Novel Written by Former Legislator Has Some Faint Echoes in the Hernandez Case

Friday, June 28, 2013

Everyone I saw this week was trying to get their arms around the idea that a New England Patriots star, a young receiver abruptly dropped from the team, could possibly be a multiple murderer.
The Aaron Hernandez story is the kind that stops you cold and runs off with your imagination. Even if you sincerely pause to think about the victims, you can’t resist talking about it. 
“Can you believe it?  I can’t believe it.”
I wish I bumped into Tim O’Leary, a former state representative, this week.  Based on a crime novel he wrote, O’Leary can definitely believe it, I’d say.
O’Leary’s book, “The Day Job,” published by Troy Book Makers (New York) in 2010, is entirely fictional.  It concerns the aptly named Tommy Hands, a former stand-out receiver for the Clemson Tigers.  Hands is drafted high up by the Patriots and goes on to star for New England over five seasons.  When he retires from the game, he settles in Massachusetts and remains in the public eye by capitalizing on his athletic fame, good looks, charisma and charm.  Eventually, he runs for governor and wins.
Beneath the attractive exterior, Hands is a dark, twisted, repulsive excuse for a human being.  Before the college all-star game in Hawaii, he murders a transsexual prostitute in a rage; next day, he plays the best game of his life.  His girlfriend tells him afterwards, “The people around me said they’ve never seen anyone play better.  You were amazing.  If I didn’t know better I’d think you scored some drugs.”
Murder becomes a performance-enhancing routine for Hands when he’s on the road with the Patriots.  Saturday nights he trolls skid row alleyways, deserted parks, and red light districts for random victims, men and women smaller and weaker than he is.  He pounces on them from behind and kills with his signature move, a single knife thrust to the heart.  Sunday afternoons, Hands is a demon on the field, making nearly impossible catches and game-saving runs.
As “The Day Job” begins, Hands is gearing up for re-election as governor.  The other main character in the book, Connor McNeill, is hired by an operative for the governor’s opponent, Moses Brady, to dig up some dirt on Hands.  McNeill turns to a bookie named Freddy for help in his opposition research.  This initiative spooks Hands and causes him to murder again and again in the hope of avoiding exposure.
A serial killer as governor? 
Yes, it’s not the most plausible premise.  But O’Leary, who writes by night and works by day as Deputy Director of the Beacon Hill-based Massachusetts Association for Mental Health, largely pulls it off.  He’s a witty, polished writer who makes it easy for a reader to suspend disbelief and stay with the story to its suspenseful, convincing end.  O’Leary writes some great lines, for example:
“Politics is one of the two professions where inexperience is considered a plus.  Prostitution is the other.”
“You know, campaigns would be more fun if we didn’t have to deal with candidates.”
“Professional football is the perfect betting game.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say gamblers invented it.”
“Doyle’s is a neighborhood bar that existed before neighborhoods became fashionable.”
“I think the human psyche is such that fear only consumes us for limited periods of time.  Eventually, something has to take its place.  That night, for Freddy and me, the something was a case of Budweiser.”
It’s doubtful a serial killer could ever become governor of Massachusetts, or even Florida.  But, by reminding us that it’s stupid to think a good athlete (or a good anything) must be a good human being, “The Day Job” is an excursion worth taking.
When considering a person blessed with rare athletic skill, wonderment and envy are natural reactions, and invariable corruptors of judgment.
NOTE: Tim O’Leary’s “The Day Job” is available at for as little as $14.


Boston Accentuates the Negative to Accomplish the Positive, While the Watchdog Frets

Friday, June 21, 2013

If Olympic medals were awarded in legal gymnastics, the City of Boston would have grabbed the gold in 2003 for the way it helped the Red Sox.
First, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) declared Yawkey Way a “blighted area” in need of economic development.   Then it signed an exclusive, 10-year agreement with the Red Sox allowing the team to close Yawkey Way as a public street on game days and set up ticket gates and concession booths there.
Basically, the city said to the team’s owners: We know you need the money to keep the team competitive, so we don’t mind if you turn Yawkey Way into a corral.  If a glorified holding pen is what you need to peddle more high-priced goods to your beer-loving, free-spending fans, just do it!
I don’t know much about city planning or real estate.  But I’d be willing to bet you couldn’t find an officer of a redevelopment authority in any other city who’d testify that Yawkey Way definitely meets the legal definition of blighted.
It has been reported that the Sox paid the city about $200,000 in licensing fees last year for those temporary corrals on Yawkey Way and grossed about $2 million from items sold there.
Not surprisingly, the team wants to make that deal, which expires at the end of this baseball season, permanent.  Because of all the money it has made on Yawkey Way, the team realizes it will have to pay higher licensing fees to the city going forward.  There’s talk of tying the fees to a fixed percentage of gross sales.
BRA spokeswoman Susan Elsbree has said, “Of course, we’re going to try to get the best deal we can for the city and for taxpayers.”
No less an authority than the Inspector General of the Commonwealth has warned the BRA that it will be on thin ice if it hangs a new Yawkey Way deal on the old urban blight peg.
“If the BRA were to seek future rights to Yawkey Way using the methods it employed in 2003, the BRA would have to declare Yawkey Way a blighted area and ‘detrimental to the safety, health, morals, welfare or sound growth’ of the community,” said Inspector General Gregory Sullivan in a letter to BRA Director Peter Meade, dated February 16, 2012.  “The OIG (Office of Inspector General) is concerned that such a declaration may expose the BRA to a legal challenge to the finding that Yawkey Way is a blighted area during Red Sox games, given the capital improvements made to the area during the demonstration period (2003-13) and the record of higher than expected revenues during games days.”
The BRA later made it clear it did not agree with Sullivan.  Perhaps the agency was emboldened by the caveat offered by Sullivan himself.  My opinion “is not binding or dispositive,” Sullivan said in his 2-16-12 letter to Meade, and “interpretation of the relevant statutes pertaining to these matters is ultimately made by the judiciary.”
I love that lawyer’s word “dispositive.”   In this context, it means Sullivan did not dare to predict how the courts would actually rule on Yawkey Way.  It’s the cover-your-ass way we all do business in this world. 
Next time I tell my wife it will be OK if we delay fixing the gutter hanging off our roof, I’ll be sure to say my opinion is not dispositive.
The BRA’s alliance with the Red Sox was the subject, five years ago, of a fascinating article in the law review of the New England School of Law, a case study entitled, “Kick Me Out of the Ballgame: The Boston Red Sox, the BRA, and the Taking of Yawkey Way.”  The author, Brian Mahler, noted that a lawsuit challenging the agreement had been filed early on by Pennant Publications, a company selling programs near Fenway Park.  Pennant withdrew the suit before the courts could rule on it, and no further challenges ensued.  The agreement has thus never been adjudicated.
Mahler wrote, “The Boston Redevelopment Authority yields great legislative power in determining what areas of the city require urban renewal.  Although its taking of a portion of Yawkey Way eliminated the City Council’s control over the city-owned land, constituted the transference of public land already available for public use into a redevelopment parcel for private use, diverted any sale or rent of the space from the city to the BRA’s own account, and stretched the definition of ‘blight,’ its decision received almost no judicial scrutiny.”
Now comes a lawyer from Revere, one Joseph P. Marchese, Jr., to complicate life for the Red Sox and the BRA.  Marchese submitted a letter to the BRA in May offering to pay roughly twice as much as the Sox have been to use Yawkey Way.  He indicated he would sublet space on the street to private food vendors. 
The BRA has not responded in any way to Marchese.  To steal a line from Howie Carr: If the phone don’t ring, Joe, you’ll know it’s Peter Meade.
Marchese reportedly owned a couple of restaurants in Everett 25-plus years ago.  He has “never operated an outdoor food court like the one currently run by the Sox (on Yawkey Way) in partnership with concession giant Aramark Corp.,” according to the Boston Globe.
Marchese may not be a serious candidate to replace the Sox and Aramark, but he undoubtedly knows his way around a courtroom.  I’m not saying Marchese would ever do this, but there are lawyers who’d be willing to set the stage now for a lawsuit against the city and team in the hope of getting money later from the Sox to go away.
Boston has been right all along to help the Red Sox.  I wish the city had an easier way to help the team than stretching the concept of blight beyond recognition.  The Red Sox are an institution in Boston, and in all of New England and beyond.  They are a unique social glue, a cultural phenomenon.
Equally important, the Red Sox are an economic powerhouse.  They generate spending by their devoted fans that boosts countless enterprises around Boston.  Thousands of low- and middle-income workers share annually in the Sox bonanza.   Just ask a doorman at a Boston hotel how much he misses in tips when the team doesn’t make the playoffs.
Finally, by giving the Sox a game-day exclusive on Yawkey Way, the city helps ensure the preservation and use of Fenway Park, the oldest, most charismatic park in the major leagues.  Tourists from around the world come to tour it when it’s not in use – to sit in the dugouts, to walk the outfield, to touch The Wall.  Only Chicago’s Wrigley Field rivals it in charm.
Fenway has one of the smallest seating capacities, 37,499, in the majors; the owners, therefore, need all the extras, like the concessions on Yawkey Way and the $165-per-ticket Green Monster seats over Lansdowne Street, to generate enough money to field a championship-caliber team.
If there were a way to do it, Boston should sell Yawkey Way to the Red Sox at fair market value, with the proviso that pedestrians and motorists be granted permanent use of the street and sidewalks when the team wasn’t playing.    

It's That Hyde Park Thing: If Consalvo Wins, Menino Worries About His Record Longevity

Friday, June 14, 2013

What are there, 16 candidates in the race to succeed Tom Menino as mayor of Boston?  Or is it 18, 25, 42?  I’ve lost track.
Since I can’t give you, off the top of my head, the names of more than a handful of mayoral wannabes, I obviously don’t have a clue as to who’s the frontrunner.
I will venture one prediction about this race, however.  If District 5 City Councilor Rob Consalvo wins, he’s going to be the mayor for a long, long time.
Consalvo is from Hyde Park.  It’s in the nature of politicians from Hyde Park to excel at the art of re-election.
Exhibit A is Menino, a resident of Hyde Park’s Readville neighborhood.  On July 12, Menino will pass his 20th anniversary as mayor.  He’s been elected to the job five times, more than anyone in history.
Exhibit B is State Representative Angelo Scaccia, the dean of the Massachusetts House and a resident of Fairmount Avenue in Hyde Park.  Scaccia has served continuously in the House for 32 years, since 1981.  And before that, he was in the House for five years, 1973 to 1978.
Scaccia is linked for all time to another intriguing example of Hyde Park political longevity, one Michael Paul Feeney. 
The late Representative Feeney, who was born in Hyde Park on March 26, 1907, served in the House from 1939 to 1980, an amazing 41-year run, whereupon he was involuntarily retired by Scaccia. 
Scaccia in 1980 was avenging the loss he’d suffered at Feeney’s hands two years before.
Once, Feeney and Scaccia had been peers and colleagues in the House.  But, in 1978, as a result of a League-of-Women-Voters-inspired and voter-mandated reduction in the size of the House from 240 to 160 members, Feeney and Scaccia had to face each other in the contest for the now-single Hyde Park seat in the lower branch.   
Feeney beat Scaccia by a mere 9 votes in ’78, resulting in the two-year interruption of Scaccia’s extraordinary hold on the heart of Hyde Park.
The 1980 rematch was another story altogether: Scaccia beat Feeney by 1,052 votes.  “I think we’ve turned a corner in Hyde Park,” Scaccia told a reporter from the Boston Globe the night he thumped Feeney.  “The old guard has bowed out.”
How (characteristically) polite.  Scash could have said, “I just beat the old guard’s brains in.”
If Consalvo is elected mayor, Menino will have to worry that his record number of terms might one day be threatened by his protégé from Hyde Park.  Consalvo is only 44, with plenty of good years before him to rack up re-election victories at four-year intervals.
When you come from Hyde Park, that kind of thing comes naturally.
FRANK RECALLS FEENEY: In his book “Barney Frank: The Story of America’s Only Left-Handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman,” author Stuart E. Weisberg has a nice little story about the man in Hyde Park you had to see for so long but who is now largely forgotten, as all of us are destined to be forgotten: Michael Paul Feeney.  Frank had served in the House with Feeney.  This is an excerpt from Weisberg’s excellent book on Frank:
“Michael Paul, occasionally Paul, but never Michael, was a canny, secretive Irish pol, a master of old-line politics, a real character, something out of ‘The Last Hurrah,” Barney recalled.  “He was the epitome of let’s keep politics small and don’t be expanding the vote.”  To Feeney, the idea of a voter registration drive was anathema,  something, Barney explained, “that God would have visited on Egypt to get the Jews out.”
“You would be walking down the hall in the State House and if Michael Paul wanted to talk to you, you would literally pass a nook and hear Michael Paul whisper, ‘Barney, can I talk to you?’  You couldn’t see him, only hear him,” Barney said.

We Like to Laugh But the Job of Lieutenant Governor Is Anything But a Joke

Friday, June 7, 2013

Now that Tim Murray has resigned and the office of lieutenant governor has been vacated, some folks are predictably calling for the position to be eliminated.
“…the real puzzle isn’t how Massachusetts will get through the next year and a half without a lieutenant governor,” wrote Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby on May 26.  “It is why we bother to retain the job at all.” That column was headlined: “The Most Useless Job in the State.”
I understand why Jacoby and others think that way.  They’ll just never convince me they’re right.
Yes, we could save a relatively small but not insignificant sum of money by eliminating the office of lieutenant governor.  But in the process we’d destroy a powerful lever we the citizens have on the operations of state government -- a good tool to wield against a bureaucracy that naturally tends toward indifference and inaction.
Because we elect the lieutenant governor, we can call up his office and ask him to take a particular course of action or look into a matter that may concern us.  If we have a legit case, and if the lieutenant governor is any kind of a politician, something good could result from that call.
Remove the lieutenant governor from the arena and we have one less bigfoot there to throw his weight around on our behalf.
The calls to rid ourselves of this supposedly redundant office remind me of the “good government” cries in the Seventies to reduce the size of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 240 to 160 reps.  That move was supposed to make the House more efficient; all it really did was deprive us of representation.
There’s a straightforward law of politics: when we have fewer elected representatives, our government becomes less, not more, responsive; the fruits of government move further from, not closer to, our grasp.
Also please consider this: the office of lieutenant governor is a valuable proving ground for politicians.
Obviously, it’s valuable to the politicians who can use it as a stepping stone to higher office. 
Less plain is its value to the voters, i.e., a lieutenant governor who’s able to mount a credible campaign for governor will have passed an arduous public tryout of four or eight years’ duration.  We know what we’re getting when we vote for a man or woman who’s been lieutenant governor.  Bad surprises in the corner office of the State House are, therefore, less likely.
Think of Frank Sargent and Paul Cellucci, two down-to-earth, moderate Republicans who became governor on the strength of their performances in the second seat.  Their work in a supporting role convinced us they could be solid leading men.  And we weren’t wrong.
Shouldn’t we be pleased that, in the office of lieutenant governor, we provide potentially very talented politicians with multi-year auditions for the governorship?    
If their talent is genuine and they move up, we get a governor who’s less likely to flop; our Commonwealth is better off.
Without having been lieutenant governor, Calvin Coolidge never would have become governor of Massachusetts, and then vice president and president of the United States.  Lieutenant governor can be a way station on the road to the presidency!
Michael Dukakis showed that even a losing campaign for lieutenant governor can help make a really smart politician governor.  Recall that it was Dukakis’s star turn as Kevin White’s running mate in White’s unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1970 that set Dukakis up to win the governorship in 1974.

Too easily we forget that our democracy and all that it makes possible -- our rights, our safety, our way of life -- rest on the political abilities (and, of course, the honesty) of our elected leaders.
Forty-three of the fifty states have lieutenant governors.  I hope Massachusetts never decides to make it forty-two.