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.      

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