission must have given Wynn’s proposal extra credit for the enviro-clean-up.

CONCERN FOR YOUR LICENSE PLATE NEVER HIGHER.   Now that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has moved to all-electronic tolling (E-ZPass) on the Tobin Bridge and will move similarly on all toll roads in the state within the next two years, there’s a sharper focus on the condition of license plates.  Today, if you take the bridge over mystic waters from Chelsea to Boston and you don’t have an E-ZPass transponder in your window, a camera takes a picture of your plate, and you will soon receive in the mail a bill for the full toll.  This is the so-called Pay-By-Plate option.   A plate that cannot be recorded clearly and fully by a camera thus gives a motorist an edge over the state in the never-ending battle between revenue collectors and revenue payers.  So it’s no surprise that the State Police are stepping up enforcement of Section 6 of Chapter 90 of the Massachusetts General Laws, which requires that license plates be plainly and fully visible, and that the plate numbers and letters be legible from a good distance.  (Vehicle inspection stations have long been instructed to fail a vehicle if the plate cannot be read from 60 feet away.)  According to an August 5th MassDOT press release, state and local police issued approximately 4,000 citations for obscured and illegible plates during the first six months of this year.  “We want to warn motorists about the legible plate requirement and also encourage everyone to sign up for E-ZPass,” said Highway Administrator Frank DePaola at that time.  First-time violators of the visible/legible plate requirements are fined $35.  For a second offense, the fine is $75, and for the third, $150.

PORTENT OF A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY.  A man well known around Boston was in Washington, D.C., not long ago when Lou D’Allesandro, an East Boston native who’s had a long and distinguished political career in his adopted state of New Hampshire, personally invited him to a D’Allesandro fundraiser there that evening.  A football star at UNH in his younger days, D’Allesandro has been in the 24-member New Hampshire senate since the late-Nineties, serving a district centered in Manchester.  “You should come,” Lou told the man from Boston.  “There’s going to be a special guest, someone you’d definitely like to say hello to.”  “Who might that be?” asked the man.  Lou answered with one word: “Hillary.”  Seventeen months before the nation’s first presidential primary, Hillary Clinton is lending her star power to a fundraiser for one electorally secure New Hampshire legislator. She must be running for president -- coyly running, but running, running, running.

It Hurts to Lose a Seat in Congress. But after the Hurt Comes the Relief Package

Thursday, September 18, 2014

I have never met John Tierney.  I have never had a reason to ask for a meeting with him or a member of his staff for one of our clients. Tierney holds a federal office, United States Representative, and we do most of our work at the state and municipal levels of government.

However, I happen to know a lot of persons who know Tierney or have dealt with him on various matters through the years.  He’s been in the Congress since 1998. They all say Tierney’s a good, down-to-earth person, a man you can trust, a guy who delivers on what he tells you.  They also say he’s easy to take, no fathead.

I take as Exhibit A of Tierney’s “good guy-ness” that young, fresh-faced, sincere, teetotaling Joe Kennedy the Third was out campaigning for him just a little while ago.  Kennedy didn’t owe Tierney anything.  Nor did he need him to keep moving up the ladder.

As everyone who follows politics knows, the voters of the Sixth Massachusetts District gave Tierney the boot nine days ago.  He lost the Democratic nomination for re-election to his House seat to Seth Moulton.  The margin of defeat was decisive.
Today, September 18, as Tierney celebrates his sixty-third birthday, he is likely reflecting upon both his past and his future.  Unlike a lot of persons his age who’ve been forced from a job, he has some good options for future employment.  He’s a member of the bar and could restart his private law practice in Salem, his hometown, without much difficulty.  He could also do what a lot of former lawmakers do these days: become a lobbyist.  Or he could simply decide to retire when his term’s up.  He could do what Al Pacino, age 73, said in a recent article in the New Yorker he has no interest in doing: “Smell the golf balls.”

Tierney qualifies for the kind of pension and other retirement benefits that the vast majority of Americans will never attain.*  By my rough, non-expert calculation, which is based on the average annual salary for a U.S. representative, $172,443, and on Tierney’s 16 years in the Congress, he could collect a federal pension amounting to $49,663 every year for the rest his life.
The average 63-year-old man in the U.S. today can expect to live to age 84, according to the Social Security Administration.  If Tierney starts collecting his federal pension upon leaving office in January and if he lives for 84 years, his total pension income would come to $1,042,923, (21 times $49,663).

It’s also possible that Tierney qualifies for monthly payments from Social Security and from a federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). 

If, upon taking office in January, 1998, Tierney had joined the TSP, the federal government would have contributed the equivalent of 1 percent of his salary to his account every year whether or not Tierney himself made contributions to it.  If Tierney has contributed, the government would have equally matched those contributions, up to 5 percent, every year.
So, for example, if Tierney contributed 5 percent of his annual gross salary to a TSP in 2013, his personal contribution would have amounted to $8,622, (based on the average annual salary of U.S. reps), and Uncle Sam would have matched that contribution and added another 1 percent -- the “give-away” portion built into the system.  His accumulated retirement savings for just last year would have, in that scenario, totaled $18,968.73.

Don’t forget health coverage. 
As a retired Congressman, Tierney may obtain insurance for him and his wife for the rest of their lives through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that fewer than one in five persons working in the private sector today qualify for a pension; thirty years ago, that situation was reversed: more than four in five qualified.
It’s tough to lose an election.  Given the way so many voters said afterward that Tierney had been around long enough and that it was time for a new face, his defeat on September 9 was no doubt particularly painful. 

I’ve heard former elected officials describe their losses as a kind of “public death.”  Think about it.  The average person who gets downsized doesn’t have to get up the next morning to find his picture on the front page of the Boston Globe.
I wish John Tierney the best.  I won't hold it against him if he takes all the pension money, retirement account payouts, Social Security checks, and health coverage he’s entitled to by law.  I would not have the necessary wealth, nor would I be so self-less or patriotic, as to refuse those things if I was in his place.

On balance, we have to say that the electorate is a kindly and generous beast.  Else why would it countenance so much relief to those who must endure the demise of their public lives?
*Members of Congress, representatives and senators alike, need to serve only five years in order to qualify for a pension.






Suddenly, It Seems, an Ex-Selectman Is on Verge of Becoming State Treasurer

Friday, September 12, 2014

Politics is a strange and wonderful thing.  Consider that the last and only time Deb Goldberg held elective office was from 1998 to 2004 when she served on the Brookline board of selectmen, and that she’s now about eight weeks away from being elected State Treasurer, a constitutional office -- annual salary: $125,000 -- that will put her in charge of about $46 billion in public assets.  It’s a situation that evokes John F. Kennedy’s observation to the effect that “Anyone who would discount the importance of politics ought to consider that it was politics that took a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy and in fourteen years made him commander-in-chief.”

No doubt there were folks besides Goldberg and her family and friends who saw her victory coming this past Tuesday in the race for the Democratic nomination for treasurer, but I was not among them.  Even after she received the most votes for the nomination at the party’s June 14 convention, Godlberg’s candidacy never much figured in my thoughts -- yet another illustration of my nearly fatal lack of perspicacity. Oh, well.
At 7:00 p.m. on June 14, as the Democrat convention limped to a close, the party decided not to bestow its endorsement for Treasurer on Goldberg because she was one of three candidates who had received at least 15% of the convention votes, the threshold for getting on the primary election ballot.  Goldberg won 38.9% of the delegates' votes that day, while Wayland State Representative Tom Conroy and Andover State Senator Barry Fine gold took 33.9% and 27.1%, respectively.

The last poll I saw, on Friday, September 5, in the Boston Globe’s nifty, new “Capital” section, had Finegold leading, with the support of 21% of survey respondents, followed by Goldberg at 15% and Conroy at 14%.  Four days before the election, in other words, the region’s premier news organ put Goldberg one percentage point ahead of the person who ended up last in that particular race. 
Here are the primary vote totals: Goldberg, 202,077 (42.7%); Finegold, 149,188 (31.5%); Conroy, 121,802 (25.7%).

Goldberg, who is 60 years old, is nothing if not a portrait of the power of persistence.  After leaving the select board in 2004, she ran in 2006 for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor and finished second in a three-way contest behind then-Worcester Mayor Tim Murray.  She waited almost eight years to emerge from political hibernation on February 27 of this year and announce for treasurer.  It’s fair  to say that, at that point, her profile was noticeably lower than that of Senator Finegold, who’d been kind of a big deal in the Merrimack Valley for at least a decade, and of Representative Conroy, who’d attracted statewide attention in 2012 during an unsuccessful-and-ultimately-aborted campaign for the Democrat nomination for U.S. Senate, a prize ultimately taken by Elizabeth Warren, the bane of Scott Brown’s existence.
Goldberg’s treasureship is an almost-but-not-quite-accomplished fact.  She faces a Republican opponent in November: Michael Heffernan, a financial services professional from Wellesley, one of the few places in the world with real estate prices in the Brookline range.  But just by being a Democrat on the ballot in Massachusetts, Goldberg has to be rated a prohibitive favorite.

Goldberg’s background suggests she won't have much trouble with the duties of chief state financial officer: she has a bachelor’s from Boston University, a law degree from Boston College, and a master’s in business from Harvard.  More tellingly, she’s from the immigrant family that launched Stop and Shop, the largest chain of grocery stores in New England; the Goldbergs are an accomplished lot.  
One day, we should expect to see Treasurer Goldberg running for governor.  That is what treasurers in Massachusetts do.  (Apparently, there’s plenty of time on that job for dreaming and scheming.)

Goldberg will be bucking the odds if/when she goes for governor.  The last four treasurers -- Steve Grossman, Tim Cahill, Shannon O’Brien and Joe Malone – have all run for governor, and each, in his or her turn, has suffered defeat.
Yet Goldberg now has a credible chance of becoming governor.  If that happens in 2018, she will have made the jump from selectman to governor in less than 15 years. 

She deserves more than one ovation for putting herself in such a neat position.

On Fifth Anniversary of Kennedy's Death, I Found Myself Reflecting on a Particular Fact

Friday, August 29, 2014

This past Monday, August 25, on the fifth anniversary of the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, I eagerly read Marty Nolan’s column in the Globe: “Obama’s Kennedy.  Five years ago, the president lost his only real friend in Congress.”  I thought how good it was to be reading something by Nolan again; he’s been retired a while and no one has replaced him, if you know what I mean.   I also found myself thinking of the times I’d met Senator Kennedy and of how good he was, as so many public persons are, at shielding his actual self from the persons who came at him without end…

On a weekday morning, late in November of 1997, there was a large group of mourners gathered at a funeral home on Broadway, Everett, waiting on Ted Kennedy. 
This was the day of the requiem Mass for Joseph A. Curnane, Sr., a friend of Kennedy’s for nearly 40 years.  The senator had called the deceased’s son and namesake, young Joe Curnane, to say he was stuck in traffic.

 “Could you hold things up a bit?” the senator asked.
He wanted to see his friend one last time, to pay his respects properly. 

The time to form the cortege to the Immaculate Conception Church was drawing near. 
A few minutes later, the senator walked in, alone, to the funeral home.  He offered his condolences to the widow, the former Rosemary Murdock, once the most beautiful girl in Everett.  He had a gentle word, too, for each of Mr. Curnane’s four children.

Then the senator made his way purposefully through the room to the casket.  He knelt in prayer for half a minute, stood, and moved back two or three steps.  He did not take his eyes from the figure of his friend, a campaign warhorse he’d inherited from his brother the President.
No one spoke above a murmur.  No one approached their senator.  It was right, everyone knew, to let him have at least a moment on his own to reflect and to grieve.

The senator turned to his left, where I happened to be standing.  I introduced myself and shook his hand.
“Joe was my father-in-law,” I said.

“An amazing man,” the senator said. “Incredible.”
“Oh, yes.  He was…He was,” I said.

Neither of us seemed to know what to say next.  We stared at the exquisitely crafted wooden casket, nestled in a wall of flowers.
Fidgety, I blurted out: “He hated lies.”

The senator turned abruptly to me.  His eyes had a look of alertness, as if he had been stung.  It was an unguarded look from a naturally guarded man, something I’d never observed in previous encounters with him.
“That was like my father,” Ted said. “He hated lies more than anything.  You did not want to lie to him.”

I searched my mind for something that would keep the conversation spinning that fiber of the personal.  I hoped that I might have an honest-to-goodness conversation with a living legend of American politics.  Maybe I should say something to him about my father, I wondered. 
Before I was able to speak, the senator turned and shuffled off through the crowd.

Was he more mindful of the clock than I? 
His car was waiting.  Perhaps he wanted another look at the eulogy he was about to give at the church.

Or did he want to head off a too-personal conversation, however brief, with yet another stranger, an in-law no less?