If Birmingham Had Won 2002 Nomination, Romney's Life Might Have Changed Big Time

Friday, February 27, 2015

Tom Birmingham made the news this week when the word got around that he’s joining the Pioneer Institute as a senior fellow in education.

Birmingham, a former president of the Massachusetts Senate, is a lifelong Democrat, and the Pioneer Institute is traditionally a haven for Republicans, so the story was shot through with the cliché of the “strange bedfellows.”
I was not much surprised by the news.  Birmingham’s mind is extraordinarily capacious and subtle.

“It was clear to me that we have a substantial area of common ground on education issues that does not extend to a variety of other issues where we have to agree to disagree,” Birmingham said of his relationship with the institute in an interview with the State House News Service.   
If Birmingham thought he could do something to elevate the quality of public education in Massachusetts even a tiny notch or two by joining the conservative scrum at the Pioneer Institute, he would not have dithered over the offer.

The Pioneer Institute’s newest recruit is a decisive fellow, indeed.  Otherwise, he never would have ended his Senate career at its apogee in 2002 to try to gain the Commonwealth’s highest office. 
It is worth considering that, if Birmingham’s gubernatorial quest had succeeded, Mitt Romney’s two presidential campaigns would not have happened, and the recent history of presidential politics would be quite different from what it is.

Starting in 1990, Birmingham was in the Senate for 12 years.  Kind of remarkably for modern times, he was president of the Senate for half of the time he served there.
No doubt, Birmingham learned a great deal about legislating from his patron and predecessor, Bill Bulger, but he obviously ignored the lesson on longevity.  Bulger’s presidency lasted for 17 years.

For Birmingham in 2002, it was up or out.  This is a philosophy more should adhere to.  The courage of it becomes a man.
In 2002, Birmingham was one of five Democrats who sought the nomination for governor.  The others were State Treasurer Shannon O’Brien; Robert Reich, an academic and former U.S. Labor Secretary; State Senator Warren Tolman; and Steve Grossman, a businessman and a former chair of the national Democratic Party, (and, until early last month, our state treasurer).

Birmingham came in third in the primary, fewer than 6,000 votes behind second-place finisher Reich, and far behind the winner, O’Brien.  If Reich had not been in the race, I believe Birmingham could have taken the nomination from O’Brien. 
Reich was the darling of the liberals that year.  Had he not been in the race, most of Reich’s votes would have gone to the next most liberal person in the race, Birmingham.  Reich’s vote total, 185,315, added to Birmingham’s, 179,703, would have produced 365,018 votes, a number far beyond O’Brien’s, 243,039.

O’Brien was a good candidate but ultimately did not match up well against Romney.  She had a big early lead in the polls and faded at the end, losing by nearly five percentage points.
Birmingham certainly would have had a tough time with Romney, who looked on the surface more like a governor than he.  And Romney would have bloodied Birmingham on account of his status as a protégé of Bulger and a State House insider.

Yet Birmingham would have prevailed, in my opinion, because (a) he’s Chelsea tough and can take a punch, (b)  he is every bit as smart as Romney, if not smarter, (c) he is much more knowledgeable about politicking and governing than Romney, (d) he has the gift of being able to explain on the stump why a principles-driven, activist government is better for the average person  -- Birmingham’s scarily articulate when worked up -- and  --most important -- (e) Birmingham’s genuine passion for action and leadership would have formed an appealing contrast to Romney’s cool, superior, master-of-management style.      
Romney wasn’t governor two years when it became obvious he was mainly interested in the job because it could be a stepping stone to the presidency.  There’s nothing terribly wrong or unusual with that.  If wild ambition were a hanging offense, we’d have to install a permanent gallows on the grounds of every state capitol.

This may qualify as a stupendous delusion, but I’ll always believe that the candidacy of Robert Reich, a liberal’s liberal, opened the floodgates for the national ambitions of Mitt Romney, who presented himself expediently as a “severe conservative” when he was actually a severe moderate, an act of contortion that likely spelled the death of his oval office dream.  
The Pioneer Institute describes itself as an “independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization.”  It says that its mission is “to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.”

Birmingham will be good for the Pioneer Institute, and vice versa. 





Can't Take Excitement, Post-Snowpocalypse? Don't Dare Read a Blogster's Miscellany

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

YOU SAVE MONEY ON T BUT LOSE YOUR MIND:  Last August, the American Public Transportation Association issued a press release saying the average Bostonian who used public transportation to get to work, rather than operating a car for that purpose, saved $1,087 per month and $13,045 per year.  Given the recent nonfeasance of the MBTA, the average Bostonian can be forgiven if she says, “Please, Lord, let me stop saving money this way!”

IF YOU HAVE TO ASK HOW MUCH OLYMPICS COST, YOU CAN'T AFFORD ITThe Boston Globe reports that organizers of Boston’s 2024 Olympics bid “are wooing wealthy business executives to join an elite group of private financial donors known as the ‘Founders 100’ ” and that getting into the group will cost an individual at least $50,000 and a company at least $100,000, (“Olympics group calls on wealthy executives,” 1-23-15).  Some experts on philanthropy in the Hub subsequently opined that fundraising for a putative Olympics would not have an adverse impact on giving to other, more established worthy causes. Apparently, these prospective donors are so well off that they have multiple checks of the $50,000 variety to toss around. Not one of them ever says to the president of small non-profit who comes knocking on his door, “Sorry, I’m all tapped out for this year.”  Sure.
EXAGGERATE IF YOU WANT TO RESONATEWho knew you can’t believe someone who sends you an email looking for a donation?  A recent Harvard faculty working paper (whatever that is) found that fundraising appeals from political candidates were more effective when they told recipients they were behind in the polls.  A news release on the working paper provided this example of a “message that resonated” with prospective donors: “BREAKING: A new SurveyUSA Poll has Democrats LOSING to Rick Scott in Florida, 41-42!!!  Now is the moment to DETHRONE the king of voter suppression and his allies in key battlegrounds.”  The authors of the working paper said, “Emails emphasizing that the preferred candidate was barely losing raised 60 percent more money than emails emphasizing that he was barely winning.”

NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE YOU, AMERICA, LIKE RUDY: Do you recall how, in 2002, when Mitt Romney was running for governor, his handlers brought in former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to put a shine on the campaign, and how Giuliani had just the right touch with the man (and the woman) on the street, semi- famously responding to a North Ender who offered to buy him and Mitt a cannoli by wrapping his arm around the guy and saying, “No, let me buy you a cannoli,” while Mitt stood awkwardly by, seemingly anxious about messing up the campaign schedule?  Now “America’s Mayor” has become the pol with the opposite of touch: he infamously told a dinner gathering in Wisconsin last week, “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America.  He doesn’t love you.  And he doesn’t love me.  He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” No doubt those words sent a jolt of excitement through every Democratic operative in the land.  Obama will be sending Rudy a love letter every week if he keeps talking like that.
NEVER MIND THE AQUIFER, WHAT ABOUT HIS LUNGS?  Speaking of the Globe, did you happen to see the story last month about the folks on Cape Cod who are up in arms about NStar using herbicides to kill vegetation below its power lines, (“Cape residents protest NStar’s use of herbicides,” 1-20-15)?  The director of Protect Our Cape Cod Aquifer was quoted as saying, “NStar’s cocktail of herbicides, with their unknown long-term side effects, has no place on Cape Cod with its fragile environment.”  The story was accompanied by a photo of a worker spraying herbicides from a big device strapped to his back.  He wasn’t wearing a mask or any protective clothing that I could see.  I surmised that (a) the worker was a person of at least normal intelligence, and (b) the “cocktail” he was lugging around can’t be all that toxic if he’s willing to breathe in its particles all the live-long day.

OUR VALUES NOT STRENGTHENED BY ANONYMITY:  Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Robert Cordy was right: Being a citizen means there are times when you have to stand up and be counted.  Formerly Governor William Weld’s general counsel, Cordy authored the opinion for the majority in a case decided in favor of the Boston Globe, which had sued to obtain the names of jurors in a murder trial.  Access to information about jurors, he wrote, “promotes confidence in the judicial system by, among other things, providing an independent nongovernmental verification of the impartiality of the jury process, and educating the public as to their duties and obligations should they be called for jury service.”  Chief Justice Ralph Gants dissented.  “We have had few instances in this Commonwealth where jurors have been threatened or harassed after their verdict, but many jurors fear the possibility, especially where they reside in or near the communities of the litigants or the litigants’ families,” wrote Gants.  “I also fear that the creation of a juror list to be included in the case file may, over time, diminish the fairness and impartiality of jurors.”  We ask young men and women to risk their lives in the defense of our nation and its values.   Is our state asking too much if it publishes our names should we be called to serve in relation to the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution?
FIVE YEARS LATER, A SLAP STILL STINGS: In a guest column in CommonWealth magazine, former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Jim Aloisi pulled the curtain back on a sharp disagreement he had with the Senate chairman of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation in 2009, (“Aloisi’s fixes for the T: Get rid of MassDOT board, 2-11-15”).  “The MassDOT board is a vestige of a political battle, not of thoughtful public policy,” Aloisi wrote.  “The 2009 Transportation Reform bill that I filed with the legislature did not include a MassDOT board – that was an invention of the Senate, and its former transportation chair, Steven Baddour of Methuen.  He and I were feuding about my opposition to his ‘reform before revenue’ approach to the bill, an approach that I feared (rightly) would lead to reform without much meaningful net new revenue.  Creating the board was meant as a slap to me; its entire rationale for being was a way to reduce my power as secretary.  Even after I received assurances from both the then House and Senate chairs that the secretary would be on the board as an ex-officio member, that did not happen.  The change in the law placing the secretary on the board took place several years later, after it became clear that the construct enacted into law in 2009 freezing out the secretary was untenable.”  The art of governing is only made better when a public servant, or a former public servant, tells us candidly  what happened when an important piece of legislation was created -- or rather, his version of what happened.  I hope Steve Baddour will now avail himself of the CommonWealth franchise to share his version -- or to slap back, as the case may be. 



Revere Does Not Have to Sit Still for Being a Cog in the Olympic Dream Machine

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Right now, after enduring weeks of cruel and unusual punishment on the rolling gulag that is the MBTA, I kind of like the idea of Boston hosting the Olympics.  It might be the only reason we’ll ever fix the T.

On the other hand, I will with any luck be retired by the time the Olympics rolls around in 2024. By then, my concerns about wait times at Oak Grove Station should be strictly academic. 
Also, how can I embrace the idea of a Boston Olympics as long as the Games seem to be at odds with the best interests of the City of Revere, where I was raised and where my heart lies?

The Boston 2024 Committee is eyeing Suffolk Downs as a back-up site for the Olympic Stadium if its first choice, some land off the expressway in South Boston, falls through. 
I guess that means the folks in Revere who are hoping to turn the no-longer-necessary racetrack into something new and exciting, something that capitalizes on the site’s proximity to the Blue Line and Revere Beach, something welcoming and good for hard-working families, something that permanently widens the tax base, will have to put their hopes on indefinite hold.  Or maybe not.

If you’re Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo, you are probably not going to allow one of your city’s biggest potential assets to lie fallow because persons who will never live and vote in Revere might need it to realize their dreams of international glory.
Mayor Rizzo at least has to consider the possibility of scoring political points at the expense of outsiders who presume to decide the best way to use some prime real estate in his city.

It would be easy for Mayor Rizzo to convene a news conference and announce that (a) the city is working closely with the owners of Suffolk Downs to come up with the smartest and most productive new uses for the site, (b) it is impossible to determine at this time if an Olympic Stadium would be either smart or productive, and (c) you are recommending that the owners of Suffolk Downs avoid any agreement with Boston 2024 until all viable proposals are carefully considered and compared to one another.   He might want to throw in a comment to the effect of: “The chairman of the Boston 2024 Committee is welcome to call our City Planner at any time.”
Meanwhile in East Boston, a group of activists has promulgated a “vision statement” for their community that addresses the redevelopment of Suffolk Downs, a good portion of which lies in East Boston.

The statement, entitled “Overarching Principles for Development in East Boston,” is the work of East Boston 2020, a group mainly composed of elements that defeated a pro-Suffolk Downs casino referendum in November, 2013.  It contains “five principles by which all future significant development proposals in East Boston – and Suffolk Downs in particular – should be measured.”  Those principles are: permanent job creation, community inclusion and a transparent process, environmental impact, transit-oriented development, and economic feasibility.
East Boston 2020 is fortunate to have at its disposal the energy and intellectual firepower of Attorney Jim Aloisi, an East Boston native and a former Secretary of Transportation in the Governor Patrick administration.  He was quoted in a recent press release from the group, (“Olympic Stadium at Suffolk Downs? Any Plan for the Site Must Meet Community Principles, Approval,” 2/2/15), as follows:

“Although Suffolk Downs is privately owned, it is supported by a highway and transit system owned and operated by the state and paid for by the taxpayers of Massachusetts.  It is only fair and just that any major development on its grounds be thoroughly vetted by local citizenry and surrounding communities.  We hope these principles, which express a positive and forward-looking vision for the future of this site and community, will be embraced by a broad spectrum of state and local decision makers.  Ours is a constructive vision, and we are eager to engage with those who appreciate the potential for this site to bring transformative change to the community, the city and the region.”
Long before the great athletes of all nations parade into an Olympic stadium in Massachusetts, average citizens will troop into meeting after meeting to “thoroughly vet” the sites proposed for the various Olympic events.  That will be as it should be. 

Greece gave the world both the Olympics and democracy.  Of those two wonderful ideas, it’s not hard to say which is the most important.