The Hill and the Hall – July, 2008

July 4, 2008

Each Friday Thursday, 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: It’s the Hall’s Half-year in Review.

There’s still a couple weeks left in the current legislative session, but since we’ve just passed the year’s halfway point – and since some of us are going to the beach a few days early – now seems as good a time as any to tally up the winners and losers from politicking in 2008. Here’s who did well, who did terribly, and who just got done on Beacon Hill and in City Hall.

Governor Deval Patrick

The good news first. The noise on Beacon Hill this half-year revolved around the governor’s legislative successes and failures – a dramatic departure from last year, what with talk of Cadillacsdrapes, and political incompetence. He’s suddenly able to walk the State House halls without tripping over his own feet (on most days, anyway), and it’s his policy proposals, not his relationship with the House Speaker, or a string of embarrassing staff shakeups, that dominate the headlines.

In this sense alone, the governor enjoyed the first six months of 2008 much, much more than he did the first half of 2007. And that’s saying something, considering that Patrick spent much of the half-year fighting for a doomedcasino bill, and then, on the eve of the bill’s ceremonial slaughter, abandoning the few Reps who were actually willing to invite the Speaker’s wrath by standing with him when he bolted town to look for a book deal.

It was an appropriate end to a maddening six-month saga.

Stymied in its bid to squeeze coinage out of telecom companies, corporations, and restaurants, the administration dressed up a desperate cash-grab as an economic development proposal. They couldn’t convince the House that SheldonAdelson was the answer to the state’s property tax crisis, (because he isn’t). Casinos would provide cities and towns with one-eighth of the local aid dollars that the Lottery does, dollar for dollar. So, without a real reason for existing, the thing – along with a significant volume of the governor’s political capital – gotput down.

Whatevs. Few people, outside of Dan O’Connell and Clyde Barrow, gave it a fighting chance in the first place. Yet, even with one horribly awful legislative defeat on his record, Patrick still isn’t doing too bad for himself this year.

For one, he got King Sal to cave on corporate tax loopholes. For another, he can suddenly play ping-pong and not get murdered in the press for it. Plus, he finally saw his $1 billion life sciences package squeeze through the legislature – just in time to jet off to San Diego and get crowned the biotech industry’s governor of the year. He trotted out his signature education reform initiative and didn’t get totally destroyed for not knowing how he’s going to roll the teachers unions, or find a few extra billion to pay for the thing.

And, most importantly, a longtime Beacon Hill observer points out that for better or worse, this year’s budget – assuming it ever gets passed – is basically Patrick’s budget. It’s been nearly two decades since the legislature showed this much deference to the governor’s budget, and Patrick certainly didn’t get that courtesy last year.

House Speaker Sal DiMasi

One word for you: Oof.

Sal’s been getting it from all sides, and the trouble isn’t going to go away. That casino victory was forever ago, and regardless of how many energy bill partiesthe guy attends, this session will be remembered as the one that could undo thatawesome legacy DiMasi was building for himself. That’s because any one of these seventeen active or pending ethics investigations could bring the feds into the party. They haven’t taken down a speaker in a few years now – too long, in their world.

Worse, when DiMasi’s friends weren’t running around making things worse (you don’t wave red at a bull, Rich), they were planning for his demise. Or voting on stuff while in St. Croix. That one sure didn’t help.

DiMasi can’t even seek refuge in the well-tailored arms of big business. It’s been less than a year since he vowed to institute a sales tax holiday every year of his speakership, and he’s already gone back on that promise. It sure is hard out there for a pimp.

Senate President Therese Murray

Murray has had the easiest time of the Big Three thus far. She won a staring contest with the House that would’ve turned a comprehensive oceans management plan into a blinking neon sign in Buzzard’s Bay reading, “Hey, Jay CashmanBuild here!” She played the peacekeeper – or, more correctly, the adult – when tensions over casinos and presidential politics had Patrick and DiMasi pissing in the direction of each other’s sandboxes. And she exploited the simmering conflict between the two to push her own big-ticket agenda for reforming health care and transportation.

The latter episode also showed the limits of big thinking on Beacon Hill: Interested interests quickly rallied and beat back the most ambitious efforts to squeeze police details and the MBTA’s lard-heavy retirement system. It didn’t take threats of bodily harm to scale back anyone’s thirst for reform.

Mayor Tom Menino

Boston’s most powerful person won’t have to deal with Ralph Martin next November. He’s got enough campaign cash to give every poll worker in town a platinum grillMichael Flaherty’s taking shots at him, but they sound a lot like the ones Maura Hennigan lobbed back in 2005, and we all remember how that one turned out.

The Boston City Council

By our count, the august body hasn’t been eviscerated on the Fox 25 morning news in weeks. That has to be a record, or something.

Fat cats. Or, alternately, children

Carla Howell has a very real chance of bleeding every hack in the state dry. Either that, or she’s going to visit untold disaster upon each and every child in the Commonwealth. That’s because small government is beautiful, and because Carla Howell hates your children. Remember that, come November.

Lucidity

Failed gubernatorial candidate (rather spectacularly at that) Christy Mihosrecently launched Christy2010.com, a website pushing him as an “Independent for Governor of Massachusetts.”

Mihos has not yet decided to run for governor in 2010, saying, “We’ll see what the future brings, but right now I’m pretty happy running a business where we’re doing pretty well because we’re giving people what they want.”

Dignity

The biggest loser of the year thus far, by a long shot. Take State SenatorJames Marzilli, for instance. He beat back sexual assault charges in Arlington, and celebrated by going on an absolutely epic spree of groping, running and crying – punctuated by some of the greatest pickup lines we’ve ever read, by the way.

Over in the House, Rep. Jennifer Callahan had a goon/colleague “personally threaten” her during the budget, , “I could really hurt you if I wanted to.”

James Fagan pulled not one but two absolute nutters. The first, in March, was eight uninterrupted minutes of vitriol about drinking, gambling and the evils of the working media, whom he glared at while labeling “vultures” that “prey off the bones of … tragedies.” That was Fagan staying within himself, apparently. Last week, he promised to “rip apart” six-year old rape victims, adding, “I’m going to make sure that the rest of their life is ruined.”

And speaking of ruined lives! Earlier this week, House members “booed loudly” when told they’d have to come to work on July 3. Don’t you know who they are???

Speaking of vacations, the Hill is taking a long overdue one next week.

July 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: A rash of bills on the Hall, but who cares because it’s open season on Jim MarzilliTim Cahill has us thinking like it’s 1978; and somebody’s been raising some cash while we’ve been away.

The legislature rushed towards the end of its session this week, racing to take action on a number of bills that had fallen prey to the body’s famously inattentive attention span. There was action on nursing, gay nuptials, health care and same-day voter registration. The Hill also witnessed shameful scandal and naked political ambition. And, thanks to the latter two, we don’t have to pretend to be trying to wrap our skulls around any of that policy stuff.

The week opened with Senator Bob Hedlund‘s very public bid to strip Senator/alleged serial-groper Jim Marzilli of his chairmanship, and the $7,500 stipend it carries. The Senate’s ethics committee is currently investigating the allegations of leering, weepy pervdom, but it may not get to take action before Marzilli slinks out of office next January.

In the meantime, Hedlund argued, relieving Marzilli of his leadership position might send the message — longlong overduesome might argue — that somebody in state government actually disapproves of bad behavior.

Besides the fact that the Arlington darling is “clearly incapable of fulfilling his duties as chairman,” he doesn’t even come to work anymore. Hasn’t in weeks. Slam dunk, right?

No such luck. Senate President Therese Murray rejected Hedlund’s bid, leaning on the ongoing ethics investigation. Which, in turn, is leaning on the judicial process. After all, several pages of graphic police reports (and one teary, though nondescript, exclamation about one’s life being over) could be wrong.
“It is what it is,” Hedlund said Wednesday, indulging in Beli-speech. “I respect the fact that he’s been duly elected, and it makes no sense to expel him now because there’d be no time to hold a special election. I respect the ethics committee process. But this was one thing that could’ve been done now by the President, unilaterally. People have been stopping me and asking me why we haven’t dealt with it. This would’ve been one thing to show we’re able to police ourselves.”

Well, why can’t they? We’ve heard whispers that it’s not because the Legislature loves coddling alleged serial sex offenders, per se. It’s more that conservatives who get caught sexually misbehaving are loathsome pervs, while good liberals are necessarily the victims of some chemical imbalance or another.

So, while a number of senators privately applauded Hedlund’s effort, just one Democrat, Ways and Means chair Steven Panagiotakos, has publicly called for Marzilli’s resignation. The rest are afraid to voice an opinion. They clearly don’t have permission (to have opinions, that is).

In one of those only-in-this-building moments, Rep. Eric Turkington, Marzilli’s co-chair and former House colleague, told State House News that the senator’s absence hasn’t hamstrung his committee’s work, because most of its bills have been reported out already. So there isn’t much work for the ghost-chairman to miss anyway.

The interesting wrinkle here is that, if Marzilli can manage to hang in office until the end of his term in January, he’ll add another year to his pension at his higher, Senate leadership salary. All he needs is one day to get credit for the year.

A pension reform bill that would’ve closed this loophole—stipulating that state employees work six months, not a single day, to get credit for a year of work—has been hopelessly circulating the State House halls. It has enjoyed little favor from legislative leadership. Its author? Bob Hedlund.

This week’s lesson: It’s not OK for disabled firefighters to prance around flexing in man-panties, though it’s totally kosher for favored no-show chairmen to pad their pensions. As long as they weren’t doing any work in the first place. Obviously.

Of particular interest to those political observers who aren’t naturally inclined to mock the misfortunes of grabby men suffering from bipolar disorder, was this week’s teeth-baring clash between Gov. Deval Patrick, L.G. Tim Murray, and Treasurer Tim Cahill. The very public dispute, while ostensibly concerning Big Dig finances and debt at the Pike, could presage open warfare in the state Democratic party.

Cahill has repeatedly denied that he will challenge the governor in two years, but his willingness to savage the administration on Pike finances speaks volumes. As does the administration’s attempt to tie the Treasurer to the Pike—the most radioactive agency in state politics.

There are higher stakes than Cahill softening up Murray in the event that Patrick bolts Boston for Washington. There’s talk on Beacon Hill that Cahill has made up his mind that Patrick is beatable, and that he’s crowned himself the man to do the beating. (It won’t be the Republicans, after all.) The governor, who has suffered a number of unflattering comparisons to Michael Dukakis, could be in for the worst yet—a craven power-grab from the conservative wing of his own party. It’ll be 1978 all over again.

Cahill doesn’t believe that he can beat AG Martha Coakley or Congressman Michael Capuano for a Senate seat, in the event one opens up. It’s time for him to move up or get out, so he has to establish some high-profile differences with the competition.

That means making a tour of TV newsrooms and assailing Patrick’s apocalyptic sense of finance. The more Cahill can erode Patrick’s polling numbers, the more the Democrats will need him to ride in and rescue the Corner Office from Charlie Baker.

There’s a reason why nobody sees Coakley picking fights with the administration. One Beacon Hill observer quips. “It’s because she has no interest in his job.”

And this is the perfect flareup for Cahill to press Patrick. The Pike is political poison. It destroys all who cross its path. Now, more than property taxes or casinos or bio-tech, the governor is wrestling with a monster that will define him.

“The key to the governor’s success is the perception of him as the cavalry,” says political consultant Michael Goldman, an adviser to the Patrick camp. “He needs to up the stakes, and remind people that this was a Republican mess that Weld, Cellucci and Romney left behind.” If Patrick doesn’t, he’ll be the one taking the fall for any disaster that ensues.

That’s why he’s got to throw some dynamite at something, or somebody. The quicker, the better. “Now’s the perfect time to exert influence and blow up the Pike,” says Warren Tolman, a former state legislator and onetime gubernatorial candidate. “Who’s going to stand in your way?” More important than the savings, Tolman says, “is the symbolism.” The spectacle of crazed Iraqis whacking Saddam’s head with their shoes? That’s nothing, compared to what the Canton tollbooths are in for.

Tolman compares the current flareup to the 2006 tunnel collapse, and believes that, while the consequences of mishandling the situation are severe, it also presents a tremendous political opportunity. “This was thrown on Deval Patrick’s lap, and he’s clearly got to do something. Mitt Romney was not responsible for the tunnel collapsing, but he took action, and it was to his benefit. Deval Patrick has a similar opportunity here, to show his ability as a crisis manager.”

Whoa! Look who raised a ton of money while we were on vacation. It’s at-large city councilor Michael Flaherty—the man this column once mockedfor raising $72 in a month!

Flaherty took in over $132,000 in June (including $500 maximum donations from local punks Ken Casey and Al Barr). That far exceeds any effort he’d been able to muster previously, and it’s a sign that maybe—just maybe—we’ll have a halfway decent mayoral race on our hands.

July 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: If Michael Flaherty is really running for mayor, how come no one wants his seat? Plus: The legislature is reduced to song.

Let’s assume for a minute that Michael Flaherty is going to run for mayor next year. That’s still no sure thing, but given his vociferous opposition to all things Tommy and his recent show of financial strength, observers inside City Hall believe it’s at least a strong possibility. And since Flaherty’s mayoral run is entirely within the realm of possibility, this question is worth asking: Why doesn’t anybody seem to want the at-large City Council seat Flaherty might be about to vacate?

The politically-inclined classes usually rip each other to pieces over the prospect of snagging an at-large seat — not to mention the generous salary, citywide exposure, and primo parking spot that come with the office.

The seat that Maura Hennigan vacated in 2005 inspired a 15-person bloodbath that swept Sam Yoon into office. The previous election cycle, in 2003, saw a dozen challengers trash around in an unsuccessful attempt at knocking off four entrenched incumbents. Then came last year’s rain-soaked exercise in fascism and not caring about anything at all.

That apathy—matched by a startling lack of ambition from anybody with half a chance of getting elected—doesn’t appear to have abated. Thus far, the possible departure of the council’s wealthiest, most entrenched incumbent hasn’t inspired much interest.

Two candidates, former Nantucket selectman/rotary aficionado Doug Bennett (buoyed by donations from Paul CellucciBob Hedlund, andCharlie Baker) and Haitian activist Jean-Claude Sanon, have jumped into the race, and, uh, that’s it.

We’ve heard that 2007’s last-place finisher, David James Wyatt, might be eyeing another run. (His current campaign account balance: $-48.43.) Rumors are also circulating that somebody named Arroyo might take a shot at the seat. Since the affable Felix Sr. appeared largely disinterested in the job the last time he had it, and Albert’s still waiting on word from his doctor, that would leave Felix Jr., a political organizer with SEIU Local 615.

The point is, this isn’t the most fearsome slate of candidates to ever vie for office. Names notable for their absence from City Hall gossip circles includeSusan PassoniEddie Flynn, and Matt O’Malley. At least one close political observer suggested that if Sonia Chang Diaz weren’t playing Ahab to a whale named Dianne, she’d be a lock for the open seat. And why would Bruce Wall bother running for council, when he could make the mayor’s life so much more miserable by launching a mayoral campaign?

To be sure, most political operatives are focusing their time, money, and attention—not to mention their ambition—on the presidential race. They’re assuming at least one Senate seat opens up soon, and preparing for the jockeying that will ensue between Martha CoakleyTim Cahill, along with most of the Congressional delegation (and the jobs-bonanza dominoes that will fall as those A-listers seize promotions). In this climate, locking yourself into a high-paying city-level job might be the worst career move a pol with big eyes could make.

But while very few seem interested in joining the fracas, the schlubs who currently troll the halls of the fifth floor are said to have already begun to turn up the heat on each other. “This place will be a shitstorm next summer,” says someone inside City Hall, alluding to the prospective mayoral race. This person adds, quickly, that it’ll be, “A nasty year” from the start.

That’s because it’s easier to count the pols who don’t want to be the next council president than to count the ones who do. Mike RossSteve Murphy, and Charles Yancey are all said to be interested, and credible cases could be made for Yoon, Rob Consalvo, and John Tobin.

Half a dozen councilors scrambling to undercut each other, with the prize of being next in line for the mayor’s office? It’s going to be a fun few months.

It seems that the crush of end-of-session work the Legislature is currently enduring—these guys have been in session three whole days a week—may be getting to some people. During Thursday’s drawn-out debate on Hollywood East tax credits, Rep. Angelo Scaccia expressed his opposition. In full song.

Initial reports that he was backed by a chorus line of leggy, high-kicking backbenchers could not be confirmed at press time.

Scaccia’s colleagues greeted his efforts with rousing applause. So, for an encore, the Hyde Park Rep hit Hollywood with a devastating combination of class warfare and utter nonsense:

“Why are we in government? Are we here to protect the well-endowed? Is it our job to make the rich richer? We’re not going to lose much or gain much. And maybe it’s worth it to see some stud like myself walking down the street. But it’s not worth it, Mr. Speaker … Maybe they’re pretty or handsome and tall, but they don’t need our money. It’s the people in our districts who need our help. They blow in one week and blow out the next week. I don’t know how many hamburgers they eat when they’re here. But it ain’t than much … I hope the bill doesn’t pass, and I’m going to come back for an encore again because people have told me I might have a shot at this Hollywood myself.”

The debate wasn’t all yuks and dulcet tones, though. At one point, Steven D’Amico, who led the failed assault on the tax breaks, refused to yield the floor to Garrett Bradley, a film industry backer. D’Amico did yield to Matt Patrick, who happens to agree with him on the issue of striking a blow against bloated L.A. fat cats.

This fact inspired the more cinematically-inclined Reps in the chamber to rain a chorus of boos upon the pair. (An unrelated item, but one that must be discussed: What’s with Garrett Bradley’s dreamy soft-light headshot? Here’s hoping that unfortunate trip to the Hanover Mall at least included a stop at Orange Julius.)

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