Blogster's Miscellany: Casino Foes' Woes. Photo-Ready Plates. A Clinton BFF

Thursday, September 25, 2014

DID ANTI-CASINO GROUP PEAK 10 MONTHS AGO? As the ballot fight over repeal of the state’s casino-enabling legislation nears its decisive phase, Repeal the Casino Deal (RCD) looks like it’s gasping for breath.  The State House News Service reported earlier this week that the group “owes consultants, lawyers and supporters about $440,000 and has less than $11,000 in cash.”  An RCD spokesman, David Guarino, put a brave face on that body of red ink.  “While we always knew we would be out-spent by the deep-pocketed casino bosses who wrote two checks to fund the first $1.7 million of their campaign, we are encouraged by the steady growth in support for stopping the casino mess,” said Guarino, a principal of Melwood Global.  RCD reportedly owes $36,000 to Guarino’s firm alone.  Question 3 on the Nov. 4 ballot, if approved by the voters, would repeal the state’s casino law.  If voters reject Question 3 – and polls to date suggest it will be defeated -- we will look back at November of 2013 as RCD’s high-water mark.  That was when the group led a successful local referendum in East Boston against a casino at Suffolk Downs, a defeat that surely had some impact on the decision last week by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to grant the Eastern Massachusetts casino license to Wynn Resorts for its proposed casino in Everett.  The losing alternative was for a casino located entirely on the Revere side of Suffolk Downs.  The Suffolk Downs folks have said the final races at the track, probably ever, will be held on Saturday, Oct. 4.  I grew up in Revere.  My uncle was on the City Council when the track was approved and built in the Thirties.  My father worked a second job on Saturdays at the track for many years during racing season, counting money.  Though I never placed a bet there, I am sentimentally attached to the old place. I’ll be sad to see it go…but I’ll get over it quickly.  What will eventually arise on those 130 acres in Revere and East Boston now occupied by the racetrack will be so good as to make us wonder why we ever thought it was a good idea to have horses racing there.  With direct access to the MBTA’s Blue Line, it has huge upside potential as a mixed-used development with housing (apartments and condos), shopping and offices -- and room left over for plenty of green space.  It doesn’t strain the imagination, for example, to see a beautiful elevated pedestrian walkway/bicycle path bringing hundreds of residents and visitors from “Suffolk Downs Village” to nearby Revere Beach every day when the sun is shining.  By contrast, it’s hard to see something good and exciting being built on the Everett casino site, a former Monsanto chemical factory, if Steve Wynn isn’t in the picture because the site is severely contaminated and it will cost upwards of $30 million to clean it up.  Wynn has $1.6 billion on hand to build the Everett casino and can take the clean-up costs in stride in a way that a regular real estate developer can't do.  The Gaming Commission must have regarded the site clean-up as a big plus for Everett,  Charlestown and Somerville, and for the Mystic River and Boston Harbor, whose waters are threatened by toxins washed from the site by rainwater.  The commission must have given Wynn’s proposal extra credit for the enviro-clean-up.

CONCERN FOR YOUR LICENSE PLATE NEVER HIGHER.   Now that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has moved to all-electronic tolling (E-ZPass) on the Tobin Bridge and will move similarly on all toll roads in the state within the next two years, there’s a sharper focus on the condition of license plates.  Today, if you take the bridge over mystic waters from Chelsea to Boston and you don’t have an E-ZPass transponder in your window, a camera takes a picture of your plate, and you will soon receive in the mail a bill for the full toll.  This is the so-called Pay-By-Plate option.   A plate that cannot be recorded clearly and fully by a camera thus gives a motorist an edge over the state in the never-ending battle between revenue collectors and revenue payers.  So it’s no surprise that the State Police are stepping up enforcement of Section 6 of Chapter 90 of the Massachusetts General Laws, which requires that license plates be plainly and fully visible, and that the plate numbers and letters be legible from a good distance.  (Vehicle inspection stations have long been instructed to fail a vehicle if the plate cannot be read from 60 feet away.)  According to an August 5th MassDOT press release, state and local police issued approximately 4,000 citations for obscured and illegible plates during the first six months of this year.  “We want to warn motorists about the legible plate requirement and also encourage everyone to sign up for E-ZPass,” said Highway Administrator Frank DePaola at that time.  First-time violators of the visible/legible plate requirements are fined $35.  For a second offense, the fine is $75, and for the third, $150.

PORTENT OF A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY.  A man well known around Boston was in Washington, D.C., not long ago when Lou D’Allesandro, an East Boston native who’s had a long and distinguished political career in his adopted state of New Hampshire, personally invited him to a D’Allesandro fundraiser there that evening.  A football star at UNH in his younger days, D’Allesandro has been in the 24-member New Hampshire senate since the late-Nineties, serving a district centered in Manchester.  “You should come,” Lou told the man from Boston.  “There’s going to be a special guest, someone you’d definitely like to say hello to.”  “Who might that be?” asked the man.  Lou answered with one word: “Hillary.”  Seventeen months before the nation’s first presidential primary, Hillary Clinton is lending her star power to a fundraiser for one electorally secure New Hampshire legislator. She must be running for president -- coyly running, but running, running, running.

It Hurts to Lose a Seat in Congress. But after the Hurt Comes the Relief Package

Thursday, September 18, 2014

I have never met John Tierney.  I have never had a reason to ask for a meeting with him or a member of his staff for one of our clients. Tierney holds a federal office, United States Representative, and we do most of our work at the state and municipal levels of government.

However, I happen to know a lot of persons who know Tierney or have dealt with him on various matters through the years.  He’s been in the Congress since 1998. They all say Tierney’s a good, down-to-earth person, a man you can trust, a guy who delivers on what he tells you.  They also say he’s easy to take, no fathead.

I take as Exhibit A of Tierney’s “good guy-ness” that young, fresh-faced, sincere, teetotaling Joe Kennedy the Third was out campaigning for him just a little while ago.  Kennedy didn’t owe Tierney anything.  Nor did he need him to keep moving up the ladder.

As everyone who follows politics knows, the voters of the Sixth Massachusetts District gave Tierney the boot nine days ago.  He lost the Democratic nomination for re-election to his House seat to Seth Moulton.  The margin of defeat was decisive.
Today, September 18, as Tierney celebrates his sixty-third birthday, he is likely reflecting upon both his past and his future.  Unlike a lot of persons his age who’ve been forced from a job, he has some good options for future employment.  He’s a member of the bar and could restart his private law practice in Salem, his hometown, without much difficulty.  He could also do what a lot of former lawmakers do these days: become a lobbyist.  Or he could simply decide to retire when his term’s up.  He could do what Al Pacino, age 73, said in a recent article in the New Yorker he has no interest in doing: “Smell the golf balls.”

Tierney qualifies for the kind of pension and other retirement benefits that the vast majority of Americans will never attain.*  By my rough, non-expert calculation, which is based on the average annual salary for a U.S. representative, $172,443, and on Tierney’s 16 years in the Congress, he could collect a federal pension amounting to $49,663 every year for the rest his life.
The average 63-year-old man in the U.S. today can expect to live to age 84, according to the Social Security Administration.  If Tierney starts collecting his federal pension upon leaving office in January and if he lives for 84 years, his total pension income would come to $1,042,923, (21 times $49,663).

It’s also possible that Tierney qualifies for monthly payments from Social Security and from a federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). 

If, upon taking office in January, 1998, Tierney had joined the TSP, the federal government would have contributed the equivalent of 1 percent of his salary to his account every year whether or not Tierney himself made contributions to it.  If Tierney has contributed, the government would have equally matched those contributions, up to 5 percent, every year.
So, for example, if Tierney contributed 5 percent of his annual gross salary to a TSP in 2013, his personal contribution would have amounted to $8,622, (based on the average annual salary of U.S. reps), and Uncle Sam would have matched that contribution and added another 1 percent -- the “give-away” portion built into the system.  His accumulated retirement savings for just last year would have, in that scenario, totaled $18,968.73.

Don’t forget health coverage. 
As a retired Congressman, Tierney may obtain insurance for him and his wife for the rest of their lives through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that fewer than one in five persons working in the private sector today qualify for a pension; thirty years ago, that situation was reversed: more than four in five qualified.
It’s tough to lose an election.  Given the way so many voters said afterward that Tierney had been around long enough and that it was time for a new face, his defeat on September 9 was no doubt particularly painful. 

I’ve heard former elected officials describe their losses as a kind of “public death.”  Think about it.  The average person who gets downsized doesn’t have to get up the next morning to find his picture on the front page of the Boston Globe.
I wish John Tierney the best.  I won't hold it against him if he takes all the pension money, retirement account payouts, Social Security checks, and health coverage he’s entitled to by law.  I would not have the necessary wealth, nor would I be so self-less or patriotic, as to refuse those things if I was in his place.

On balance, we have to say that the electorate is a kindly and generous beast.  Else why would it countenance so much relief to those who must endure the demise of their public lives?
*Members of Congress, representatives and senators alike, need to serve only five years in order to qualify for a pension.






Suddenly, It Seems, an Ex-Selectman Is on Verge of Becoming State Treasurer

Friday, September 12, 2014

Politics is a strange and wonderful thing.  Consider that the last and only time Deb Goldberg held elective office was from 1998 to 2004 when she served on the Brookline board of selectmen, and that she’s now about eight weeks away from being elected State Treasurer, a constitutional office -- annual salary: $125,000 -- that will put her in charge of about $46 billion in public assets.  It’s a situation that evokes John F. Kennedy’s observation to the effect that “Anyone who would discount the importance of politics ought to consider that it was politics that took a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy and in fourteen years made him commander-in-chief.”

No doubt there were folks besides Goldberg and her family and friends who saw her victory coming this past Tuesday in the race for the Democratic nomination for treasurer, but I was not among them.  Even after she received the most votes for the nomination at the party’s June 14 convention, Godlberg’s candidacy never much figured in my thoughts -- yet another illustration of my nearly fatal lack of perspicacity. Oh, well.
At 7:00 p.m. on June 14, as the Democrat convention limped to a close, the party decided not to bestow its endorsement for Treasurer on Goldberg because she was one of three candidates who had received at least 15% of the convention votes, the threshold for getting on the primary election ballot.  Goldberg won 38.9% of the delegates' votes that day, while Wayland State Representative Tom Conroy and Andover State Senator Barry Fine gold took 33.9% and 27.1%, respectively.

The last poll I saw, on Friday, September 5, in the Boston Globe’s nifty, new “Capital” section, had Finegold leading, with the support of 21% of survey respondents, followed by Goldberg at 15% and Conroy at 14%.  Four days before the election, in other words, the region’s premier news organ put Goldberg one percentage point ahead of the person who ended up last in that particular race. 
Here are the primary vote totals: Goldberg, 202,077 (42.7%); Finegold, 149,188 (31.5%); Conroy, 121,802 (25.7%).

Goldberg, who is 60 years old, is nothing if not a portrait of the power of persistence.  After leaving the select board in 2004, she ran in 2006 for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor and finished second in a three-way contest behind then-Worcester Mayor Tim Murray.  She waited almost eight years to emerge from political hibernation on February 27 of this year and announce for treasurer.  It’s fair  to say that, at that point, her profile was noticeably lower than that of Senator Finegold, who’d been kind of a big deal in the Merrimack Valley for at least a decade, and of Representative Conroy, who’d attracted statewide attention in 2012 during an unsuccessful-and-ultimately-aborted campaign for the Democrat nomination for U.S. Senate, a prize ultimately taken by Elizabeth Warren, the bane of Scott Brown’s existence.
Goldberg’s treasureship is an almost-but-not-quite-accomplished fact.  She faces a Republican opponent in November: Michael Heffernan, a financial services professional from Wellesley, one of the few places in the world with real estate prices in the Brookline range.  But just by being a Democrat on the ballot in Massachusetts, Goldberg has to be rated a prohibitive favorite.

Goldberg’s background suggests she won't have much trouble with the duties of chief state financial officer: she has a bachelor’s from Boston University, a law degree from Boston College, and a master’s in business from Harvard.  More tellingly, she’s from the immigrant family that launched Stop and Shop, the largest chain of grocery stores in New England; the Goldbergs are an accomplished lot.  
One day, we should expect to see Treasurer Goldberg running for governor.  That is what treasurers in Massachusetts do.  (Apparently, there’s plenty of time on that job for dreaming and scheming.)

Goldberg will be bucking the odds if/when she goes for governor.  The last four treasurers -- Steve Grossman, Tim Cahill, Shannon O’Brien and Joe Malone – have all run for governor, and each, in his or her turn, has suffered defeat.
Yet Goldberg now has a credible chance of becoming governor.  If that happens in 2018, she will have made the jump from selectman to governor in less than 15 years. 

She deserves more than one ovation for putting herself in such a neat position.