When Bill Weld Gets Back on His Game, We'll All Remember Why We Missed Him

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The second coming of Bill Weld is about to unfold. 
The polymath former governor, now 67, announced recently that he was ending a long career stint in New York City and returning to Massachusetts, where he will work out of the Boston law office of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo and of Mintz’s government relations (i.e., lobbying) affiliate, ML Strategies.  Reportedly, Weld is on the hunt for a home in his former burgh, Cambridge.
God, it will be good to have the big guy back. 
There’s been a serious humor deficit in the public life of the Commonwealth since Weld decamped for the Big Apple after his attempt to become ambassador to Mexico failed in 1997.
This is a man with a confidence, style and wit all his own, a man who:
·         Jumped fully clothed into the Charles River one hot day in 1996 after signing a rivers protection bill, only to find out later the fecal-coliform level of the water was 300% above normal.  “But I couldn’t very well tell anybody that, could I?” he noted sheepishly.
·         Admitted it was harder for him to get elected governor than to do the job of governor.  “I used to go on vacation for a week at a time and I wouldn’t even call in,” he said.
·         Loved to roam the woods in a private hunting preserve in the Adirondacks, but never hesitated to spoof his image as a great hunter.  In his official portrait at the State House, Weld is pictured outdoors, in a blue work shirt with rolled-up sleeves, an aardvark in the background.
·         Used to play multiple chess matches at the same time, blindfolded.
·         Railed against Bill Bulger, the Democratic president of the Massachusetts Senate when running for governor, and, after taking office, became Bulger’s friend and comedic foil.  Bulger would kid him about his ancestors having arrived on the Mayflower, and Weld would correct him by saying, “Actually, they sent the servants ahead to get the cottage ready for them.”
·         Wrote fiction on the side and came up with weirdly fascinating titles for a couple of his books:  “Mackerel by Moonlight” and “Big Ugly.”  Another of his books, “Stillwater,” is a literary novel based on the destruction of four Central Massachusetts towns in the Thirties to make way for the Quabbin Reservoir. (A New York Times reviewer, Erik Tarloff, once wrote, “Mastery of narrative strategy is not among Weld’s strengths…What Weld possesses – most unexpectedly in a moonlighting politician – is voice…The specificity of his mordant observations about politics, the law and assorted colleagues shows a real writer’s eye and ear at work.”)
·         Took and passed the New York Bar Exam, considered by many the toughest in the nation, in 2007, some four decades after earning a degree from Harvard Law School.
·         Deftly defended himself, during a brief fling for the Republican nomination for governor of New York, against the charge that he was a “carpetbagger.”   Weld, who grew up in an estate on Long Island, told an interviewer, “Yeah, I consider myself a New Yorker.  I consider that I got away with being a carpetbagger in Massachusetts the puny 30 years that I was there.  In Cambridge, if you’ve not been there for six generations, you’re a nouvelle arrivee.  In any case, I think Manhattan belongs not just to the United States, but to the world.”
In a monochrome world, he is a kaleidoscope of color. 
I hope we’ll see him soon on the sidewalks of Boston, towering above the crowd, and in the corridors at the State House, augustly hailing every other lobbyist as “Mr. Leader!” or “Representative!” I hope we’ll be able to buy him a drink in some high-class joint, The Federalist, say.
I hope, also, that Weld’s prediction, offered on the eve of the Republican national convention, that all the undecideds would break Romney’s way at the end, and that Romney would duplicate Reagan’s feat versus Carter, was only spin.

SHORT MEMORY DEPARTMENT: In a recent survey by the MassINC Polling Group, 33% of respondents said they'd never heard of Bill Weld, who, in addition to winning two terms as Massachusetts governor in the Nineties, served as the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts in the Eighties, and challenged U.S. Senator John F. Kerry's 1996 re-election bid in a very aggressive campaign that dominated media coverage in the state for weeks.  As Weld the old Harvard classics major might sigh to the servants, "Sic transit gloria mundi."  

Kudos to Bill Galvin for Putting Regina Quinlan, Retired Judge, on Ethics Commission

Monday, October 22, 2012

Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin is a man of many talents, and one of those talents is the ability to spot talent, as evidenced most recently when he named Regina L. Quinlan, a retired judge, to the five-member State Ethics Commission.
A Brighton native and graduate of Regis College and Suffolk University Law School, Judge Quinlan retired earlier this year after 20 years as an associate justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court.  She continues to hold a visiting professorship at Boston College Law School.
Judge Quinlan was appointed to the bench in the spring of 1992 by former Governor Bill Weld, who, incidentally, signaled his intention last week to return to Massachusetts after a 15-year stint working in law and investment banking in New York City.  (Weld will join his gubernatorial administration’s former economic development director, Steve Tocco, at ML Strategies, the government relations arm of the Mintz Levin law firm.)
Judge Quinlan is widely known and admired for her legal acumen, first-class temperament, and backbone.  As a lawyer specializing in First Amendment cases, and later as a judge, she never hesitated to take an unpopular position, if convinced it was the right thing to do.  There’s no reason to expect that tough-mindedness to soften when Judge Quinlan is sitting on the State Ethics Commission.
On the commission, she will be joining retired federal district court Justice Charles B. Swartwood, III, who chairs the group, and members Paula Finley Mangum, Martin F. Murphy and William J. Trach, all attorneys and individuals with varied backgrounds.
The commission has been in existence since 1978, enforcing the state’s conflict of interest and financial disclosure laws for elected and appointed public officials.  It has 23 employees and an annual budget of approximately $1.8 million.  Commissioners are eligible to received $75 per day for their services, but the majority do not put in for their pay, as I understand it.  
Three ethics commissioners are appointed by the governor, and one commissioner each by the attorney general and the secretary of state.
Here’s a sample of some recent cases, as highlighted on the commission’s web site:
·         Charles F. Fisher, a member of the Somerset Board of Water and Sewer Commission, paid a $25,000 civil penalty for performing paid, private work in Somerset in matters that involved permits issued by the board.
·         Gang Sun, a physics professor at the Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts, paid a $25,000 civil penalty for hiring his wife on numerous occasions as his paid research assistant and paid teaching assistant.
·         The former chairman of the Edgartown Dredge Advisory Committee, Norman Rankow, paid a $5,000 civil penalty for directing town employees to use municipal equipment to dredge the area around his private client’s dock without first obtaining the required town, state and federal permits.
·         Former Avon Assistant Assessor Marjorie Malone paid a $5,000 civil penalty for improperly raising the property assessments of two town officials in apparent retaliation against the town after learning she would be the subject of disciplinary proceedings.
·         Former Attleboro Police Chief Richard Pierce paid a $3,500 civil penalty for participating in an internal investigation involving his police officer son, improperly giving his son an internal investigation report, and allowing his son to submit late reports.

WHOSE HANDS ARE THOSE? Last time I checked, Medicare was a program of the U.S. government.  Therefore, it appears that a group called No Medicare Tax, which is working to defeat the Democratic incumbent, John Tierney, in the Sixth District Congressional race in Massachusetts, is confused.  No Medicare Tax distributed a brochure with this headline shouting on its mail flap: “Congressman John Tierney: Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare drug benefits!”  Isn’t that like telling Bob Kraft to keep his pesky hands off the Patriots?  If you want to see where this group is coming from, go to www.nomedicaretax.com

Catholic Action League 'Out-Catholics' Monks in Protesting Barney Frank's Interfaith Lecture

Friday, October 19, 2012

Because of Congressman Barney Frank, the Catholic Action League (CAL) of Massachusetts staged a protest yesterday outside Our Lady of Glastonbury Abbey, a monastery in Hingham run by the Roman Catholic order of Benedictines.
The CAL was expressing its displeasure with a lecture last night by Frank, who was leading off the 2012-13 series of annual interfaith lectures sponsored by the abbey, a free, public program that goes by the title, “Listening to Other Voices.” 
Frank’s topic for the night was, “Social Responsibility v. the Deficit: The Budget and the Common Good.”
In a press release, the CAL noted Frank’s longtime support of a woman’s right to abort a pregnancy and called the abbey’s invitation to Frank “another scandalous example of the culture of betrayal which afflicts Catholic institutions in America.”
It doesn’t seem that the protest had much effect.  According to an article today in the Patriot Ledger newspaper, Frank’s lecture “was so well attended that a number of people were turned away.”
The Patriot Ledger quoted Frank, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years who is retiring at the end of his current term, as saying, “If we were realistic about what we need to do to protect ourselves and those nations vulnerable to abuse, we could reduce military spending by 25 percent.” 
Presumably, Frank would support spending at least some of the billions sliced from the Pentagon on health and social welfare programs.
The CAL pointed out that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops prohibits Catholic institutions from providing “awards, honors or platforms (emphasis added)” to those who “act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”
Obviously, that dictum is subject to interpretations that can fairly be called flexible.  Otherwise how could Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York have invited President Obama, an abortion rights protector, to this week’s gigantic Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York City, where some $5 million was raised for programs in New York that benefit the young, the poor, the handicapped, the chronically ill, the vulnerable elderly, and immigrants of all nationalities and faiths?
Cardinal Dolan was criticized by some prominent Catholics and Catholic organizations for inviting Obama to the event, but he shrugged it off pretty well.  Defending the invitation, he wrote, “In the end, I’m encouraged by the example of Jesus, who was blistered by his critics for dining with those some considered sinners; and by the recognition that, if I only sat down with people who agreed with me, and I with them, or with those who were saints, I’d be taking all my meals alone.”
St. Benedict, considered by many historians to be among the founders of Western civilization, started his order of monks more than 1,500 years ago.  I don’t know when the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts was founded, but it is obviously a helpless infant compared to the wise old man of the Benedictines.

Freedom of All Diminished When Opportunity Is Denied to Some, Former Senate Leader Says

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

George J. Mitchell, the former Majority Leader of United States Senate (1989-95), was the guest speaker, the draw, at a fundraiser for the Maine Democratic State Party I attended last Thursday at the Park Plaza Hotel, Boston.
During some brief remarks, Mitchell said the U.S. is an incredibly large and diverse nation, but that, fundamentally, our country is about just two things: freedom and opportunity.  Unless every American has an opportunity to succeed in life, the freedom of every other American is diminished, he said.
“We want to guarantee opportunity for all – opportunity, not results.  Success has to be earned, not granted,” he said.
 “One hundred years ago, in the cities of Lowell and Lawrence, eight-year-old girls worked in textile mills,” he pointed out. “Our party didn’t think it was right that kids should have to work like that, so it fought for child labor laws.  The opposition said we couldn’t have that.  Said they’d interfere with the rights of the mill owners to engage in contracts with their workers.  Said it would be too much regulation and would kill business.  They said those laws would amount to socialism.  Sound familiar?  Well, today, we take the prohibition of child labor for granted, and eight-year-old girls are in school, where they belong.”
Some speakers impress you with their stage presence and soaring rhetoric, others with their quiet poise and restrained way of addressing a difficult subject, which paradoxically intensifies their presentation.  Mitchell falls into the latter category, I believe.
There have probably been many occasions when he has spoken of his notion that the denial of opportunity to one citizen is a blow to the freedom of all others.  Yet he managed to speak of it again last Thursday with sincerity and force.  His talk was still on my mind this morning when I came across an old State House News Service article on Governor Deval Patrick’s reactions to the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts’s 2011 State of Black Boston report.
The report in question was discouraging, but not bleak.  At its beginning, for instance, it listed five “good news” indicators:
·         Social progress and increased amity between racial and ethnic groups
·         Educational gains
·         Significant increase in the number of Black-owned businesses and associated sales
·         Inclusive city governance led by Mayor Thomas Menino
·         Increasing numbers of notable and influential Black leaders in elected office and a range of professional fields.
On the downside, however, the report found that:
·         More than one-fifth (22.5%) of all Black families, and 25.2% of all Black persons are impoverished.  This compares to 7.1% for White families, and 13.8% for White persons.
·         High proportions of Black and Latino children attending all levels of Boston Public Schools are impoverished, and depend on food stamps for food.
·         Current graduation and dropout rates for Black students in Boston are dismal.  Progress has been slow, and gaps between Black and White students have narrowed only slightly.
·         While more than half (51.8%) of all White persons 16 years and over work in management, professional and related occupations, the figure for Blacks is 26.9%.
That old article, (“Patrick Sees ‘Very Different Boston’ for Minorities”), which fell to the floor from a pile of papers I was moving around, in an unconvincing imitation of work, was based on a speech Patrick had given on July 24, 2011, during the National Urban League’s national conference in Boston. 
He compared, favorably, race relations in Boston in 2011 to those of 1976, the last time the League held its national conference in Boston, a time when Patrick was studying at Harvard University.
 “The campus was a relatively safe and comfortable place to be, friendly enough,” Patrick said. “But you never knew then what you were going to get when you went off campus.”
The city then was “totally engrossed, involved and riven over the question of public school busing,” he reminded the audience, observing that “Today, Boston is smarter, more diverse, younger, more dynamic, prettier in many respects.  There are places that my niece and her pals hang out in the city that were just totally off limits in 1976.” 
Patrick was right.  Boston in the Sixties and Seventies was a much more polarized place, and a more dangerous place, overall, for its citizens than it is today.  Also, Boston was not nearly as wealthy a city as it is today. 
Unfortunately, Boston’s growing affluence and improving civic life have not produced a city with equal opportunities for everyone, as the 23.6% of Bostonians who are Black can attest. 
To paraphrase Senator Mitchell, if we cherish our freedom, and if we want our grandchildren to be as free as we are, we have to correct that situation.  It won’t be easy, but we have no choice.

For Some Politicians, Defeat Can Be Like a Public Death, for Others a Relief

Friday, October 5, 2012

Years ago, too many for me even to guess how long ago it was, I heard a former state senator from Connecticut, a man who had grown up in Lowell, Massachusetts, describe how one felt after losing an election.
“It is like a public death,” he said.
When you lose an election, especially a re-election fight for a seat you’ve held for a long time, he said, “You feel like you are both experiencing and witnessing your own humiliating demise before the world’s eyes, and that your family and friends are there with you, watching, horrified, as you die.”
Then it gets worse, said the former senator, who was making his living then, post-politics, as a consultant and speaker:  “You are struck dead in public one day, and within shouting distance of your still-warm body, the guy who killed you is having his victory party.”
That long-ago speaker’s point was that life in politics is a lot harder, at a personal level, than most of us could ever imagine.
By implication, he was also saying that we should have a little more compassion for those we elect and un-elect to lead us, because they are exposed to a degree of pain on the public stage that would shatter most us if we were venture there.
Since that day, I have never read of a politician’s defeat without immediately wondering, “Is that guy suffering a public death?” 
And like a little kid reading a story and hoping for a happy ending, I always look for evidence in the accounts of lost campaigns that the defeated party is not taking the loss too hard.  I prefer consoling myself with the thought that someone’s pain is not terrible, and that he’ll be just fine in no time at all, as opposed to imagining myself in the shoes of some poor soul devastated by his loss.
This is why I was relieved to read the story online in Wicked Local Yarmouth, after the September primary, concerning the defeat of 14-year incumbent Democratic state representative Demetrius Atsalis of Hyannis.  In an upset, Brian Mannal beat Atsalis, 1,777 votes to 1,402, a decisive victory margin of 375 votes, almost 12% of all the votes cast.
While stating, accurately, that he “did a good job for the district,” Atsalis hit a distinct note of relief in his comments to the local news medium.  “I’m tired of looking over my shoulder and having a lens pointed in my face,” he said.  “I’m not a career politician.”
Atsalis is 48 years old, with a wife and three children, and holds a business degree from Northeastern.  With his wealth of experience and contacts, both on the Cape and in Boston, and his first-class temperament, I can see him enjoying success soon, and becoming very happy, in some kind of business enterprise or venture.
I will always remember him fondly, and gratefully, for the support he gave a client of ours, the Fishing Partnership Health Plan, a federal- and state-supported health plan for Massachusetts fishermen and their family members, whenever I was up on Beacon Hill, lobbying for the Plan.  Atsalis was a true friend and a dignified representative of the fishermen.  I wish him the best in the next phase of his life.

“The Case Against a CEO in the Oval Office” – That was the headline on a recent (10/2/12) opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal by Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton University professor and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, an article that might have shaken the perfect mane of Mitt Romney for a minute or two earlier this week as the former Massachusetts governor was preparing for the debate with Barack Obama -- you know, the one the president didn’t show up for.   
“Sound companies dote on efficiency,” Blinder wrote.  “They’d better, for the competitive marketplace  is a tough environment.  If you’re less efficient than your competitors, you’ll founder and probably fail…While there are niches in the federal government where efficiency matters a great deal, such as in defense procurement or running the General Services Administration, the White House isn’t one of them.  Hoover (President Herbert Hoover) was a sterling manager.  But as he learned painfully, the big decisions aren’t about efficiency at all.  It may even be critical to cut people a little slack here and there.”