With Plums as Juicy as Sheriff to Bestow, It's Good to Be the Governor

Monday, December 31, 2012

Sheriff is one of the best jobs in Massachusetts politics for three simple reasons.
One, sheriffs are paid well.  Most collect an annual salary of just over $123,000, an especially heart-warming figure when calculating your state pension.
Two, sheriffs have six-year terms.  They face the voters so rarely that most people cannot tell you who their sheriff is.  To be a sheriff in Massachusetts is to be out of sight, out of mind, and out of the negative headlines.
Three, sheriffs control big budgets and a big number of jobs.  If handled wisely, the power to hire as a Massachusetts sheriff inevitably produces a rich harvest of political fruits. 
(According to a two-year-old State Auditor’s report, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s office has approximately 1,046 employees.)
Having recently named Suffolk Sheriff Andrea Cabral as his new Secretary of Public Safety, Governor Deval Patrick is poised to appoint an interim sheriff to replace her.  The person Patrick chooses will have the job at least until 2014, when he or she must run in an election for what's left of Cabral’s term, which expires at the end of 2016. That’s two years to audition for the permanent job, build a wide political base, and raise the money needed to wage an election campaign.  Only the most inept pol could blow such advantages.
Yes, political plums as juicy as sheriff don’t roll into the governor’s lap often.
While there’s been little mention in the media of who may replace Cabral, you can be sure a lot is being done behind the scenes in the hope of influencing the governor’s choice.
When openings like this occurred in the past, governors usually looked to the legislature.  For example, we saw Patrick appoint longtime Waltham state representative Peter Koutoujian Middlesex County Sheriff in January, 2011, following the death of Jim DiPaola.
This time around, Gov. Patrick could easily break that pattern and give the job to a member of the Boston City Council.  Do not be surprised if Council President Steve Murphy, who has long coveted a higher office, any higher office, gets the nod.
But if the governor limits his options to legislators, at least a few from the 17-member Boston delegation to the House have to be considered serious candidates.  Gene O’Flaherty, Kevin Honan, Marty Walsh, step right up!
Of the four senators in the Boston delegation, you’d expect South Boston’s popular Jack Hart to be a favorite -- were it not for the fact he’s a strong candidate to succeed Senate President Therese Murray when she gives up the gavel after the 2013-14 session.  Senate President beats Suffolk Sheriff any day.  That leaves Mike Rush, Sonia Chang-Diaz and Anthony Petrucelli, all of whom should be seen as legit sheriff contenders until they declare their non-interest.
I have no idea if any of these folks wants to exit the legislature via the sheriff route.  But if I were governor, I’d choose O’Flaherty.
I intend no disparagement or diminishment of any other Boston rep.  It’s just that I know O’Flaherty better than the others.  I know he has the blend of smarts, experience, temperament and toughness to do the job right.  Also, O’Flaherty has publicly stated he does not want to continue as House chair of the Judiciary Committee in 2013-14.  His eyes are open for something new.
The correction officers union can chew up a sheriff if he’s not careful, but there’s no danger of that happening to the Chelsea-bred O’Flaherty.
If I had to guess who from the legislature Patrick will appoint, I’d say Chong-Diaz.  He will have no problem making the case for the senator from the 2nd Suffolk District.

Boston Will Not Be a Bystander as Wynn Rolls the Dice on a Casino in Everett

Friday, December 21, 2012

At first blush, you’d think the biggest obstacle to building a casino in Everett was the site itself, 35 acres of vacant, contaminated land on the Mystic River, across from Charlestown and Somerville.
But it could actually be easier to clean up the site, which reportedly contains chemicals, petroleum byproducts, lead and “tunnel muck” from the Big Dig, than to overcome the certain opposition of Boston to a casino in Everett.
If Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn ends up making a serious bid for the eastern Massachusetts casino license, the powers that be in the Hub will do everything possible to stop him and to promote, instead, a casino at Suffolk Downs in East Boston.
A Suffolk Downs casino means a ton of dough every year for Boston.  A casino in Everett means no casino windfall for Boston.
The beauty part for Boston is that it can raise a slew of legitimate objections because so much of the traffic headed to an Everett casino would have to go through an already overburdened and dysfunctional Sullivan Square.  On top of that, a tiny part of Boston abuts the proposed casino site, meaning Boston would have solid legal standing to fight the casino permits.
Wynn has obviously perceived the potential chokehold Boston has on a casino development at the former Monsanto Chemical Co. site in Everett, and has decided, for the time being, to move ahead anyway.  Two days ago, he signed an option to buy the property. 
However, that doesn’t mean he’s into the deal for a prohibitive sum, and certainly not by Wynn standards of wealth. (What a great name for a gambling kingpin.)
You can assume the owners made it easy for Wynn to take that option.
There are not lot of people lined up to buy land with the environmental complications of the ex-home of Monsanto, even ones as close to downtown Boston as this.
And the owners know that, if Wynn somehow secures the eastern casino license, the profit they’d make on the resulting sale of the property to him would be incredibly higher than they hoped to make when  acquiring it several years ago for a price reported in the vicinity of $8 million.
The option to acquire this site was not the real test of Wynn’s desire to take on the owners of Suffolk Downs and their casino-operator partner, Caesar’s Palace, in a battle for the eastern license.  That will come in mid-January, when bidders for casino licenses will have to file their applications, and a $400,000 non-refundable deposit, with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
Interestingly, the two putative casino sites have similar flaws.  Each will be difficult to access quickly by car (Route C-1 in East Boston and Route 99 in Everett are already clogged with traffic a good part of the day), and each is on the fringes of the capital of New England, instead of being in the heart of Boston, the best and truest place for a resort casino.


Tom Menino as Master of Management -- the Proof Shines Bright in His Absence

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Here’s the best definition of a good manager I ever heard: a person whose organization runs as well in his absence as when he’s there.
If you agree with that definition, that premise, you have to admit: Tom Menino is one hell of a manager.
Due to health problems, the longtime mayor of Boston has not been able to work at City Hall for almost two full months.  There have been no serious or unusual problems in how the city government functions during that period.
How many men or women managers do you know who could have been away from their desks since Oct. 26 and not have the roof fall in?  The last managerial job I had, back in 1998, I couldn’t take off a long weekend without something blowing up. 
Maybe that’s why I haven’t been a manager in 14 years.
Menino is close to 70 years old, has been in office since 1993, and is coming to the end of his fifth term next year.  Despite a list of medical problems that would make an insurance underwriter faint, he gives every indication of wanting to run for another term.
A lot of characters in Boston see themselves as future mayors.  You’d think at least one or two of them would be taking advantage of the mayor’s long hiatus to act as if his time on the big stage had finally  come, and that his mayoral announcement was just days away.
Nothing of the sort has happened.
This past Monday, the New York Times took a good look at Menino’s situation, (“Ailing Mayor of Boston Says He’s Still Up to the Job”).  The Times noted that “no politician has called for him to step aside.  Some in the news media have suggested, gently, that he should quit while he is ahead, but no potential challenger has made a peep about running for mayor next year, whether or not Mr. Menino seeks an unprecedented sixth term.”
Asked to explain his political longevity and lack of opposition, Menino said, “How I explain this is, people have to have faith in you.  That’s the key to this whole thing.”
Menino became mayor accidentally: Ray Flynn quit to accept the posting as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and then City Council President Menino moved up automatically.  But it’s no accident that Menino went on to become the longest-serving mayor in Boston history.  With the exception of the late Ted Kennedy, Menino has proved to be the best Massachusetts politician of his generation.
Not coincidentally, Menino and Kennedy shared the traits of a classical hard-nosed, hands-on, I-expect-results manager.
I enjoyed every word and turn of phrase in the Times piece.  When the reporter, Katharine Q. Seelye, asked him to “name the best thing he had done for Boston,” I hung on his reply.
“My No. 1 thing is bringing racial harmony to the city,” he said.
Wow. Good answer.
It was also a truthful assessment and a reminder of how good policy making equals good politics more often than not -- and sometimes in ways that make history.
On her first day on the job Monday, Dec. 17, the new general manager of the MBTA, Beverly Scott, described herself to the State House News Service as “a high-impact player.” 
“I’m typically a start-up, fix-it, turn-around, transition manager,” Ms. Scott was quoted.  “My typical lifespan at organizations is about a five-year period of time.  I’m not trying to suggest that a change manager is a better manager than who is a maintenance manager, but you just need to know who you are, and that’s really the essence of who I am, is very much a change manager.  I’m a high-impact player.”
I admire Ms. Scott’s confidence.  I sincerely wish her the best results in all of her bold plans and endeavors.  But as a daily rider of the T beast, I’d say that the union-shackled, dollar-devouring, creaky-infrastructured MBTA is more likely to have a high impact on its general manager than vice versa; further, those impacts are likely to resemble what happens to passengers during Green Line crashes.

Romney's Ticked. You Would Be Too If They Gave You a Lie of the Year 'Award'

Monday, December 17, 2012

PolitiFact just named Mitt Romney’s TV ad on the sale of Chrysler to an Italian company – “Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China” -- the 2012 Lie of the Year.
If you think Romney isn’t bothered by that, I think you’re wrong.
Politicians are like the rest of us: they hate it when people say rotten things about them, although they are reluctant to admit it.
We’ve all seen interviews where a reporter says something like, “Governor, are you bothered that your opponent says you’re a liar and a fraud, someone who can’t be trusted with a piggyback, never mind the state budget,” and the governor smiles and says, “Rolls right off my back!  I never give it a second thought.  Like Harry Truman said, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.’  I can take the heat.  Don’t worry.”
You’re supposed to say stuff like that when you’re holding a public office or seeking office. 
But every time I hear it, I think, “The governor must hate that guy’s guts.  He’d probably push him down an elevator shaft if he could.”
Running for president, Romney showed no qualms about changing positions, trimming the truth and demonizing opponents.  He apparently considered such behavior a requirement of the task and season, a regrettable but necessary choice to “fight the devil with fire.”
It is unlikely Romney ever considered the compromises of the campaign trail moral lapses or signs of a flawed character.  To the contrary, the former Massachusetts governor had ample reason to regard himself as above the grubby realities of politics. 
Had he not served with distinction as a bishop of his church, a leader sought by members of his faith for moral guidance?
Had he not been the savior -- the reformer -- of a scandal-plagued Winter Olympics?
Had he not headed a gubernatorial administration free of backroom deals, patronage hiring, and, God forbid, law breaking, for all four years?
All of which is to say, you bet Mitt is hurt and angry because his campaign was judged the perpetrator of the 2012 Lie of the Year by a legitimate, long-established news organization.*
On December 12, PolitiFact’s Angie Drobnic Holan wrote:
“It was a lie told in the critical state of Ohio in the final days of a close campaign – that Jeep was moving its U.S. production to China.  It originated with a conservative blogger, who twisted an accurate news story into a falsehood.  Then it picked up steam when the Drudge Report ran with it.  Even though Jeep’s parent company gave a quick and clear denial, Mitt Romney repeated it and his campaign turned it into a TV ad. 
“And they stood by the claim, even as the media and the public expressed collective outrage against something so obviously false.
“People often say that politicians don’t pay a price for deception, but this time was different: A flood of negative press coverage rained down on the Romney campaign, and he failed to turn the tide in Ohio, the most important state in the presidential election.”
PolitiFact gave a spanking to Obama, too.
“It’s not that President Obama and his campaign team were above falsehoods, either,” wrote Drobnic Holan.  “Their TV ads distorted Romney’s positions on abortion and immigration to make them seem more extreme than they actually were.  A pro-Obama super PAC even created an ad suggesting Romney was responsible for a woman’s death when her husband lost his job at a Bain-controlled company.”
But Romney’s Jeep ad “was brazenly false,” she quickly emphasized.
That little bit about Obama’s falsehoods was down in the sixth paragraph, so it won’t stick in a reader’s mind as long and as forcefully as the fact that Romney got the 2012 Lie of the Year “award,” which no doubt only makes Romney’s anger and pain worse.
*PolitiFact is described on its website as “a project of the Tampa Bay Times to help you find the truth in American politics.  Reporters and editors from the Times  fact-check statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists and interest groups and rate them on our Truth-O-Meter.” 
For more info, go to http://www.politifact.com/

Political Influence Fits Suffolk University Like the Golden Dome Fits the State House

Friday, December 7, 2012

What has taken others years of maneuvering and hard work to accomplish, James McCarthy managed in an instant earlier this week.
He became a political figure to be reckoned with in Boston simply by taking office as the new president of Suffolk University during inaugural ceremonies Tuesday, December 5, at Faneuil Hall.
I take nothing away from McCarthy, a distinguished sociologist with a doctorate from Princeton, when I say that anybody who takes the top job at Suffolk gets political stature in the bargain.
It cannot be otherwise when your campus stands literally in the shadow of the Massachusetts State House, on the back side of Beacon Hill, and when your alumni get elected to the legislature in droves and your night school is a mecca for young legislative staffers seeking a brighter future by earning law degrees and master’s degrees there.  (Legislators are famously lenient with their staffers who have to leave a little early to attend a class or prepare for a test next door.)
The list of Suffolk alums who wield power at the State House is topped by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a graduate of the law school, and Bruce Tarr, the Senate Minority Leader, who holds undergraduate and law degrees from the university. 
Other bold face names in the alumni rolls:
·         Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty, House chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary
·         Rep. John Keenan, House chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy
·         Senator Mark Pacheco, Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and chair of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change.  (The Pacheco Bill, which has had a major impact on state policies directing the procurement of goods and services by all governmental entities, is named after him.)
·         Senator Brian Joyce, chair of the Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets
·         Rep Angelo Scaccia, a fixture at the State House for decades and a key ally of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino
No fewer than 36 of the current 200 members of the Massachusetts legislature, 18%, are graduates of Suffolk.
Looking for other signifiers of Suffolk’s political standing and sway?
Consider John Nucci, the former Boston city councilor and Suffolk Superior Court clerk-magistrate who serves as the university’s vice president of external affairs.  James McCarthy’s predecessor, the legendary David Sargent, who retired at the tender age of 82, hired Nucci years ago to improve the university’s relations with Beacon Hill neighbors and to help win city approvals for a slew of construction and relocation projects.  Let’s say Nucci has more than earned his salary.
Consider the Suffolk University Political Research Center, headed by David Paleologos, which went from nowhere in 2002 to become a nationally respected political polling outfit in less than five years.  Paleologos, brother of former state legislator Nick Paleologos, was one of the first pollsters to detect the surge of Scott Brown in his Senate campaign against Martha Coakley.
Consider the Moakley Center (named for the late wizard of the U.S. Congress from South Boston, Joe Moakley), which runs programs to help public service employees do their jobs better.  Its sister organization, the university’s Institute for Public Service, has been granting a master of public administration degree since 1975, and now has more than 2,000 graduates working across the nation.
Consider the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service, founded in 2006 through a $5 million gift from the Rappaports, who helped remake the face of Boston in the redevelopment of the West End.  The Rappaport Center is headquartered in the stately Suffolk Law School building on Tremont Street, a three-minute walk from the State House.  It regularly invites notable office holders and policy gurus to its programs.
Lastly, consider the power emanating from members of Suffolk's board of trustees, who include: Daniel Conley, Suffolk County district attorney; Gerry Doherty, lawyer and former right-hand man to Ted Kennedy; former state senator (and member of Senate leadership) John A. Brennan; James T. Morris, popular lobbyist and protégé of former House Speaker and Attorney General Robert Quinn; Roger Berkowitz, president/CEO, Legal Seafoods; Julie Kahn, VP/New England Market Manager, Entercom New England; Robert Sheridan, recently retired president/CEO, Savings Bank Life Insurance Co. of Massachusetts; Marshall Sloan, chairman of Century Bank; and John Fernandez, president/CEO, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo did not attend McCarthy’s inauguration because they had nothing else to do.  They were there because they know how important the school is to Boston and the Commonwealth. 

You might also say they were there to welcome Doctor McCarthy to the local power brokers club.
Two other political heavyweights were also on hand to mark the beginning of the McCarthy era:
Peter Meade, who earned his bones way back in the Kevin White administration, was close to Ted Kennedy, was a health insurance exec, a talk radio star, and is the current director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority; and Suffolk grad Robert Caret, the new, indefatigable president of the University of Massachusetts.  The sprawling UMass empire attaches itself to the state’s power matrix at uncountable points.      

Time for Mass. Republicans to Ask, Brad Bailey Won't You Please Come Home?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Woe is the Republican Party of Massachusetts, seemingly sidelined forever to a zone of electoral irrelevance.
Slightly more than 11% of the registered voters in our state are members of the party of Lincoln.
In the upcoming legislative session (2013-14), only four of the 40 members of the Senate and 29 of the 160 representatives in the House will be from the Grand Old Party.  Republicans actually lost four House seats on November 6. 
The biggest blows Republicans suffered this year were the dual defeats of U.S. Senator Scott Brown in a high-profile battle with political newcomer Elizabeth Warren and of Richard Tisei, the former Senate minority leader and former lieutenant governor candidate.  Tisei failed in the Sixth Congressional District to beat an incumbent considered by many people to be eminently beatable, John Tierney. 
“People” were shown once again not to know much.
As Republicans struggle to rebuild, they’re going to have to come up with more candidates in the mold of Tisei and Brown, who, even though they lost this year, are widely regarded as persons of high quality -- good guys and good candidates who simply could not withstand an Obama tide that drove turnout in this state to 73%.
One old party hand they should be giving a look to is a gentleman who last held office 16 years ago and has lately been in the news because of his work as a defense attorney, Brad Bailey of Winchester, who’s from a long line of distinguished Yankee Republicans. 
Bailey is now serving as the lead defense counsel in the ongoing trial of former State Treasurer Tim Cahill, who’s accused of improperly using his authority to order advertising promoting the Massachusetts Lottery, which he was in charge of, while running as an independent for governor in 2010.
Bailey got his undergraduate degree, with honors, from Harvard and his juris doctor from one of the best law schools in the nation, the University of Virginia.  He passed the bar not only in Massachusetts but also New York, which has perhaps the toughest exam of all the states.  His work in the public sector includes illustrious stints as: assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, felony prosecutor for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, assistant district attorney in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and head of the Massachusetts Governor’s Alliance Against Drugs.
In 1994, then Governor William Weld appointed Bailey to serve the unexpired part of the term of Middlesex Sheriff John McGonigle, who had been convicted of corruption charges.  When running for a full term as sheriff in 1996, Bailey was defeated by then Malden State Rep. Jim DiPaola. 
In 1998, Bailey took on his former boss, Middlesex District Attorney Tom Reilly, in a spirited race for Attorney General, and lost badly.
My guess is Bailey is not at all interested in running for office again.  He’s been away from politics for 14 years and has made a good life for himself and his family (he and his wife have four kids) without politics.
Republican strategists, looking at Bailey’s losses in the sheriff and attorney general elections, may well entertain a new Bailey candidacy for some prominent office – say in the Congress, the state senate, or the executive branch – with some reluctance.
But entertain it they should for the simple reason that Bailey is a man of high intelligence, impeccable character, good judgment and untarnished reputation.  They don’t grow Brad Baileys on every tree in the tiny Republican vineyard. 
Bearing is fate, the Romans believed. 
Bailey has the bearing of a leader. He deserves another shot at office.