Good Luck, Mayor Mike, as You Head to that Infamous 'Gauntlet of Cheap Shots'

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Governor’s Council is an eight-headed dinosaur on the Massachusetts political landscape.
It’s a confounding relic of the 17th and 18th centuries, when its members served as a necessary check on the powers of the colonial governor.  The colonial governor went back to England; the Governor’s Council defies banishment.
In the 21st century, the Council’s role as examiner and confirmer of judicial nominees could be assumed by another arm of elected government, say the Massachusetts Senate, or by a new committee comprised of the attorney general, the chief justice of the state supreme court, and the president of the state bar association.
Getting rid of the Governor’s Council would save the state at least $400,000 a year -- and probably a lot more over the long haul when we no longer had retired councilors collecting pensions and using the state retiree health system.
Best of all, it would put an end to The Theater of the Inane that Governor’s Council meetings frequently become. 
The demise of the Governor’s Council is like the cure for baldness:  people have been talking about it forever; it just never happens. 
How old is this talk?  Mike Dukakis was representing Brookline in the House when he first proposed abolishing it.  And he wasn’t the first to push the idea, not by a long shot.
But if we the people of this great Commonwealth are fated to have the Governor’s Council always with us, as seems the case, I’m glad someone like Mike Albano, the former mayor of Springfield, is going to be on it soon.
“Mayor Mike,” as he is called still in Western Massachusetts, eight-plus years after leaving office, won a tough three-way Democratic primary election for the Eighth District Governor’s Council seat on September 6, and is now the odds-on favorite to beat the Republican nominee, Michael Franco, who’s making his fourth try for the job.
Michael J. Albano is one of the most charming, mature and even-tempered souls you could ever meet, an astute, natural-born, people-loving-and-loved pol in the classical mold.
Besides being the first and only person ever elected to four consecutive terms as Springfield mayor, he holds the distinction of having been appointed successively to the Massachusetts Parole Board by three governors of very different political stripes: Ed King in 1982, Mike Dukakis in 1987 and Bill Weld in 1992.
I always thought Albano, who holds an undergraduate degree from Springfield College and two master’s degrees, would have made a good candidate for governor.  At 61, he’s still young enough to go for it, but I guess he never saw himself in that grand office on the third floor of the State House. 
When he wins that election in November, Albano will be succeeding Tom Merrigan of Greenfield, who decided in March not to run for a fourth two-year term because of his busy private law practice and the frequent trips he has to take out of state as the executive vice president and general counsel of Easton Bell Sports.
Merrigan, who served as a district court judge before being elected to the Governor’s Council, endeared himself to a lot of State House observers in May of 2011 when he spoke honestly about the egomania, the personal agendas, and the incomprehensible animosities that too often turn Council meetings into grudge-fests where the judges-to-be get beaten up in the confusion.
“We pass judgment on the temperament and professionalism of (judicial) nominees, but we exhibit none of what we are expecting from the people who sit before us,” Merrigan told the State House News Service.  “What’s going on there now is a deterrent to the willingness of people to apply (for judgeships). It’s a deterrent to people who have to ask themselves, ‘Do I want to subject myself to this gauntlet of cheap shots that is not honest and is not appropriate?’ ”
Despite his professionalism, Merrigan couldn’t stop that gauntlet from forming, nor could Merrigan’s legendary predecessor, the late Eddie O’Brien, father of former State Treasurer Shannon O’Brien.  It’s hoping too much to think Albano will. 
It’s deathly hard to change the look of a relic.

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