It's Always a Burning Question When a Politician Has to Go Up or Out

Friday, February 25, 2011

"Burn the boats on the beach, baby!"

That's how Dr. Ralph de la Torre described the thought process that led him to relinquish his medical license after he was hired as chief executive officer of Caritas Christi Health Care in 2008. *

Consider that de la Torre had toiled in a way that few mortals ever will to achieve his dream of medical stardom and had become the chief of cardiac surgery at Boston's Beth Israel Hospital well before his 40th birthday, and you begin to get an idea of the man's confidence.

When Virtuosos of Self-Destruction Stride the State House, Sorrows Are All the Greater

Thursday, February 24, 2011

If I could see Jim Marzilli tomorrow morning for a cup of coffee, this is what I'd say to him:

"You know, you've done a lot of good in your life. You've helped a lot of people. You fought some good fights at the State House, and elsewhere."

I'd also say, "I'm still grateful for how you gave me your time and respect when I was knocking on doors at the State House, trying to get this or that ball rolling in the legislature. You were always a gentleman."

If he warmed to the conversation, if I made a real connection, I might even risk saying something truly personal like, "There's a lot of good in you, Jim. Don't hate yourself."

But I won't be seeing Marzilli, the former long-time state representative and state senator from Arlington, tomorrow morning -- or on any morning soon, for that matter.

The Obvious Way to Interpret Applause for Ex-Speakers Was Way Off

Saturday, February 19, 2011

It has been called a "sad scene," "a disappointment," and even a display of "defiant egotism."

On January 5, members of the new Massachusetts legislature, 2011-12 model, were sworn into office during ceremonies at the State House.

There on the elevated podium in the House chamber stood four former Speakers of the House: Salvatore F. DiMasi, Thomas M. Finneran, Charles Flaherty and Robert Quinn.

When introduced as a group, they received a warm and hearty ovation.

Because Finneran and Flaherty had both been convicted of felonies, and because DiMasi is under indictment, (but has not yet been found guilty of any crime), critics were quick to draw their blades and pounce on legislative leaders for having invited these three to the event.

Faster than a gavel can fall, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo was on the defensive.

When asked later by Jim Braude on the New England Cable News show "Broadside" if he would consider asking his predecessors to skip the 2013 legislative inaugural, DeLeo said, "It's something I would consider."

Consider it, Mr. Speaker, but please don't do it.

South Station Has Multiple Advantages as a Massachusetts Casino Site

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

One of the beauties of the blogosphere is that it allows anyone to play the game, "If I Were Running the Show."

It allows me, for instance, to mount my electronic soapbox and now proclaim:

If I were running the show in Massachusetts, I'd license only one resort-style casino, and I'd make sure they put it in the area around Boston's South Station, an historic and still thriving crossroads.

As I see it, there are at least five advantages that South Station has in the casino sweepstakes. Other sites may have some advantages, but none has as many as South Station.

The edge goes to South Station for:

1. Accessibility. Now that the Big Dig is history, it's usually a quick and easy ride to South Station via the Mass. Turnpike and the Central Artery, and via rapid transit, too: bus, subway and commuter rail. It's also just about a 10-minute cab ride from Logan Airport in most situations. Given South Station's proximity to the Fort Point Channel, a casino there should also be considered accessible by water. A shuttle boat currently operates between the airport and Rowes Wharf/Boston Harbor Hotel. All that that shuttle, or any other boat, would need to service South Station is a new dock on the channel.

2. Infrastructure. The roads and rails to South Station are plentiful and in relatively good shape. There is also parking to be had at times in the surface lots of the South Boston Waterfront and at the new Convention Center, and in the many nearby hotels and office buildings (especially at night).

3. Complementarity. It's close to the Convention Center. Expense-account-armed conventioneers tend to be in a good mood. Hey, guys, let's take a walk over to the casino tonight! Hotel guests who have come to Boston for other reasons will choose to patronize the casino on the spur of the moment, and casino patrons will choose to stay at the hotels within easy walking distance of South Station or just beyond.

4. Synergy. A casino would add a major option to an already vast array of attractions in our state capital, the largest city in New England. A lot of the folks who will come to try their luck at the casino will end up spending money at downtown restaurants, theaters and nighclubs; riding Boston's tour buses; filling up the sidewalks on the Freedom Trail, etc.

5. Buzz. A casino would inject a new element of excitement into the city and perhaps raise its stature a notch as a world-class city, a true metropolis that accommodates national and international travelers of every interest and taste. Boston will never be Macao on the Charles. Charter flights for high rollers will never overwhelm Logan. But the revelers who want a drink and a few hands of cards at 2:00 a.m. will at last be delighted to find a game in the Pilgrims' old town.

During his campaign for governor last year, Republican Charlie Baker often acknowledged the potential downsides of casino gambling and suggested that it might be a good idea to start with licensing just one casino.

If it turned out that casino advocates were right about the social impacts, and the economic and tax benefits of casinos, Massachusetts could then license one or two more, Baker reasoned, but if the prophecies of casino foes were borne out, we will have minimized the harm by having one, not three, of these beasts to deal with.

That approach makes a lot of sense.

If that is the course Massachusetts ultimately takes, the most sensible spot for that sole casino will be somewhere in Boston. And if I were running the show, it would have to be built at South Station.

Downtown Boston Is the Only Place for a Casino

Monday, February 14, 2011

Palmer is a good place to live, but it has never been known for the quality of its nightlife.

Fall River has a proud history as a shipping and manufacturing center, but tourists have never flocked there.

East Boston has fine restaurants and lively neighborhoods, but it will never be mistaken for a resort community.

None of the above facts has prevented casino developers from looking at Palmer, Fall River and East Boston and seeing, The Next Foxwoods!

Their vision is as skewed as it is limited.

Sure, you can take a hundred or so acress off Exit 8 of the Mass. Turnpike, slap up a casino in less than a year, and gamblers will come from miles around to watch the roulette wheels spin. And, yes, it will be easy for bettors to find their way to The Palmerpalooza from 495 and the Pike.

But is that reason enough to turn virgin land into parking lots and hotels, and to change drastically, and for all time, the life of a nice Western Massachusetts town?

Likewise, should a prime industrial parcel in Fall River, which state and local leaders have long targeted for development as a new, jobs-intensive manufacturing hub, get the casino makeover because our economy is sputtering and manufacturers are holding back for now?

Likewise, should Suffolk Downs be allowed to reinvent itself as Vegas on the Blue Line because horse racing is on its final turn and something has to be done with the old racetrack and all the land that goes with it? (Never mind that it can take you an hour to get to Suffolk by car from downtown at rush hour.)

I say NO to all of the above.

If we are at last going to have casino gambling -- and there are many signs at the Massachusetts State House that we are -- wouldn't it be better to start with just one casino?

And wouldn't it be better to put that casino in a place that is already all built up, already a crossroads of multiple modes of transit, a place where entertainment, dining, major league sports and various forms of recreation are already a big part of the economy, and where millions of tourists already congregate every year?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: downtown Boston!

Consider, for example, how well a multi-story casino complex atop the tracks at South Station could work.

There has been talk for years of exploiting the air rights over South Station to create jobs and revenue for the city and state. But nothing has yet come of that.

[Next: The advantages of a downtown site like South Station.]

There's Really Only One Unassailable Argument for Casinos in Massachusetts

Friday, February 11, 2011

It is long past the time for the Massachusetts legislature to license casinos, say the various voices of the gambling industry, its supporters and sympathizers.

They argue that Massachusetts desperately needs the jobs that casinos would bring during construction and operation, as well as the taxes that gambling profits would yield everafter.

As the state continues a painfully slow recovery from the Great Recession, the odds are good that the legislature and governor will sanction three resort-style casinos this year: one each in Boston, the New Bedford-Fall River area, and the western part of the state.

Don't bet on slot parlors at existing racetracks ("racinos") being part of the deal, however.

Casino foes have hardly been ineffective during the interminable State House struggle over the expansion of gambling. Their view that the social costs of casinos grossly outweigh their economic and tax benefits has always had traction.

And their warnings that casinos will cannibalize the Massachusetts State Lottery, one of the most successful in the nation, and hurt established businesses in entertainment, sports, recreation, dining, etc., keep echoing in the building.

As I see it, there is really only one unassailable argument for casinos.

And that argument leads to the conclusion we should have a single casino in downtown Boston, and not at Suffolk Downs in East Boston and Revere, which is the most likely outcome of a successful casino bill this year.

I'll explain:

We don't outlaw cigarettes, booze, fried foods, mixed martial arts, sunbathing without sun block, or TV shows like "Jersey Shore," all of which are harmful.

We have a free country. You and I can do what we want, within the law. We like it that way.

I've never gone to Mohegan Sun, and never will. I never buy Lottery tickets. I don't even play cards with my cute little nieces and nephews, no matter how politely they ask.

But that doesn't mean that I should be able to prevent my friends who love blackjack from having a convenient, fun place to play the game.

In freedom-loving, 300-million-strong America, it should not matter if a casino would employ 100 or 1,000 or if it would pay $1 million or $100 million in taxes.

Provided that reasonable gaming regulations and public safety measures are in place, it should only matter that a casino owner is willing to build it and that adult gamblers are willing to come to it.

Otherwise, you have one group of citizens in The Land of the Free telling another group: You can't gamble here. It's bad for you, bad for your family, bad for society.

All the great, wonderful and exciting cities of America offer innumerable opportunities for work, recreation, entertainment, and artistic, cultural and religious expression. In these cities, especially, it is hard to make the argument that a casino should not be part of the mix.

[Next: Why downtown Boston is the place for a casino.]

When Contemplating Kennedys, Yearning Goes with Imagining

Monday, February 7, 2011

"One must have heroes, which is to say, one must create them. And they become real through our envy, our devotion. It is we who give them their majesty, their power, which we ourselves could never possess. And in turn, they give some back. But they are mortal, these heroes, just as we are."
- James Salter, "A Sport and a Pastime"

There is a story from John F. Kennedy's first campaign that may be apocryphal, but that's not the same as saying it fails to convey a truth.

In 1946, at the age of 29, JFK was running for an open seat in the U.S. House, representing the old 11th Massachusetts district. He faced no less than nine opponents in the Democratic primary.

Supposedly, the campaign manager for one of the other Democrats approached Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., the self-made millionaire and former U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, with a proposal along these lines:

Look, your son is very young and he has a long and bright future in politics, but my man has been at this for years and he would like to cap his career with a term or two in Congress. You should have your son step aside for him. Jack will earn a lot of credit with the pros in the party and be able practically to walk into office next time around.

Such reasoning made no impression on the ambassador. He supposedly answered with words to this effect:

"What are you talking about? Jack is going to be elected president in 1960. For that to happen, he's going to the Congress next year."

Say what you will about old Joe Kennedy -- that he was a ruthless businessman and all that -- but you can't take this away from him: he was a visionary of historic proportions.

Without Joe Kennedy's brains, toughness, ambition and money, there would have been no President Kennedy, no Senators Ted and Robert Kennedy, no Congressmen Joseph P. Kennedy, II, and Patrick Kennedy, no (Md.) Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, et al.

If, therefore, the great-grandson and namesake of the founding father of the dynasty, Joseph P. Kennedy, III, failed to dream big dreams, there would be something wrong with him.

And if we who watched Joseph P. Kennedy, III, speak in the chamber of the Massachusetts House of Representatives on Jan. 11, 2011, failed to imagine this young (30) man one day sitting in the U.S. Capitol, there would be something wrong with us.

The thing about imagining is, it almost always leads to yearning.

Even if Joe the Third is not thinking about making his run -- and he professes to be focused now only on his job as an assistant district attorney on Cape Cod -- he cannot have been unmindful of the speculation caused by his being center stage at the Massachusetts State House for an event commemorating a major speech by his uncle the president.

Judging by the content and tone of his speech, a well-thought-out plea for a more civil political discourse in the wake of the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords in Tucson, I would say young Joe was very mindful of the keen interest in his political future.

But were he oblivious, the reactions to his Jan. 11th speech would have quickly enlightened him. It's hard to miss the meaning of a spontaneous, prolonged and enthusiastic standing ovation from the members of the Massachusetts legislature.

Then there was the glowing media coverage.

"They came to pay tribute to President Kennedy and a speech he delivered 50 years ago," wrote Boston Globe reporter Michael Levenson. "But it was another Kennedy and another speech that had Beacon Hill buzzing yesterday."

Before too long, we'll probably have an answer to the question often asked in political circles now that Patrick Kennedy has relinquished his U.S. House seat in Rhode Island and no member of the Kennedy family is holding high political office:

Who among the new crop of Kennedys will be the one to run?

But we'll have to wait maybe 50 years to see if any of them approaches the heroic status that is the dream of every leader -- and every follower, too.

Lightning Struck, and DeNucci Was Tickled Ever After

Thursday, February 3, 2011

It is little known that recently retired State Auditor Joe DeNucci, one of the era's foremost Italian-American politicians, was the glue that held the program together at a big St. Patrick's Day event in the City of Everett, MA.

DeNucci served for years as master of ceremonies at the annual dinner of The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Everett, which was held in those days (the 1980s and 1990s) at the old Bon Saison restaurant/function hall in Everett Square.

He always pointed out that, here he was, an Italian headlining an Irish event at a restaurant with a French name. "Only in America, uh folks?" he would exclaim. "Don't we have a great country!" This was a surefire applause line in multi-ethnic Everett.

The story of how DeNucci came to the Friendly Sons headtable year after year -- and a marvelous MC he was -- sheds light on his special appeal as a person and politician.

At the podium for the first time, DeNucci recounted his introduction to Joe Curnane, the organization's chairman for life and the kingmaker publisher of the city's weekly newspaper, the Everett Leader Herald and News Gazette:

"It's my first campaign for Auditor and everyone's telling me, you have to go out to Everett and make your case to Joe Curnane because, if Joe endorses you, you'll carry Everett. There's a lot of votes in Everett. So I went to kiss the big guy's ring."

DeNucci paused to inject a little suspense, then continued:

"I had never met Joe and didn't know what to expect. I'd heard he was close to Ted Kennedy and had worked in Jack Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1960, so he obviously knew his stuff.

"Well, I made my pitch and Joe just sat there, blowing cigar smoke at me, not saying anything. When I was finished, he said, 'Tell you what, kid. If lightning hits the shithouse and you win this thing, come back to me and we'll talk.' "

The audience howled. Knowing Curnane, this sounded absolutely real to them.

"How do you like that, folks?" DeNucci asked, his broad face a picture of mirth. "If lightning hits the shithouse, come back to me and we'll talk.

"But, you know what, I won! I came back to Everett to see Joe Curnane. We became friends and he's been with me ever since."

Turning to Curnane, who was sitting on the dais, no expression on his face, DeNucci said, "Gotta love this guy. A real straight shooter!" Curnane smiled slightly.

The two Joes in fact built an enduring friendship from that inauspicious start in a cramped, smoky newspaper office on an Everett side street.

When Curnane was running the show, press releases from the Auditor's office always got a lot of play in the Leader Herald, the Auditor never failed to draw a big vote in Everett, and DeNucci kept returning to the Bon Saison on St. Patrick's weekend. The Friendly Sons and the friends of The Friendly Sons never tired of his act.

It all happened because DeNucci didn't take himself too seriously, and because Curnane liked a pol who could not only take a punch but could turn it into good dinner-circuit schtik.