Some Who Left Politics Before They Had To Could Do Us a Favor by Returning

Thursday, November 29, 2012

People put up with a lot to get and keep public offices:  nasty elections, sneering reporters, cynical voters, too much time away from their spouses and kids, and a demeaning, never-ending quest for campaign donations.
Most folks put up with that for the fleeting honor of putting mayor, representative, senator, congressman or governor before their names.  The question is why.
Two explanations come to mind:
First, winning a public office is one of the best ways in the world to scratch the itch of ambition -- to be someone.
Second, holding a public office provides opportunities to put your stamp on issues and events that truly matter – to put yourself at the center of the action.
Let’s face it, most occupations are not terribly consequential.  (Mine is Exhibit A.)
But you’d never say a vote on the state budget, a health care reform bill, or a public safety program was inconsequential. 
When you win an election, you get a key to the room where the most salient matters of public life are fought over and decided. 
Nothing else really compares to the thrill and importance of being in that room. 
Years after leaving office, when they are deep into successful and lucrative careers in other fields, men and women will speak yearningly of the days when they were there.
I had a friend who served as a young man in the Massachusetts Senate.  He is a graduate of an Ivy League university, an attorney of notable skill, and an avid student of U.S. history and government.  He loved being a legislator and was good at it.  But the day came when he realized that his family would continue to struggle economically, that his kids would not reach their full potential, education-wise, if he remained in the legislature.
So my friend took a high-paying job as a government relations specialist with a big utility. 
Although he’s changed jobs several times, he’s still in that industry.   He’s earning a healthy six-figure income and his children attend top-notch colleges, where the price of admission easily tops $50,000 a year.
In the early years of his new career, my friend often talked with me and others about getting back into politics one day.  He missed the action at the State House and was nagged by the feeling that he left office before accomplishing as much as he could have, and going as far as his political talents could have taken him.  (Those thoughts were grounded in fact.)
“Are there things I should or could be doing now that would help set me up for a re-entry into politics if the right opportunity came along?” he once asked me.  “How can I keep my name before the public in the right way?”
On the spot, the best answer I could come up with was, “You should get on the board of a high-profile non-profit, an organization that everyone admires, and do an outstanding job. Or maybe you could start a foundation devoted to an important cause, some aspect of child welfare, say.  You could raise a lot of money for it, and serve as its unpaid, part-time chairman while someone else did the day-to-day work.”
Weak, uh? 
Perhaps because of the quality of that advice, we never discussed his possible return to elective office again.  Or maybe my friend just stopped thinking about it.
In any event, there’s no sign that he’s moving toward chucking his remunerative career and returning to the political arena, although he still has a few years ahead of him when he might be able to do that.  Maybe he’s banked enough dough to finance such a move.
Because I believe that our political system could benefit from the return of many of the quality people who voluntarily chose to abandon it, I hope my friend has acquired the means that would allow him to come home to Massachusetts in the not-too-distant future and run again for the Senate.
His time away from office, and the experience he gained in the interim, would only make him a better public servant…and he was no slouch before.
This is a concept I’d like to promote: bringing the good ones back, a la Michael Barrett, to Massachusetts politics. 
So if you have a favorite ex-politician, someone with a lot left in the tank, ask him or her today to please consider making another run.  Remind them how good it was to be in that place where the most salient matters are fought over and decided.

NEXT: Republicans should be looking to this overlooked man of stature.

Resort, Shmesort! Casino at Suffolk Downs Will Get Done Because It's Do-Able

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The folks who own Suffolk Downs are entitled to redevelop the tired, old racetrack in any legal way they see fit.  I say good luck to them with their $1 billion plan to build a “destination resort casino” next to a bunch of stables and fuel storage tanks.
Not that they’re going to need much luck.  Right now they’re the only viable contender for the license to operate a casino in the eastern part of the state, one of three such licenses the gaming commission will be awarding next year or the year after.
Although there have been reports that some big players in the gambling industry are quietly looking at other sites in the area, no one but the owners of Suffolk Downs has come forward with an actual plan.  Each day that passes with no one else stepping up, the odds that Suffolk Downs will be the eastern licensee improve.
That does not mean, of course, that Suffolk Downs will ever be a true destination resort, or that a casino is the best re-use of the racetrack complex, which has been a fixture on the border of working-class East Boston and Revere for 77 years. 
A good case can be made that downtown Boston, with its hotels, restaurants, historic sites, sports teams, art scene, entertainment venues, and multiple modes of transportation, is a better place for a destination resort casino than a distant, congested corner of the city that sits beneath a major flight path to Logan International Airport.  (You can almost see the passengers’ faces as the jets descend.)
But $1 billion projects do not get done in the world of what-ifs and best-case scenarios.  They happen on a piece of ground owned by guys with deep pockets and blessed by favorable politics, zoning and regulations.  Dreamers need not apply.
If we were ruled by philosopher-kings, we’d be talking now about a transit-oriented housing development at Suffolk Downs, not a casino. 
The racetrack, its ancillary facilities and its parking lots take up more than 150 acres.  It is served by its own dedicated station on the Blue Line, built to accommodate a legion of now-extinct Boston bettors, and is very close to another Blue Line station, Beachmont.  It would be a perfect place to house folks who work in Boston and can’t afford, or don’t want to buy, the second family car.
There is no doubt such housing is needed, and would be snapped up quickly if available. 
Just last week, Governor Deval Patrick announced the goal of creating 10,000 new multi-family housing units per year in Massachusetts, emphasizing how housing construction on that scale would be good for workers, employers and the competitive fitness of our economy.
As part of a new Compact Neighborhoods program, Patrick intends to push hard for new multi-family housing, i.e., apartment buildings, near rapid transit stations and town centers.
At a re-purposed Suffolk Downs, what would be best for the long-term growth and health of the Massachusetts economy:  a casino or thousands of apartments?
Since a casino could be built somewhere else and generate the same revenue for the Commonwealth as one at the racetrack, the answer is new housing.
For reasons both practical and legitimate, however, that question is not even at the periphery of the process that will determine who gets the eastern license.

FOOTNOTE: According to a new report by the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, the metropolitan Boston region will need to produce at least 12,000 new housing units per year for the next decade in order to accommodate projected population growth and economic expansion.  For details, go to and click on The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2012.


Scott Brown's Loss Could Seal Charlie Baker's Decision on One More Campaign

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Scott Brown’s loss to Elizabeth Warren in the U.S. Senate election is obviously weighing heavily upon Massachusetts Republicans, but on none so heavily, I suppose, as Charlie Baker.
Although he lost a three-way race to incumbent Deval Patrick in 2009, Baker was a strong candidate and an articulate advocate for a different, leaner approach to state government. 
It’s no secret that many in the GOP are urging him to make another gubernatorial run in 2014, believing that, in a two-person face-off with any of the likely Democratic nominees  - a Tim Murray or a Steve Grossman, say – he would have an excellent chance of winning.
That may be true.  However, when Baker looks at what happened to Brown and to another prominent Republican, his former running mate, Richard Tisei, who failed to unseat John Tierney in the Sixth Congressional District, he has to wonder how he would succeed where two talented, likable and energetic peers failed.
Baker looks, I imagine, at the paltry share of Massachusetts voters who are Republicans (just over 11%), the small, low-horsepower band of Republicans in the Massachusetts legislature, the fierce commitment of union members to maintaining the Democratic grip on most elective offices in the state (as evidenced again in the Brown-Warren and Tisei-Tierney fights), the ridiculously high cost of running credibly for statewide office, and the need to be constantly raising money to feed the campaign beast, and wonder:
Why would I get back into that?
Someone I know who’s close to Baker says he’d like to run for governor again because he’s brimming with ideas on how to improve state government, knows he could be a good governor, and would like to obliterate the memory of 2009 with a victory. 
“Charlie is very competitive,” my friend points out.  “He hates to lose, and he’d like very much to win the governorship. But I also think he doesn’t want to lose twice.”
The fundraising demands upon any serious candidate for governor are especially daunting for someone like Baker, who is well off but not wealthy.  He has no personal fortune to sustain his family as he devotes months to campaigning, and to pay a big share of the campaign expenses

Dukakis Was a Model of What to Do the Day After You Lose a Presidential Race

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Twenty-four Novembers ago, on the Wednesday morning after Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis lost the presidential election to Vice President George H.W. Bush, Dukakis got out of bed at his usual time, got dressed, had a light breakfast, walked to the Green Line stop near his Brookline home, took a trolley to Park Street Station, walked up Beacon Hill to the State House, and went to work. 
There was state business to catch up on, and, Dukakis being Dukakis, he was not going to waste time in getting to it.   He was, and remains to this day, an extraordinarily disciplined man.  If he felt any regrets or self-pity on that dreary Wednesday, he showed no signs of it. 
Dukakis’s hope of winning the greatest prize in all of politics had been destroyed, but he was the same level-headed, good-natured guy the day after as he was the day before -- and as he was the day before he announced for president, for that matter. 
You don’t have to admire Dukakis, as I do, to appreciate his emotional balance, his perfectly symmetrical ego, and his fortitude in the face of defeat, of a public devastation. 
One day he’s in an armored limo, protected on all sides by the Secret Service; the next day, he’s in a crowded trolley, rubbing elbows with hospital orderlies, college students and office workers.  And you can’t tell from looking at his face that morning on the T which day it is in the many days of the public life of Mike Dukakis.
Earlier today, I read “What It Feels Like to Lose a Presidential Election,” an article in The Daily Beast, which was subtitled, “Someone will be unhappy on Wednesday. Presidential losers Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and Bob Dole on getting over the sting of second – and advice for this year’s runner up.” 
This got me thinking, what will another guy from Massachusetts do tomorrow morning if he loses today’s presidential election?
Mitt Romney has been permanently employed in the pursuit of the presidency for years, so if he loses, he will be unemployed.  No job to go to, no need to get up early tomorrow and get on the ball.  If he did have a job, however, you can be fairly certain he wouldn’t be using public transportation to get to it.
Since Romney headquarters tonight is the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston, he’ll most likely be sleeping tonight in the area.  My guess he'll stay at his place in Belmont. (Mitt is famously careful with a buck, so he won’t spring for a room at a hotel, especially that expensive Westin next to the convention center, even if he can charge it to his campaign committee.)
If Romney does lose tonight, and he does go home to Belmont, I would recommend that, like Dukakis, he do something totally routine tomorrow morning, like go down to Belmont center with his wife, Ann, have breakfast and take a walk around his town.  The former governor should smile and wave to the folks passing by, and he should have a warm word with everyone they bump into. 
Just be Mitt, a member of the crowd of successful, retired Belmont guys. 
“I never needed to go on a vacation or anything like that.  Just getting home and resuming a kind of basic routine and spending time with friends and family was for me always enough,” Dukakis told The Daily Beast.  “You think about it (losing) for a while, but after a while you get tired of it.  And I didn’t have a lot of time to sit around and think about it.”
In that same exchange with the “Beast,” Dukakis said, “If Romney loses, I honestly don’t know what he will do, since he has been running for so long and he doesn’t really have a regular job to go back to.  It probably takes a month or two to be back to normal.  Time is a great healer.  They (Romney and Obama) are both active.  They should just get back to their normal routine and rhythm.”

He's the Answer to the Question, Who's the Shrewdest, Most Charming Guy at the State House?

Friday, November 2, 2012

A long time ago, my boss and I scheduled a meeting with Fred Berry, the state senator from Peabody, for a health care client of ours.
Something came up at the last moment and my boss was unable to make it.  We proceeded without him.
I started the meeting by apologizing for my boss’s absence and explaining why he couldn’t be there.
“He’s very sorry he couldn’t be with us here today, Senator,” I emphasized, “and he wanted you to know that his thoughts and best wishes are with you.”
Berry studied me a bit before responding.  He was giving some thought to how he should react.
“You tell your boss,” he said, “that I am just so pleased that he was thinking of me.  He’s a very busy man.  With all he has to do, I can’t believe he has even a minute to think of me.  Of me!  You just tell him how grateful I am for that.”
Berry was born with cerebral palsy, which affects the way he speaks, in addition to hampering his mobility.  The words tend to come out of his mouth slowly, like individual blows from a muffled drumstick, with a slight pause between each one.
“ You. Tell. Your. Boss.”
The sly glint in his eyes was unnerving. 
At the time, I knew practically nothing about Senator Berry. 
All of a sudden, I felt like I was on thin ice.  “Oh, oh, the senator feels snubbed," I thought.  "He’s going to take it out on me -- or worse, on our client!  What will I do?”
I need not have worried.  Berry was only pulling my leg.  Once the introductions were out of the way, the conversation picked up and moved naturally.  We were there for almost an hour, and as we walked out the door, the client was feeling good.
Fred Berry, currently the longest-serving member of the Massachusetts Senate, is getting ready to exit the State House.  At the end of his term in early January, he will retire from a career in politics that started in 1979 with his election to the Peabody City Council.  Now 62, he entered the Senate in 1983 and has been the majority leader, the Senate President’s right arm, since 2003.
Berry was honored at a testimonial dinner at the Danversport Yacht Club in September.  For weeks in advance, the event was sold out.  Six hundred admirers jammed the club’s cavernous banquet room on a Thursday night to honor him, express their appreciation for all he’d accomplished as a legislator and public servant, and contribute to the Fred Berry Charitable Foundation.  The night’s proceeds, about $70,000, were donated to food pantries in the communities of Beverly, Danvers, Peabody, Salem and Topsfield, which make up his district, the Second Essex.
Governor Deval Patrick escorted Berry and his wife, Gayle, into the room that night, amidst ferocious applause and cheering.
Joe Biden, the Vice President of the United States, sent a letter of tribute, which was read aloud.  “Despite personal obstacles,” Biden wrote, “Senator Berry’s determination and fervent passion has made him a powerful voice for so many in Massachusetts.”
A video tribute was played on a big screen.  Senate President Therese Murray was among those who appeared in it.  “Nobody has been a better role model for people with different abilities than Fred,” she said.  “In all of the personal issues he has faced, he’s faced them head on, and he’s still been able to come to work.  He’s still a trusted advisor, and he is a good friend.”
“I’ve had a magical run,” Berry said that night.
There can be no doubt that Fred Berry has been an outstanding elected official and that he deserves all the bouquets coming his way in the last year or so.  The gap in the Senate created by his departure will be conspicuous and long-lasting.  Men like him don’t often come around.
I have never lived in Berry’s district, and I can count on one hand the times I have spoken with him as a lobbyist or encountered him at one event or another.  One Friday night I bumped into him at a restaurant on Route 1 in Saugus and we had a good conversation about his alma mater, Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody.  My daughter, Catherine, had recently graduated from Fenwick.
In 15 years, I probably contributed to Berry’s campaign treasury twice.  Though I admire him greatly, we were never buddy-buddy.  Nonetheless, I have a little insight into the nature of his popularity and success.  I think I know why he is so beloved. 
Freddie Berry emerged from a crucible of physical challenges that would have thwarted 99.9% of the people he crosses paths with every day.  For 30 years on Beacon Hill, he has been not just a good political player, but one of the best ever in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  He’s always been as shrewd as Lieutenant Columbo, as funny as Jerry Seinfeld, and as charming as Bill Clinton.  In countless skirmishes, he has come out on top with some maneuver out of the blue -- and has made the folks under him like it. 
When you consider, clear-eyed, what Berry has accomplished, you just about enter a state of awe.  And there is something else there when you are in that state: self-condemnation. 
You regret you have not done a fraction of what he has in developing his God-given talents.