A Losing Campaign for an Office that Gets No Respect Need Not Be a Ticket to Oblivion

Friday, January 30, 2015

He was on the statewide ballot less than three months ago and already most voters have forgotten him.  He could remain forever in obscurity or emerge again in a flash to seek high office.  You can’t count him totally out.

I’m talking of course about Stephen Kerrigan of Lancaster, the most recent Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor.
There’s an old saying in politics: “When you’re out, you’re out.”  It’s meant to convey how much your life changes when you lose an election. For example:

On Monday, Nov. 3, Kerrigan was a young (43), rising star on the political horizon. Everywhere he went that day, people flattered him and laughed a little hard at his jokes for the simple reason he might be at the right hand of the next Governor.
On Wednesday, Nov. 5, he was the guy from the sticks that scraped and hustled all his life to get to the big show and had the bad luck, when he got there, to be paired with Martha Coakley. People told him a little too insistently what a great race he’d run, then said to themselves “Poor Steve” as they walked away.

Kerrigan was out.  Finished.  Forgettable. Gone.
Ditto for Martha Coakley. 

Politics is a brutal business; losing hurts badly for a long time.
Coakley and Kerrigan lost to Charlie Baker and Karyn Polito by 40,165 votes on Tuesday, Nov. 4.  If they’d managed to flip 20,083 of those votes, they’d have won.

The total number of votes in the governor election was 2,158,326, including write-ins and votes for independent and third-party candidates. One percent of that total is 21,583.
Less than 1% of the participating voters denied Coakley/Kerrigan the opportunity to govern the Commonwealth.   

The duo did very well, just not well enough.  Their defeat, nevertheless, was sufficient to end the political career of Coakley at age 61.  Due to her previous loss to Scott Brown in the special U.S. Senate election of 2010, she’s like one of those talented fighters who has lost two heavyweight championship bouts in a row.
People love you and all, but no one wants to promote your next match.

Kerrigan falls somewhere else:  he’s in the glimmer-of-hope category.
You can argue that Kerrigan has a future in politics on account of his strong showing in the September Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, where he collected just over 50% of the votes (222,562) in a three-man field.  He bested Leland Cheung, 29.3% (128,645), and Michael Lake, 19.6% (86,006).  Your argument is bolstered by Kerrigan’s 10 years on the staff of the late Ted Kennedy and his national Democratic Party credentials: he was chief of staff for Obama’s first presidential inaugural committee, and president/CEO of the committee running Obama’s second inaugural.

Those who doubt that Kerrigan has political prospects note that the only elections he has won have been for the Lancaster Board of Selectmen.  They point out that he failed miserably when trying to get elected to the House of Representatives in 2008.  Also, he has no base, they cry.  Kerrigan is from a small town in a thinly populated part of the state; he’s not a mayor, a legislator, a county official or  even a regional school committeeman.
Back to the boxing analogy. 

If Kerrigan were a boxer and you were his manager, here’s what you might be telling him now, re: making the right move at the right time:
You did great in your first major contest: 50% of the vote in a three-man election was awesome.  It showed that you can connect with all kinds of people and win their support.  Now, you could run for governor in 2018; in some respects, you’re the Democratic heir apparent, the future of the party.  But if you didn’t get the nomination, your time in statewide politics would be over, and if you won the nomination but lost the final election, your time in statewide politics would be over.  I recommend a race for sheriff or state senator, something where there’s a high probability of success.  Do well in a job like that for four or six years, and you’d be set to run statewide again, say for treasurer, auditor or secretary of state.  From there, it’s a short leap to governor.  You could be running everything in Massachusetts by the time you’re in your early-fifties!



All Hail that Unique Incubator of Politicians: Your Humble Local Funeral Home

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I’m surprised more funeral directors don’t run for the legislature.  It seems like a perfect meshing of private and public occupations.

Many funeral directors are well suited and well situated for the life of a public office holder.  They have endless, albeit sad, opportunities to forge strong relationships with local families. They get to greet hundreds of their townsmen on a typical night “working the door.” They have no fixed work schedules, meaning they can dash off in the middle of the day for, say, a social at the senior center or a meeting of the Kiwanis.  And they often find themselves with big chunks of downtime, which are ideal for doing favors, making phone calls, schmoozing at the coffee shop, or coaching youth sports teams.
Young Joseph Ruggiero of the Ruggiero Family Memorial Home in East Boston obviously believes this is a recipe for success.  He’s running for the state rep seat vacated by Carlo Basile when Carlo became chief secretary to our new Governor, Charlie Baker.

In this race, Ruggiero has the zesty support of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.  “He worked morning, noon and night for my campaign (in 2013),” Walsh told the State House News Service last week when proclaiming his endorsement of Ruggiero.  “I’m a loyal person and I also know he’d make a great state representative.”
Walsh carried East Boston by 66 votes, so the mayor has to be thinking, without Joe, I might have bought the farm over there. Do not be surprised if the rep election is similarly close.  There are four other Democrats besides Ruggiero in the race, two of whom have strong ties to East Boston legislators.  Another candidate has worked for the E.B. city councilor.

It’s a time-honored American tradition, especially in our cities:  funeral directors use their businesses as springboards to public office, while office holders use funeral homes to keep their political stock high. 
That phenomenon was nicely illustrated in an obituary published January 9 in the Chicago Sun-Times and picked up by other news outlets around the country: “Celene Siedlecki, Ran One of Chicago’s Oldest Funeral Homes.”  The late Mrs. Siedlecki was in the third generation of the family that continues to run Thomas McInerney’s Sons Funeral Home, founded in 1873. 

“The family funeral home was so well-known,” the obituary noted, “that Mike Royko singled it out in ‘Boss,’ his biography of Mayor Richard J. Daley, when he wrote of the mayor’s devotion to evening wakes, ‘part of political courtesy and his culture.’ “
Mrs. Siedlecki’s son, Charles, was quoted as saying, “It was very common to see Mayor Daley here, the first Mayor Daley.  He would never miss a wake.  He would buzz in with his entourage and bodyguards, and he wouldn’t stay long, but he never missed a wake.”

You should look up this tribute to Mrs. Siedlecki, and to McInerney’s, not least for the pleasure of reading the poem in it that begins, “Bring out the lace curtains and call McInerney; I’m nearing the end of my life’s pleasant journey.” It may be found at:  http://chicago.suntimes.com/obituaries-obituaries/7771/279818/xsiedlecki
One funeral director who was dear to me, the late Joseph A. Curnane of Everett, was active in politics his entire life, serving for years on the local school committee, as well as on the housing authority.  (As the publisher of the Everett Leader Herald and News Gazette, he was also known to practice an occasionally lethal form of political journalism.)  

Curnane possessed a political mind of extraordinary breadth and sharpness, a fact recognized by no less an authority than John F. Kennedy, who had him manage his 1960 presidential campaign in Maryland.  This entailed uniting the warring Democratic factions in Baltimore, a nearly impossible task for a carpetbagger from Massachusetts. (Curnane succeeded; Kennedy carried Maryland.)
Once, when he was reminiscing with me about his years with JFK, Curnane smiled and recounted the time he was in a gathering of Kennedy hands and someone mentioned that more than a few of them had gone to Harvard.

“Not me,” Curnane piped up.
“Why, where did you go, Joe?” someone asked.

“New England Institute of Embalming,” he answered.  Everyone had a good laugh, of course.

There’s no formal schooling that could have produced or diminished my father-in-law’s genius-level political IQ -- although funeral home downtime undoubtedly played a part in the flourishing of that gift.   







Bulger's Old Antagonist, Accused of Wrongdoing in Civil Suit, Seizes the Initiative

Thursday, January 8, 2015

When Alan Dershowitz, emeritus professor of law at Harvard, was accused in a recent civil action of having had sexual relations with a teenage girl, my first thought was, what does Bill Bulger think of this? 

Does Bulger wish he was still in office, I wondered, so that he could make some sly and cutting references to the accusation from the rostrum of the Massachusetts Senate, or has he mellowed in retirement to the point where he could not care less about the trouble besieging his one-time bitter adversary?
Most of us will never learn the answers to those questions because Bulger, who served as Senate President for 18 years, is unlikely to issue a statement on the matter or ring up a reporter to chat about it.    

If you need a reminder of the bad blood that existed – and probably still exists -- between Dershowitz and Bulger, consider the following excerpt from a blog post by the professor, which appeared on the web site of Boston magazine on July 8, 2011 under the headline, “Dershowitz: With Bulger Brothers, the Cover-Up Continues”:
“When Billy was the most powerful political figure in Boston, corruption permeated every aspect of public life, from the FBI, to federal prosecutors, to the state judiciary, to Beacon Hill, to building inspectors, to the State Police.  Everyone – from governors, to justices of the state’s highest court – kowtowed to ‘The President,’ which in Boston meant Billy Bulger.”

Somehow I missed most of that crime wave.  Perhaps it’s time the feds investigated Bulger’s role in the rise of Al Qaeda and the decline of the glaciers?

Well, you don’t have to love that unique Dershowitz style or agree with everything that comes out of his mouth to appreciate his spirited response to the allegation he’d taken indecent liberties with a minor.
That claim was made in a motion filed last week in a civil case in Florida involving new allegations against Jeffrey E. Epstein, a New York money manager who, according to the New York Times, pleaded guilty several years ago to soliciting prostitution.  Dershowitz once served on Epstein’s legal team.

The motion, part of a civil case brought against Epstein, claimed that Epstein had ordered an underage woman in his retinue to have sex with several men, including Prince Andrew of England and Dershowitz.
Buckingham Palace issued a prompt denial on behalf of the Prince. And Dershowitz denied it with equal swiftness in direct conversations with reporters, while adding an extra twist, something I’d never seen before in situations like this: he declared his intention to go after the lawyers who filed the motion.

“They are lying deliberately, and I will not stop until they’re disbarred,” Dershowitz said in a phone interview with the New York Times.
It was his intention, Dershowitz told the Times on January 2, to initiate disbarment proceedings the following week against the lawyers who filed the motion, Bradley J. Edwards, who practices in Florida, and Paul G. Cassell, a former federal judge and a law professor at the University of Utah.

Lawyers are supposed to have reasonable grounds to believe something is true before they put it in a lawsuit.  They don’t have to know for sure it’s true, but they have to have formed a professional judgment it could have happened the way their client and/or witnesses say it did.   
In pursuing the disbarment of Edwards and Cassell, Dershowitz would likely want to have the pair deposed, so they’d have to answer questions under oath on how they came to the conclusion that Dershowitz had had sex with the underage woman. 

On Tuesday, there was a new wrinkle in the case: Edwards and Cassell filed a defamation suit against Dershowitz in a Florida state court, claiming he had damaged their reputations by accusing them of “intentionally lying in their filing (of the motion).” Dershowitz, they complained, had “initiated a massive public media assault” on their reputations and characters.
Edwards and Cassell accuse Dershowitz of taking sexual advantage of a teenager – basically of being a sleazebag -- and they’re outraged when he, in turn, accuses them of lying.  That’s kind of rich, to say the least.

It’s easy to rip someone’s face off in the initial document that launches a civil lawsuit. Plaintiffs’ attorneys tend to paint the worst possible picture of a defendant at the outset, presumably to instill in that person: (a) a fear of how bad the case could get if it ever goes to trial, and (b) a desire to consider an early out-of-court settlement.
And when a lawsuit hits the newspapers, defendants usually clam up.  They say “no comment” to the newshounds who knock on their doors, they make themselves “unavailable” for any comment at all, or they let their lawyers speak for them, but all the lawyers say is, “I’ve advised my client not to speak on these matters because they are now before a court of law,” adding, primly, “We’re not going to try this case in the press.”

That’s what made Dershowitz’s response so refreshing.  Not only did he personally come forth to deny unequivocally any wrongdoing, he also called out the lawyers for the other side.  He stood before the world and told his tormentors, I’m coming for your law tickets, boys.  I’m shutting you down!
I probably would not count myself among the fans of Dershowitz.  He’s too scorched-earth-all-the-time for me. But I like the way he has jumped fearlessly into this game of Career Russian Roulette.  Yesterday, he was quoted in the Boston Globe as saying, “In the end, someone will be disbarred.  Either it will be me or the two lawyers.  In the end, someone’s reputation is going to be destroyed: either mine or theirs…I’m thrilled they sued me.”