Blogster's Miscellany: a Fond Farewell, a Delayed Maiden Speech, and More!

Friday, March 16, 2018

FORRY FAREWELL, PART 1.  It’s been about a month since Linda Dorcena Forry left the Massachusetts Senate for the more remunerative pastures of John Fish’s Suffolk Construction Co. and already the State House seems a less exciting place.  Former Senator Forry, a proud daughter of Haiti, oozes charisma.  She’s got a smile and a laugh so good as to make a portrait of J. Edgar Hoover break into a grin.  When she goes out in public, men and women who want to be her friends form a line behind her. This past Valentine’s Day, when Forry gave her farewell speech in the House chamber, the place was filled with bold-faced names, including Governor Charlie Baker, former Governor Deval Patrick, former Senate President Therese Murray, State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Boston City Councilors Frank Baker and Ayanna Pressley, New England Council President (and former Dorchester rep) Jim Brett and Israeli Consul General Yahuda Yaakov.  “There is no one in this building with whom I can’t work or laugh with and find common ground,” said Forry.  “We have shown what’s possible when good people come together.  We can use more of this Massachusetts form of leadership across the country.”  I’ll drink to that. 

IN NO HURRY TO SPEECHIFY.  “Never speak when you can nod.”  That was the maxim of Martin Lomasney, a Democratic ward boss from the West End of Boston back when mostly poor folks lived there. Lomasney’s been dead since 1933.  It’s doubtful most politicians today have heard of him.  But I can’t help but wonder if Rep. Tackey Chan, D-Quincy, maybe has.  Chan, 44, worked for a number of years as a top legislative hand for former Senator and now Norfolk County DA Michael Morrissey and as an assistant district attorney before running for and winning the 2nd Norfolk House seat in 2010.  With his experience and drive, Chan was a mover in the House from the start.  In 2017, he became House chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.  Yet, it was not until last month, on Feb. 14, that Chan rose, at long last, to deliver his maiden speech on the House floor.  He devoted that speech to a forceful appeal for the enactment of House Bill 4232, An Act Removing Fees for Security Freezes and Disclosures of Consumer Credit Reports.  “With free credit freezes and thaws and lifts, there is a great savings for customers,” he said. “…I think we should be proud of the fact we’re able to address this in a timely manner, and tell people at home we’re creating a new consumer protection for everyone in the Commonwealth.”  On a roll call vote, H.4232 was promptly adopted.  House members gave Chan a sustained round of applause.  Then, as is customary upon the conclusion of a maiden speech, every representative came forward, shook Chan’s hand and congratulated him, both on his speech and the winning vote for his bill.  Maiden speeches have always been treated as a big deal.  It’s one of the many customs I love about the Massachusetts legislature.  I cannot recall there ever being a seven-year lag between a legislator taking office and making his maiden speech, but it’s probable there has been a similar or longer lag at some point in our state’s long history.  Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with that. Less talk can be a smart career move, if combined with a good brain for strategy and a good personality for alliance building, as Tackey Chan has shown us.

MUCH-NEEDED WORKER PROTECTIONS.  On Friday, March 9, Gov. Baker signed into law House Bill 3952, An Act to Further Define Standards of Employee Safety, which applies federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) workplace standards to municipal workers.  Good thing he did.  An estimated 400,000 workers are getting protected under this law.  It’s great the Commonwealth will be enhancing safeguards for municipal employees who handle many inherently risky tasks, like working on pipes in trenches.  And it would be even better if our state found a way to address a somewhat parallel situation involving commercial fishermen, who are not covered by any federal workplace safety mandates.  That’s right, OSHA stops at the shore.  The men and women employed in one of the world’s most dangerous industries lack workplace protections that have been taken for granted on land for decades.  Franklin Roosevelt’s Fair Labor Standards Act also does not apply to fishermen, meaning such good things as child labor laws and overtime rules do not apply to fishermen.  It’s not like there isn’t sufficient profit in the consumption of seafood to enable modern, reasonable protections for fishermen.  It’s just that the money does not trickle down to the persons who do the actual hard work of catching fish. While the seafood industry in Massachusetts is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry, the average fisherman makes $35,000 a year. Approximately 6,000 full- and part-time fishermen (or “harvesters” as they are often termed in official documents) support 90,000 jobs on land -- everything from seafood processors and delivery truck drivers to chefs and waitresses in seafood restaurants.  It’s about time you hugged a fisherman.

FORRY FAREWELL, PART 2. Former Senator Linda Dorcena Forry got her start in the legislature as chief of staff to former Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie in 1996.  In 2005, she won former House Speaker Tom Finneran’s House seat after Finneran left the legislature for a job in private industry, and she held the seat until 2013, when she won a special election in the 1st Suffolk Senate district, Jack Hart’s, Steve Lynch’s and Bill Bulger’s old bailiwick. It was nice that Forry, during her Feb. 14 farewell, acknowledged the support she received early on from former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, whose career in politics did not end well.  DiMasi’s wife, Debbie, was in the audience.  Said Forry, “I was fortunate to serve under Sal DiMasi.  Sal saw promise in a young woman from Dorchester.”  When Sal was holding all the cards, he treated people well, regardless of their status, rank or situation.

OLD WISDOM FOR NEW DIGITAL ERA. If you’ve heard this before, please bear with me.  I love this piece of Boston political folklore and am wont to recite it at odd moments.  The full “never speak when…” Martin Lomasney credo goes like this:  “Never write when you can speak. Never speak when you can nod.  Never nod when you can wink.”  Were he alive today, Lomasney would not ever be undone by the publication of an email or text tapped out late at night in a weak moment.

NO SUMMER VACAY FOR DEAN.  The longest-serving member of the House, Rep. Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park, will likely have two opponents when he stands for re-election in the Democratic primary this September: Gretchen Van Ness and Segun Idowu.  “The Dean,” as he is known to one and all in the lower branch, has been in the House, with only one two-year interruption, since 1973.  He’s now in his twenty-second two-year term and is on the outs with current House leadership.  Van Ness, a former head of the Women’s Bar Association, was dubbed “the patron saint of underdogs” in a 2006 profile in Boston Magazine.  Idowu served as an aide to former Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey and organized the Boston Police Camera Action Team in 2014 to promote the adoption of body cameras by the BPD. Neither Van Ness nor Idowu has ever held elective office but both are obviously fighters.  At the least, they’ll make it interesting for The Dean.

TAKE THAT, SNOOTY CONDO BOARDS. The Senate has moved to a third reading Senate Bill 1117, An Act Relative to Solar Drying of Laundry, meaning it is now one quick step away from passing in the upper branch.  Sponsored by Senator Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, the bill would authorize municipalities to enact laws preventing homeowners’ associations from barring clotheslines on their properties.  Clothes dryers may not be real energy hogs, but, in an era of climate change, every bit of carbon is worth keeping out of the atmosphere.  

GUV’S ENEMY: THE CALENDAR.  We’re entering the biannual hourglass phase of the legislative session, when time available for lawmaking is fast running out and everyone more or less acknowledges that a lot of good -- and maybe even quite necessary -- bills just won’t get done.  It’s about calendar math.  This is year two of the session, an election year for all legislative offices.  By law, the legislature must adjourn by July 31; no formal sessions of the House and Senate may be held after that.  In the less than five months remaining on the calendar, the legislature will be mainly occupied with formulating and passing a new state budget for Fiscal Year 2019 (July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019), and then dealing with overriding  gubernatorial vetoes of various budget items.  The annual budget process mercilessly crowds out other legislative business and priorities; however, the crowding out is especially problematical in the second year of the session because virtually all unaddressed bills die at midnight on July 31 of the second year.  This past Monday, March 12, at the end of a State House press conference promoting a bill to spur housing construction, Gov. Baker was asked by the State House News Service if he was concerned by the legislature's slow pace and frustrated by the lack of action on major bills he’s proposing.  Never one to pick a fight with a legislator, any legislator, Baker answered, “I fully expect that we’re going to have to push and advocate with our colleagues and others to try to get all of this stuff done over the course of the next four months, but the one thing I think we can all agree on is that there’s a tremendous amount of traffic and activity that takes place in the legislature in the last four months of the session, and we’re anticipating a big piece of that agenda will get done over the next 120 days.”  Translation: “Yes, the calendar is my enemy.  I don’t like my situation but it would only get worse if I tried to crack the whip on the legislature.”     

FORRY FAREWELL, PART 3.  Like any good, natural performer, former Senator Linda Dorcena Forry ended her farewell speech with a tantalizing hint of things to come.  “I’m excited to move into the private sector and join John Fish (as Vice President, Northeast Region, Diversity), but I will not be a stranger.  And I won’t promise I won’t be back some way, somehow.  You never know what tomorrow brings.  For the people! The people!”  According to the State House News Service, she choked up at that point and could not continue, whereupon everyone in the chamber stood and applauded.  Forry regained her composure and concluded thusly: “To the people I’ve been honored to represent, this is not a forever goodbye.  This is a time to say, ‘Thank you and I love you.’  Thank you and God bless.”  Always leave them wanting more, right?











Revocation of Casino License Would Punish 88% of (Non-Culpable) Owners

Friday, March 9, 2018

“Wynn Boston Harbor,” the name of the Las Vegas-style casino under construction now in Everett, is sinking faster than a gambling addict’s spirits.

Wynn Resorts founder Steve Wynn has been revealed as an alleged abuser of women and our governor and attorney general say the casino cannot possibly bear his name.  Countless women no doubt share that view with Governor Baker and AG Healey.
But if all Wynn Resorts had to do now was devise a new casino moniker, the folks running the show would be sitting prettier than a high roller in a penthouse suite.

With the Massachusetts Gaming Commission trying to determine if persons in the company hierarchy other than Wynn helped conceal Wynn’s reputed history of sexual misdeeds in its license application, Wynn Resorts could forfeit its right to do business here.
“A central question,” Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby has said, “is what did the (Wynn Resorts) board of directors and staff know, and when did they know it, about the settlement (with Wynn’s woman accuser) and the associated allegations.  That’s a critical point for us and the public of Massachusetts to know ASAP.”

Healy says, “I’m not convinced the company should have a license at all.”
Elaine Driscoll, gaming commission spokesperson, says, “Currently, all options are on the table.”

The tales of sexual abuse swirling around Wynn are being treated, as they should, with utmost seriousness.   Wynn Resorts, a publicly traded company, did the right thing in bouncing him.
License revocation by the state of Massachusetts is a whole other matter.

As bad and as reprehensible as Wynn’s behavior may have been, I don’t see how the commission can justify revoking his former company’s license at this advanced point in the development of the casino.  This betting mecca on the Mystic is on schedule to open in mid-2019. 
First, there’s the issue of ownership. Wynn holds only 12% of the stock in Wynn Resorts.  Punishing the many who own 88% because of the alleged actions of the one who owns 12% would not be fair to the 88%.  (It would be fair to compel Wynn to liquidate his stake in the company so that he can no longer profit from it, but that's a matter for the company and securities regulators to decide.)

Secondly, although Wynn was clearly in the wrong not to inform the gaming commission of his dealings with women who had accused him of abuse, too much has transpired in the development of the casino, too much money has been expended, too many lives have changed courses, and too many interlocking, far-reaching moves have been made since the casino was licensed in 2014 to turn the project on its head now. 
After years of planning, strategizing, investing, site preparation and building, we’re seeing the casino as the amazing project it was destined to be when Wynn Resorts committed to spending $2.4 billion dollars on it.  There’s never been anything like it on this scale in Massachusetts, and I say that as someone who never gambles and will set foot in the casino just once to satisfy my curiosity as to its excesses and spectacles.  We’re also seeing that Wynn, despite having been the project’s public face and its most persuasive salesman, was just one component of this complex, multi-year undertaking. 

By 2014, the project had achieved a life and a force all its own.  Had Wynn, who is 76, died in 2016, it would have gone on without him.  So should it now that he’s been dishonorably discharged.
Thirdly, if the commission takes back the Wynn Resorts license, forcing the company to sell the unfinished casino, what you’ll have is a fire sale.  In distress, the company would never get the price it would if it were selling an up-and-running casino at a time of its choosing.   Post-fire sale, can anyone doubt that Wynn Resorts would sue the Commonwealth for hundreds of millions in lost profits and damages?  Company shareholders would demand it.  One hell of a lawsuit it would be. If the state lost, we the taxpayers would be on the hook. Talk about a bad gamble.

I end with a question on requiring Wynn Resorts to ditch the “Wynn Boston Harbor” name: Is it the state’s business to tell businesses what to call themselves?
If Wynn Resorts makes the judgment that keeping Wynn’s name on its Massachusetts casino (and others) is good for business – and who’s to say it might not be, given we’re talking about enterprises founded on a vice and sustained by delusion and human weakness – I don’t believe the state has the right to deprive the company of its preferred label. (Remember, we’re living in Trump’s world now. Presidents can pay off porn stars and no one really cares.) 

If Wynn Resorts is willing to risk offending women and hurting its bottom line with a controversial name choice, who are we, the public in whose name our government acts, to say they can’t?