The Hill and the Hall – January, 2008

January 11, 2008

Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. It’s like TMZ on Beacon Hill, which makes Mitt Romney our Britney Spears this week.

The biggest story in the city this week happened up in New Hampshire, where former Governor Willard Romney was taken to the woodshed, and then forced to smile for the cameras and put the sunniest possible face on his presidential primary defeat: “There have been three races so far,” he deadpanned. “I’ve gotten two silvers and one gold — thank-you, Wyoming.” Two silvers and one gold, and good news all around? While you’re at it, why not scold us for forgetting Poland?

In truth, Romney spent years, and many millions, on a campaign strategy that hinged on overwhelming his opposition with money and organization in early primary states. It cost the governor upwards of $20 million of his own filthy lucre to lose the Iowa and New Hampshire (it turns out that buying $20 lottery tickets carries a better return on investment than vote-buying), and now he’s getting off the airwaves in South Carolina and Florida – two other early primary states Romney has invested heavily in to build a now-faltering organization. All Romney’s chips are now in Michigan – a state John McCain carried in 2000 and is currently leading in, and the site of dad George Romney’s infamous hand-holding march with Martin Luther King.

Before jetting off to Michigan, Romney swung by the Southie convention center, staying in town for just long enough to fleece some suckers for a few million. All the while, he lavished praise on his birth state (“For me, Michigan is personal. I’m not sure that I must win it, but I will win it”), while pointedly refusing to guarantee victory in Massachusetts. And no wonder. We all know how well familiarity suits Mitt.

With New Hampshire’s primary over and Massachusetts’s own election still weeks away, Beacon Hill politicians were free for, like, five minutes, to focus on the business of running the state. The most scintillating development was the state’s three chief budget-writers agreeing on a consensus revenue estimate to guide upcoming budget negotiations. No. Please. Keep your clothes on, and contain your excitement.

The announcement of the revenue figure ($20.987 billion, as if you cared) sets the stage for a considerably entertaining political bloodbath. It leaves the Commonwealth with a $1 billion-plus deficit, and lawmakers will be sorely tempted to close that deficit with the $800 million in free casino money Governor Deval Patrick is dangling in front of them. Senate Ways and Means Chair Steven Panagiotakos favors taking Patrick’s casino money because it’ll “help move the [gambling] debate.”

How will House Speaker Sal DiMasi react to this gun being leveled at his head? That’ll be the fun part.

Elsewhere on the Hill, Gov. Patrick unveiled plans to re-create the cabinet position of Education Secretary. He called education reform his “signature pursuit,” and began rallying his network of grassroots activists toward the cause.

For those keeping score at home, over the past twelve months, Patrick’s other signature pursuits included his troubled casino plan. And his Municipal Partnership Act. And the development of a clean energy economy. And his promotion of the biotech industry. And don’t forget about clean parks and shiny new bridges that won’t fall on anybody’s head. Please send spare Ritalin to: Governor Deval Patrick, State House, Boston, MA 02133.

Finally, over at City HallSteve Murphy and John Connolly managed to be sworn onto the Boston City Council without coming to blows. There’s time for that yet. The council reelected Maureen Feeney as the body’s president; Feeney then lobbed a grenade Mayor Menino’s way, calling for a one-day citywide summit on Boston’s many ills. To be held in the future Tom Menino Convention Center, no less.

Feeney’s announcement opens her up to wild speculation over her motives and future ambitions. The mayor pulled for her to dethrone Michael Flaherty last year because he was worried about Flaherty’s mayoral aspirations, while Feeney reportedly had her sites set on a job as city clerk.

No longer, it seems.

One City Hall insider called Feeney’s inaugural speech “very mayoral.” The council presidency has suited Feeney well – it has forced her to grapple with citywide issues, which, it is believed, may have her rethinking that whole not wanting to be mayor thing. The mayor is reportedly none too happy about these rumors; he “hates” Feeney’s summit idea, the insider says, “because it’s not his idea.” It doesn’t help that it’s Menino’s former chief of staff, Jim Rooney, offering Feeney space for this subversive little summit; Rooney and the mayor aren’t said to be on the best of terms.

We see conspiracies everywhere!

Other wild City Hall rumors to keep an eye on: We just swore in Maureen Feeney as president, but the jockeying to replace her next year is expected to begin in earnest. Feeney put term limits in place last year and, barring a rules change, can’t be president next year; whoever succeeds her will own a high-profile bully pulpit heading into the mayoral election.

Michael Flaherty was buoyed by topping the at-large ticket this past November, but he badly needs to recapture the council presidency. That may be easier said than done, as sources on the floor say Flaherty has lost, not gained, friends over the past year. The names that surface to challenge Flaherty will give great clues as to how the race to replace (more likely, to challenge) Menino will shape up.

Along those lines, all’s quiet on the Ralph Martin/Paul Grogan front. For now. Although, with Martin continuing to quietly feel around for support, and with the sizable bank account the former DA has managed to retain, that could change soon.

Don’t take your eyes off Marian Walsh‘s senate district, either. Rumors continue to persist that Walsh will land a job with the Patrick administration – possibly an appointment to the bench? Patrick largely passed on tapping legislators for jobs in his first year (he certainly didn’t want a slew of patronage-related press on top of an already rocky first year in office), but several observers believe that a number of legislators who supported Patrick will soon get their rewards. Walsh’s name is among the most prominent, and intriguing, being thrown out. Look at the names of the pols who live in Walsh’s district: city councilors Steve MurphyRob Consalvo, and John Tobin; State Rep. Mike Rush; even John Rogers, who may be on the outs with speaker DiMasi, or former city councilor Jerry McDermott, who recently moved from Brighton to Westwood, could conceivably make runs at the seat.

The only catch: any Boston politician would likely have to choose between running for Senate this year and running for mayor in 2009.

January 18, 2008

Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This week, the mayor raises a fortune while Sal DiMasi raises Cain.

Could next year’s mayoral race be over and done with in the next few weeks? Tom Menino sure hopes so. The mayor has been raising money at a frantic clip. He ended September with $120,000 in the bank and added over $650,000 to his coffers in the final three months of 2007.

And that’s only the beginning. A City Hall insider believes that Menino plans on following up his State of the City speech by announcing shortly that he has raised a heaping pile of cash in January, an overwhelming show of financial force that could knock mayoral aspirants out of the 2009 race before they have the chance to jump in.

How much are we talking? Our insider has heard that Hizzoner may have as much as $2 million on hand by the end of the month.

The mayor’s field operation has run like a Datsun on cinder-blocks in several recent elections, but the dude can still raise money like no other, and the prospect of being spent into oblivion might be enough to keep serious opponents at bay. Again.

That’s great news for the Mayor for Life, because there are few people inside City Hall who believe he can keep up this whole tough-on-the-unions charade much longer. Throughout Menino’s reign, he has shown a penchant for spitting out mean-sounding quotes for the papers, and then promptly folding to union demands, handing them massive pay raises for the indignity of being publicly dragged through the mud.

Last summer, he gave away residency to the cops for virtually nothing, and then threw in a large pay raise for the hell of it. That’s why you don’t see anybody in City Hall tripping over themselves to back up Menino in his current fight with the firefighters.

There’s a fear that after city council stands up and says the firefighters shouldn’t be demanding raises for the simple assurance that they’re not drunk and/or high on the job, the mayor will tire of the standoff and the council will be exposed to the union’s wrath.

“He’ll cave,” one observer gripes. “He always does.”

Budget hawks frequently decry the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority as a patronage-laden sacred cow. That’s why it’s so hilarious that the Pike’s bloated former boss, spy-cam enthusiast Matt Amorello, has apparently gone all Alpha Omega on us and fled to India.

Amorello’s lawyer, Tom Kiley, revealed on Wednesday that Amorello won’t be back in the states for five to six months – a development that will allow him to delay an Ethics Commission inquiry until mid-July. The inquiry will delve into the incredible porking Amorello pulled shortly before leaving the Pike in disgrace. “He’s very difficult to communicate with,” Kiley told reporters.

House Speaker Sal DiMasi likely wishes he weren’t living in such interesting times. On Tuesday, the speaker publicly blew up at his leadership team,excoriating them for jockeying to replace him before his body has even gone limp, let alone cold.

DiMasi has vowed to remain speaker for, “A long, long, long, long, long, long time,” but rumors of his imminent departure have swirled for several months, persisting on their own momentum, and the ambitions of those spreading them.

It’s fascinating that Majority Leader John Rogers, who challenged DiMasi for the speakership after Tom Finneran’s abrupt departure, has taken the most lumps during the current House dust-up. Last fall, DiMasi told the reps hoping to succeed him, including Rogers, to shut down their succession campaigns. DiMasi didn’t believe that Rogers had complied, and threatened to remove him from his post. Shortly thereafter, DiMasi’s warning wormed its way into the Globe.

That story repeatedly cited “House leadership sources,” and while some inside the State House believe those leadership sources came from Rogers’ camp, others believe the leaks came from high-ranking House members working against Rogers.

The thinking behind the latter theory is that members of DiMasi’s leadership team are trying to draw Rogers into a fatal confrontation with the speaker — a development that would pave the way for another candidate to eventually replace DiMasi. (The anti-Rogers camp initially rallied around Quinicy Rep.Ron Mariano, but seem to have abandoned him for Ways and Means chair Bob DeLeo.)

It’s notable that Rogers was the victim of an apparent dime-dropping when the maneuvering to replace DiMasi began, and that the Globe is insisting that Rogers has been promised the speakership when DiMasi leaves. Both camps readily say DiMasi only promised Rogers that he would remain neutral in the scrum that’ll ensue when he steps down.

The day after the tense leadership meeting, DiMasi found himself putting out another fire – this one caused by a secretive amendment he had tucked into November’s energy bill that opens up huge swaths of the coast to nearly unfettered wind turbine development. An obvious beneficiary of this stroke would be DiMasi’s close friend, Jay Cashman.

A group of South Coast legislators protested, and the speaker put off meeting with them for more than a month. Several weeks—and two letters of protest later—a large group of coastal reps found themselves listening to the speaker apologize for the way he rammed the amendment through the House.

A source who attended the meeting says DiMasi conceded that the way the amendment slid through, and the way it has been tied to Cashman, “makes him look bad.” It certainly can’t help that after objections to the maneuver were raised, Cashman’s firm reportedly distributed a memo around the State House justifying it.

January 25, 2008

Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This week, Team Unity takes a step back, Deval Patrick throws an elbow, and Eric Gagne took home more dough thanBechtel/Parsons-Brinckerhoff?

How many players can leave a team before it ceases functioning as such, and devolves into a couple of guys wearing the same funny shirt and hat, standing around and staring at each other?

We may soon find out, as Team Unity, the Boston City Council’s progressive bloc, enters the 2008 session down a man.

When Felix Arroyo was dumped from the Council last November, Team Unity saw its power drastically diminished. As a bloc of four votes, it was already more than halfway to a majority vote, and thus had the potential to act as a significant power player, even king-makerMaureen Feeney knows that better than anyone. But as a group of three, the voting power wielded by the remaining members – Chuck TurnerCharles Yancey, and Sam Yoon – has been greatly reduced.

Many City Hall observers had assumed that Arroyo’s departure would, and should, spell the end of Team Unity’s weekly strategy meetings. Four is a team, but three guys sitting around talking about politics is a coffee break, not a movement. Besides, the very notion of Team Unity has long raised hackles among the councilors’ colleagues. (Steve Murphy once joked that he and Feeney should sport matching T-shirts that read “Team Geritol.”)

Even so, before the council meets for its first full day of 2008 business next Wednesday, Team Unity will huddle up, just as it always has.

“It continues to be what it was – a minority caucus,” says Yoon, now the only at-large member of that caucus. “Chuck and Charles are district councilors and they represent a heavily minority population, and that’s still reason alone to talk. To ask: what’s going on, what needs attention, what we can do for our community?”

Yoon notes that his colleagues are free to caucus with the trio any time they wish, or to meet with each other. He jokes that he may soon “start an Asian caucus, and elect myself president.”

But he also acknowledges that the dynamics will be drastically different than in his first two years. We’ve heard Yoon will likely not return as the chair of the council’s housing committee – a blessing for a councilor who saw much of his freshman term swallowed by a housing albatross. Now he should be free to assert himself in all matters.

For all three remaining (uniters? unitarians?), there will have to be a broadening of ambitions, as well as more cooperation between the shrinking team members and their council colleagues. At least one City Hall insider believes that will be a good thing for Yoon in particular.

“He’s no longer yoked to Felix,” this person reasons. “He’ll be able to do what he should’ve done two years ago, and if he does, there’s no reason he can’t top the ticket” in 2009.

Governor Deval Patrick unveiled his second budget on Wednesday. Alongside his State of the Commonwealth speech, it was a (somewhat) bold challenge to the legislature: Either finally start acknowledging that I’m the governor and falling in line behind me, or fix this garbage your damn selves.

Patrick, who was the victim of a cheerily combative Sal DiMasi the day before, appears to be a man whose patience is wearing thin. He seemed to grow annoyed as he fielded questions about the propriety of budgeting for casino and corporate tax money that hasn’t been approved yet, especially because Patrick has repeatedly criticized the legislature for not moving on those proposals.

It’s the governor’s responsibility “to put thoughtful ideas on the table,” he said tersely. “The responsibility of the legislature is to take them up… This job is not to take boxes and move them around. Life is full of uncertainties. Our job is to make responsible proposals.”

Who would’ve guessed that when the governor pitched his casino plan Thursday night, the crowd would’ve gone wild? All that whooping and hollering certainly made it sound like the legislature can’t wait to topple King Sal and start throwing their spare quarters at Steve Wynn.

Of course, the ruckus might have something to do with the fact that somebody packed the House gallery full of T-shirt wearing casino enthusiasts. You remember those people, don’t you? We have absolutely no idea how they managed to score such prime seating.

It appears that after a year of catching elbows to the face, Patrick is learning how to finally throw them. Asked if he was worried about the Obama-Clinton spat spilling over into his relationship with legislative leadership, Patrick replied, “We’re professionals.” He paused and smiled. “I am, and I hope the speaker will be as well.”

Brilliant bastard move of the weekMike Widmer crashing Patrick’s budget press conference. As soon as Patrick stepped off the podium, Widmer rose from his seat, and somehow found himself mobbed by reporters. Finding himself in this situation, he obliged their inquisitiveness and told them what he thought about the governor’s plan: That it ain’t no good. And guess what? Those quotes wound up all over the place. Imagine that.

All these fun budgetary times were overshadowed, though, by the action across the street – the announcement of a less than massive $458 million Big Dig settlement. It’s been covered extensively, but from our perspective, the most shocking bit of news was Mike Sullivan’s revelation that Bechtel/Parsons-Brinckerhoff only made $150 million off the project.

Testy reporters asked him why the state couldn’t recoup more money from the nearly $15 billion project, and Sullivan replied that the settlement represented a “substantial loss” for the consortium – more than three times what they’d made on the project.

Let’s do some math here. Twenty years, and $150 million. That’s only $7.5 million in profit a year. Meanwhile, Eric Gagne will make $10 million next year. Who knew not being able to throw a little round ball for strikes was a more profitable career avenue than managing the biggest public works project in American history?

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