Ted Kennedy Would Want You in This Race, Ed

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Democratic wires are buzzing with talk of who will and who should challenge Scott Brown, the Republican miracle man who captured Ted Kennedy's -- oops, I forgot, The People's -- Senate seat in 2010.

No one is ever going to ask me which Democrat I think is best suited to take on Brown. (Given my perennial paltry performance as a prognosticator, that's as it should be.)

But due to the forgiving form of the blogger's craft, I get to offer an opinion anyway:

Ed Markey should forsake his comfortable spot in the U.S. House, find his campaign mojo, and lead the Democratic crusade to recover the People's Seat for the Democrats.

Here why I believe Markey is The One to do it:

  • He's a phenomenal campaigner. People know of course that Markey always gets re-elected, but they forget that he bested a 13-candidate field way back in his first race for Congress in 1977 -- and that it was an incredible feat, the local political equivalent of the Patriots first Superbowl win. Sure, he may be 34 years older now, but he's in great shape -- thin as a rail, a smile that still beams, a step that still bounces. Have you ever seen this guy at a Fourth of July parade, running to shake hands on both sides of the street in 95-degree heat?

  • He could raise the bucks. Currently, Markey is a national figure because of his leadership on global warming and his forceful advocacy of cap and trade for carbon credits. Years ago, he was a national figure for championing a freeze on nuclear weapons. He can put the touch on wealthy folks across America who think the way he does and admire his unequivocal stands on The Issues of the Day.

  • He has never changed his spots. Like Scott Brown's legendary predecessor, Markey has never trimmed his political sails depending on the weather of the day. He is unapologetically liberal in the mold of Ted Kennedy, ever true to his blue collar Malden roots, and will attract the votes of those who liked Kennedy's consistency and resolve.

  • He can talk like nobody's business. Markey knows the issues, can think on his feet, and answer questions on a variety of topics extremely well. And he can do it in long format, meaning he'd be good at those interminable campaign forums around the state. Ask him about the oil spill in the Gulf, the trade deficit with China, TV commercials aimed at kids, jobs training, medical education, House-Senate relations, the Defense budget, etc., and you will get a sharp, detailed, easy-to-grasp answer. You may not agree with it, but it will be cogent and heartfelt.

  • Young people love him. Whether it's his incurable idealism, his disdain for material goods and the rich life, or his persistent belief that he's a good basketball player that explain why bright young men and women are always drawn to work for Markey, both on his staff or as campaign volunteers, I don't know. But I do know that young adults form the core of every big, successful political campaign, and that Markey has always demonstrated an ability to enlist them in his campaigns.

Senators have been made of lesser stuff.

Joe DeNucci, Man of Unquestioned Courage

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Great Joe DeNucci has retired from public life after a 10-year run in the Massachusetts House and six consecutive, four-year terms as State Auditor.

That's a lot of time "in the building," as the folks who labor in Mr. Bulfinch's masterpiece like to describe their workplace.

But as DeNucci said his farewells during a retirement celebration in the House chamber on Friday, January 21, it was clear that he had not overstayed his welcome, that he leaves the stage with people wanting more.

Frank Bellotti, the former Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General of the Commonwealth who served as master of ceremonies at the event, proclaimed, "This is not just the passing of an era. It's the passing of one of the last of the good guys, one of the last of the giants."

I don't know if he's one of the last, but DeNucci is certainly a good guy -- no, a great guy!

And if you are measuring heart, most of us are indeed pygmies compared to him.

If you think, though, that DeNucci owed his success in politics to his all-around "largeness," you'd be only partly right, in my opinion.

To "get" DeNucci, you have to credit his physical courage, too: People were always drawn to him because, as a former professional boxer, his courage was tested repeatedly in the ring. And he always passed the test.

When DeNucci was a 16-year-old high school junior in Newton, he was already a Golden Gloves champion. The next year he turned pro.

His boxing career stretched improbably to the age of 34, and he was consistently ranked among the top middleweights in the world during that long span. He valiantly fought Emile Griffiths, one of the greatest middleweights of all time, twice for the championship, but lost.

Never one to swagger or to brag of his exploits, DeNucci nevertheless has an umistakable presence, an easy confidence that emanated from the elemental fact that he voluntarily risked his life on a number of occasions, and lived to tell of it!

It's a truth that set him apart from most people. And in his "apart-ness," we were instinctively drawn to him.

Of course, when we approached DeNucci, he showered his love and joy upon us; he treated us as his equals, which only raised him higher in our eyes. The champ likes me, he really likes me!

One often hears of the "rough and tumble of politics," of "election battles," of "bitter fights" between political enemies, etc.

But watching DeNucci at the State House or on the street, you'd think he was strolling a beach, not struggling through a battlefield. Maybe he could move like that because he knows what real rough and tumble is.

You Can't Brew Success Like This in a Hurry

Monday, January 24, 2011

It's not unusual for a politician to start small and end big, to go from an obscure office at the start of a public life to a prominent one at the height of it.

But that doesn't mean it's easy to do, or that it's pre-ordained. The odds of it happening, in fact, are long.

In politics, as in any field of endeavor, there are only a couple of rungs at the top, and there is space only for a few of the many who step onto the ladder.

And, oh, how long the climb can take!

Consider the case of Steve Brewer, the 61-year-old Democrat from the central Massachusetts town of Barre, who was just named Senate chair of Ways & Means.

One of the most decent persons you will ever meet, at the State House or anywhere else, Brewer first took office in 1977 as a member of the Barre Board of Selectmen. He remained on the board for seven years, the final two (1983-84) as chair.

While on the board, Brewer went to work in 1980 as an aide to Bob Wetmore, who held the Senate seat Brewer now holds. For eight years, he labored faithfully and well for Wetmore and his district.

Although low-key and unassuming, Brewer in the kind of smart and attentive soul on whom nothing is lost. He learned a ton during the Wetmore years. That knowledge, combined with a tremendous work ethic and personality, put Brewer in good shape when he ran, successfully, for state rep in 1988 and for re-election on three subsequent occasions.

In 1996, the time came for the acolyte to match the mentor.

Brewer entered and won the Senate race in the old Wetmore district, a 29-community behemoth spanning four counties to the north, east and south of the Quabbin Reservoir. He has held it ever since. Securely.

Thirty-four years!

That's the portion of Steve Brewer's life consumed by the journey from selectmean in an out-of-the-way town to prominence and power in the capital of the state. You don't have to be a political scientist to imagine how arduous that life has been.

Forget for a moment the thousands of meetings and issues, the endless needs of constituents, the conflicting demands for attention and support, and the relentless two-year election cycles. Think just of the number of car trips Brewer has made from Barre to Boston, and back, since 1980.

Shuddering yet?

So, Congratulations, Chairman Brewer, wise and humble mid-state champion!

You deserve that spot on an upper rung.

And it's good for Massachusetts that a man of your balance is poised there now.

Echoes of 1961 Raise Spirits in the MA House

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Half a century ago, on January 9, 1961, John F. Kennedy addressed a joint session of the Massachusetts legislature. He took the oath of office as our 35th president less than two weeks later.

The speech marked Kennedy's departure from the Massachusetts political firmament, where he had shone dazzling bright since the end of World War II. Yet the address has never been known as "Kennedy's Farewell," but rather as the "City Upon a Hill" speech.

That name came from the heart of the text, where Kennedy said he had been guided in politics "by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella 331 years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier." Quoting Winthrop, Kennedy declared, " 'We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill -- the eyes of all people upon us.' "

The address was an example of Kennedy's great ability to wrest poetry from the prosaic moments of politics, in this case a send-off.

On Beacon Hill, headed to Capitol Hill for his inauguration, he invoked a founder of the Bay State, a self-exiled Englishman who dared to believe that his sect was special in the eyes of God and that the entire world would be watching what they did in New England.

It was also perhaps a sly way for Kennedy simultaneously to flatter and chasten his audience of mostly hard-bitten political pros: You're at the summit, surely, but any misdeed here can be quickly exposed.

Kennedy then promulgated four measurements by which the "high court of history" may judge the success or failure of "our endeavors" :

"First, were we truly men of courage -- with the courage to stand up to one's enemies -- and the courage, when necessary, to one's associates -- the courage to resist public pressure, as well as private greed? Secondly, were we truly men of judgment -- with perceptive judgment of the future as well as the past -- of our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others -- with enough wisdom to know that we did not know, and enough candor to admit it.

"Third, were we truly men of integrity -- men who never ran out on either the principles in which they believed or the people who believed in them -- men who believed in us -- men whom neither financial gain nor political ambition could ever divert from the fulfillment of our sacred trust?

"Finally, were we truly men of dedication -- with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and compromised by no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest."

Those words made such an impression on Kennedy's legion of admirers (and imitators) that they had them put on a plaque and bolted to the rostrum in the chamber of the Massachusetts House, where they remain fixed to this day.

On January 11, 2011, a ceremony was held in that chamber to commemorate the 50th anniversary of "City Upon a Hill." An audio recording of the entire address was played, and various speakers stood on the very spot where Kennedy had stood 50 years before and extolled the character, wisdom and eloquence of their forebear, the Massachusetts prodigy who scaled the tallest peak of power and was cast down before his time.

When the speeches -- including a very thoughtful one by the late president's grand-nephew, Joseph P. Kennedy, III -- were over, a Massachusetts state trooper, Sgt. James Connor, stepped forward to sing "America the Beautiful."

Sgt. Connor is built like a linebacker and has the voice of an American Idol finalist -- a gift he lavished, with deep feeling, on every verse of this secular hymn, thereby revealing new meaning in the familiar words.

And with all the talk of a city upon a hill and men of integrity ringing in my brain, one verse suddenly stood out:

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!

At the end, I didn't see anyone crying. The President would have liked it that way.

Middlesex County's Gain is the Legislature's Loss

Monday, January 17, 2011

The January 14th departure of veteran Waltham state rep Peter Koutoujian to become interim sheriff of Middlesex County is a loss for the House but a gain for Koutoujian and the county.

I first got to know Peter a dozen years ago when he was House chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and my firm was lobbying on behalf of the American Cancer Society. At the time, we were advocating for an increase in funding for smoking cessation programs.

Peter didn't just care about preventing smoking-related illnesses and deaths, he was passionate on the subject. He was deeply and fully engaged with the coalition seeking as much money as possible every year from the state's share of the settlement of a huge lawsuit against the tobacco companies for cessation programs.

In 2004, he was also among the leaders at the State House who helped enact the bill banning smoking altogther in the workplace, including of course restaurants and bars, where the wait staffs and other employees had worked amidst harmful cigarette and cigar smoke since time immemorial. During the bill-signing ceremony, held on the plaza outside the Bowdoin Street entrance to the State House, Peter served as master of ceremonies and did a marvelous job overall, but especially in killing a lot of time with stories and banter as we all waited (too long) for Gov. Mitt Romney to arrive on the scene.

A couple of years ago, when Bob DeLeo became Speaker of the House, Peter became House chair of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, a move generally considered a promotion because of the heavy-duty financial/regulatory matters the committee must deal with. Certainly, it was a recognition of Peter's talent and growing stature in the House.

I can't be the only observer who looked at Peter and saw a potential House Majority Leader or even a Speaker one day. His future in politics is still big; it just won't play out in the legislature. From a huge base in Middlesex County he could, for example, move fairly easily into a race for Congress or Attorney General.

Before putting on the sheriff's badge the other day, Peter was going on his 15th year in the legislature, but he is only 49. He has lots of time.

Speaking of time, I hope Peter continues to hold his annual "time" at the Black Raven in Waltham, complete with the live Irish music. I'd usually attend with my son, Brendan, who works at a nearby company, and Peter would always ask for him when I saw him later at the State House. I like to think that Peter, as the devoted son of two devoted parents, recognized the bond that Brendan and I share.

Reaching further in public life, Peter Koutoujian had to go from the State House. I am sorry to see him go, but I hope he goes as far as his dreams do.

Listen to What Bob Kraft Said

Monday, January 10, 2011

New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft and his wife, Myra, were in the news again this past weekend, but the story had nothing to do with football.

They're donating $20 million to Partners Healthcare, parent of Massachusetts General and Brigham & Women's Hospitals, to increase the number and availability of medical professionals providing primary health care, i.e., family doctors and nurse practitioners.

The Krafts' donation is a response to a generally acknowledged, serious shortage of primary care givers in Massachusetts.

"What I worry about in this country are the people who are hurting the most."

That's how Bob Kraft explained, in part, the donation.

The effects of Great Recession linger all over this land and here we have a wealthy businessman who isn't talking about the reckless federal stimulus package, the size of our budget deficits (both state and federal), the need to preserve Bush-era tax cuts, or the supposed threat to our economy from "Obamacare."

Kraft didn't say, "We need to keep taxes low to stimulate growth."

He didn't say, "Government is destroying the doctor-patient relationship."

And he didn't say, "We have to lower our expectations because of globalization."

"What I worry about in this country are the people who are hurting the most."

President Obama should give Bob and Myra Kraft the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Give Matt Patrick Credit for an Unusual Farewell Address

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Matt Patrick was the picture of honesty -- and of disillusionment -- when he delivered his farewell address in the grand and historic chamber of the Massachusetts House of Representatives on December 17th. A decent and principled man, Patrick had been defeated in November when he stood for re-election to the House from a Falmouth-centered district on Cape Cod.

Now the farewell address is a venerable tradition in the Massachusetts legislature. Every retiring or defeated rep or senator gets a final turn at the podium to say whatever is on his mind.

Usually, the speeches amount to a platitudinous plunge down memory lane while wearing rose-tinted glasses. ("I will never forget the great moments and the great friendships that I had the privilege to enjoy in this building.")

Matt Patrick's was definitely not what you would call a "usual" farewell, however.

Kyle Cheney, the estimable State House News Service reporter, wrote that Patrick "shirked the ceremonial niceties to decry what, from his view, is the decline of the Massachusetts House of Representatives..."

Cheney then quoted Patrick:

"If you play your cards right, vote the right way, keep your criticisms to yourself, you have a chance of becoming a chairperson of a committee" (and eventually) "you find yourself not participating in debates, not even listening, because you and everyone else know what the outcome will be. It's preordained. You continue to play the game until one day you find out that some lobbyists have more influence than you, and you ask yourself, 'Is that right?' Or you find out that your bill has been sidelined by someone quietly without explanation, or you are asked to vote for something you oppose...It's a system that has evolved over the decades and it is all that we know."

You don't have to buy Patrick's argument about legislative decline to appreciate him for providing a frank reminder of the essentially bruising nature of legislating.

We have all these smiling, empathetic, always helpful extroverts that we elect, and re-elect, to the legislature.

Then we have the power politicians, the deal makers, the ladder climbers, the shape shifters, the favor traders, the score settlers -- complex human beings all -- who grind out the day-to-day work of enacting bills and crafting the crazy quilt that is the annual state budget.

Those beings are one and the same -- yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Fare thee well, Matt Patrick, picture of honesty, disillusionment, and nobility.