The Hill and the Hall – October, 2008

October 3, 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: Gov. Patrick sees an opening and bites back; Scenes from an Obama rally; Plus: Why the hate for Barbara Lee?

Governor Deval Patrick put on his most serious-est face Thursday morning and warned everybody that his ambitious agenda, which was a bit beyondeverybody’s reach to begin with, will remain even more so for the time being. That’s because of all the hot Dust Bowl action happening out there. “It’s not that we’ll be off-track,” Patrick said. “But it’ll be a slower train, there’s no doubt about it.”

Patrick announced a plan to make “hundreds of millions” in emergency cuts to the budget, which will begin two weeks from now; after his budget writers figure out just how much has to actually be cut. But it’s his longer-term proposals that show definite growth, and political savvy, in his administration.

Patrick said Thursday that he wanted to eliminate the Turnpike, have the state restructure crushing Big Dig debt, reform state and MBTA pensions, consolidate agencies, and accelerate health care reform maneuvers.

There are no new proposals there, and none of them would ease the state’s budget crunch in the short term. But the oncoming fiscal crisis gives the governor the political opening he needs, and has long sought, to blow up the Pike and bring the T’s unions to their knees.

It also makes legislators much less likely to stand in his way, because if they do, they won’t just be obstructing reform, as Mitt Romney liked to charge. They’ll be Nero. Only with cod involved somehow.

Thursday’s presser was held in a cramped and smelly (thanks, TV cameramen!) third floor room, not the State House’s first floor press tank. The room was more than overflowing, and some reporters were left wondering whether Patrick harbors a strange preference for one room over the other, or whether forcing the press corps to stand in place, trip over wires, and elbow each other in the face might be a tactic to shorten the encounter.

Asked about how the cuts would effect his pledge to lower property taxes, Patrick briefly indulged the urge to bash the legislature. “That depends on a lot, including cooperation from the legislature,” he said. Noting, “I put four ideas forward.”

He was pressed twice on whether fiscal doom might tempt him to resurrect his doomed casino bill. Patrick responded to the second one by nodding towards the Globe’s Frank Phillips and asking, “Didn’t you just see me ignore his question?”

Thursday also saw rally for Barack Obama by a group of the state’s top female politicians. Senate President Therese Murray, who had generated a good deal of gossip in January when she laid into Senators Kennedy and Kerry for supporting Obama (saying their endorsement was “dead wrong” and “disappointed” her), announced her support for the Democratic nominee, “as a woman, as the first female president of the Senate, and as an American.”

Murray also raised eyebrows by cryptically introducing Attorney General Martha Coakley thusly: “We’ll be following her career in the very near future” Intriguing!

The day’s best line belonged to House Majority Whip Lida Harkins. She’d been a strong Hillary Clinton supporter, and had wanted to see the election of the country’s first female president. It won’t be Sarah Palin, she said. “I cannot vote for that kind of woman,” Harkins said, characterizing “her attitude” as, “Let them eat moose.” Afterward, a television reporter was overheard asking a bystander, “What was her name?”

Still, the rally demonstrated the perils of discussing matters of national importance on a busy city sidewalk. Spare Change Guy warmed up the crowd by giving out free hugs. “I love you sooooo much,” he cooed to one lucky female, a cigarette dangling perilously from his lips.

A gust of wind sent Murray’s speech flying towards Beacon Street—and an aide hurtling after it. A crazed gentleman shambled down the street, repeatedly screaming “OBAMAOBAMAOBAMA.” It was not immediately apparent whether he was a fan or opponent of the junior senator from Illinois.

And two separate passing motorists exclaimed their support for the Republican ticket by hollering partisan gibberish at the assemblage. “SARAH PALIN WOOOOO!” was one such remark—enough to get Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral to halt her prepared remarks.

“I didn’t hear that,” Cabral admitted. “Was it positive?” It was not, she was told. She shrugged. “Another country heard from.”

Boston’s ugly race about race generated headlines for the second straight week. On Tuesday night, Chuck Turner told Politicker that Sonia Chang-Diaz has “no roots politically or socially or anything else in the Hispanic communities” of the Second Suffolk. (The board of MassVOTE no longer counts, apparently.)

He added, “To have Ms. Chang-Diaz in the seat really takes away a treasured resource,” as the district “needs someone in the Senate that really understands what our needs are.”

Politicker wrote that, “Turner questioned Chang-Diaz’s Latina heritage, saying that he heard that she added ‘Diaz’ to her last name when she first considered running for public office,” and “said the candidate’s base of support comes from liberal white women.”

Turner singled out Barbara Lee, a Cambridge philanthropist, for criticism, and painted Chang-Diaz’s base as “part of the national group that thoughtBarack Obama getting the nomination was depriving white women everywhere of something they deserved to have.” (The Roxbury city councilor is one of the few elected officials still publicly standing with the embattled senator; everybody else is totally staying out of this thing.)

Never mind the irony of the councilor noting the historical roots of the Dorchester and Roxbury-based district in one breath, and condemning activists for chasing an office, “they deserved to have” in the other. It’s the Barbara Lee line of inquiry—one other Wilkerson allies have also pursued—that’s the puzzling one.

Yeah, Lee is a rich white lady from Cambridge. She pulled hard for Hillary Clinton because that’s what she does—she gets women elected. Lee sent $4,600 to Clinton’s campaign last year; and this past August, she did the same for Obama. Then she chipped in another $28,500 for the Obama Victory Fund.

Lee has also worked to advance the fortunes of Cabral—a pol both Dianne Wilkerson and Turner have strongly backed.

In 2004, during Cabral’s contentious race against Steve Murphy, Lee was hosting a DNC women’s leadership rally at the Southie convention center. She got Cabral onto the bill, sharing a stage with Clinton, Nancy PelosiCarol Moseley BraunDonna Brazile, and Madeline Albright. (No other candidate for county sheriff received a speaking slot that afternoon.) Lee also sent Cabral maximum $500 contributions in 2005 and 2007.

But if you’re not always with us, you’re always, always against us, right? It’s much better to be bought by Winn Development than by some Cambridge lady.

October 10, 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: All the behind-the-scenes back and forth that led to Mike Ross’ ascendancy. Could it be that city council is growing up?

Mike Ross beat out Steve Murphy to win the Boston City Council presidency this week. The position comes with a nice big office, the chance to play mayor when the actual mayor blows town, and the honor of presiding over the city’s legislative body during both an economic meltdown and a contentious mayoral race. Congrats, friend.

But it’s only October. And the dreamboat Mission Hill pol already has this thing sewn up. These things usually don’t heat up until November, and don’t get settled until after a series of frantic, eggnog-fueled phone calls. It was a done deal before Hizzoner had a chance to have his say, even. What gives? How’d he pull it off?

Here’s how.

The two-year term limit that Council President Maureen Feeney put on the presidency had a major impact on councilors’ politicking calendars. Last year, Feeney was unopposed when she was reelected president—there was no sense in fighting her because she was doing her job well and would be out of the way in 2009. Everybody wrote off 2008 and focused on 2009, and when they did, the maneuvering to succeed her began exceedingly early.

“Term limits changed the dynamic,” says one City Hall insider. “These things usually go down to the wire.” Instead, everything went down in August and September. “There was no incumbent, and that opened up the gates early,” a second City Hall insider says. At least five councilors could have, conceivably, made a run at the position. Murphy and Ross emerged because they were most successful in cementing their votes early. ( Ed. note:Everyone in city hall fancies themselves an “insider,” in case you couldn’t tell.)

Ross might’ve been elected president two years ago, had things broken his way. Six councilors offered to throw their support behind Feeney in 2006. Her own vote would’ve made seven, and won her the office.

Instead, she went to Michael Flaherty, who’d been president since 2002, and asked him to stand down the year after. He reportedly agreed. But the next year, he again tried to cobble together the votes to hang on to the presidency. That bid failed, and Feeney won.

To the end, Ross stood by Flaherty’s side. In the days before the vote, Flaherty’s remaining supporters began discussing a plan to put Ross forward, in place of the Southie councilor. But it was too late. Feeney already had her votes in place. “Flaherty was doing everything to hold it,” the first insider says, “and it cost Ross the chance to step in as an alternative.”

This time, Flaherty was with Ross. The two are good friends, and Flaherty was Ross’s first backer. Ross also picked up the council’s other prospectivemayoral candidate, Sam Yoon, early on. Both would-be candidates worried how Murphy’s ties to the administration might affect their lives on the council, and ambitions.

“Yoon’s looking to not get screwed, and Flaherty’s looking for revenge,” the first insider explains. “Flaherty blames Murphy for taking presidency from him.”

In early August, a core of older councilors—Feeney, Bill Linehan, and Sal LaMattina—began coalescing around Murphy. He’s the longest-serving councilor not to have headed the body, and he ran a smooth budget process this year.

A Hyde Park resident, he’s generally seen as a Menino loyalist, though he has also bucked the administration (notably, this year, he got the BRA to submit to a Council budget hearing.) His detractors seldom mention it, but Murphy is so close to Menino that he can match the mayor, decibel for decibel, and live to talk about it. Let alone remain in Hizzoner’s good graces.

Even so, it was the perception that, “Murphy will just take care of the administration,” that he “would be cutting deals to protect himself and hammering Yoon and Flaherty,” that helped drive support to Ross.

The Council went on extended vacation for nearly the entire month of August. So when they returned to work in September, things had changed significantly. John Tobin, once thought to be a candidate for presidency himself, lined up behind Ross. As did John Connolly, who’s close to Tobin, and, uh, not that close to Murphy.

Rob Consalvo, another viable candidate, sided with his Hyde Park neighbor. So in early September, the two factions were deadlocked, with five votes apiece. The thing was over two weeks later, and it was Chuck Turner who broke the deadlock.

Ross went to him two days before Murphy did, and he committed. “Nobody else had approached me,” Turner says, adding that he’s been impressed by Ross’s work on the councils Ways and Means and Government Operations committees. “He’s been able to work with every councilor, and he’s been helpful to me. What you need is somebody who’s going to be even-handed. And he has operated in that fashion.”

“That leaves [Mark] Ciommo and [Charles] Yancey,” says a third City Hall insider. “And Yancey’s going to ask for the moon.”

“There was the feeling that you can’t trust Yancey,” the first insider adds. “A fear he could dance around,” i.e. go fishing for a better deal. Ross’s supporters were well aware that Yancey once profited by lining up votes for himself for president, so his colleagues couldn’t break Jim Kelly’s coalition.

Still, Ciommo looked like an unlikely person to give Ross his majority. He won election with the support of Menino, Murphy, and Murphy’s former staffer, State Rep. Mike Moran. Murphy’s camp certainly didn’t anticipate Ciommo siding with Ross. “He’s a mayor’s guy, and there’s the generational thing,” the first insider says. But, again, Ross got to him before Murphy did.

When the Hill and the Hall spoke to Ciommo, he talked about the two coming together around common neighborhood issues, like institutional expansion. He also said he was “proud” to support the council’s first Jewish president.

David Bernstein reported Thursday that Ciommo and Ross came together “with help from leaders of Brighton’s Russian Jewish population,” and several people inside City Hall echoed that position. One says that Serge Bologov, who controls the community’s 300-vote bloc, “Helped broker the deal.”

“We’re facing the same issues in our neighborhoods,” Ross says. “We have common friends. Our business is very relationship-based. Common friends go a long way. They were helpful. But he made a difficult decision.”

It was only after Ross had his majority that the real vote-wrangling began. “We had seven, and to me, we could do better as a body,” he says. He wanted eight to ten. He wound up getting thirteen.

Ciommo committed to Ross last Friday. Word leaked over to the administration and they felt blindsided. “They were bullshit that this happened without them knowing,” the first insider says.

Ross’s backers thought it critical that they put together a coalition without the administration’s help, that they walk into a contentious election year and a budget in shambles without owing anybody anything. Otherwise, one said, “The body, and each one of us, would be caught in the crossfire.” “

“(The administrations) likes to be in the mix, and they were clearly taken out of that mix.” a fourth City Hall insider adds.” That person adds that the mayor “would’ve gotten involved whether Murphy asked him to or not.” Rumors began circulating that the mayor was ratcheting up pressure on Ciommo, viewed as the weakest Ross vote. And for them, it was personal. “The administration thought that, since Yoon and Flaherty were on his team, it was being driven by them,” a Ross supporter says. “It’s not. Look at Flaherty – he’s lobbing bombs with Maureen Feeney as president.”

Then, suddenly, the two sides came together. Nobody felt like getting bloody. Ross approached Murphy about merging their campaigns. They spoke Tuesday night, and came to an agreement during Wednesday’s Council meeting, on the Council floor. Their desks are next to each other, anyway.

They brought Feeney in on the discussions, and a deal was finalized 10 minutes before Wednesday’s surprise press release went out. Some councilors actually learned about the deal from reading the release.

Murphy’s camp believes they might’ve been able to win a protracted fight. They thought their five votes were solid, while a couple of Ross’s backers could be pushed. Ciommo, for one, could’ve been in for a long autumn of vague threats and late-night phone calls. By settling things now, the first insider says, “There’s no civil war.”

It’s that concern that ultimately trumped any one councilor’s ambition. “It’s going to be a challenging year anyway,” the second insider says. “To start it off recovering from bitter politicking…”

“I’ve been through this so many times,” Murphy tells us. “It’s so acrimonious, so divisive, so personally troublesome. Everybody would’ve been under pressure. For what? Who needs that? There are things more important than dragging people over a cliff.”

“A battle would look bad for us,” says another insider. “It becomes perverse theater, people getting calls on Christmas Eve.”

“It was important not get caught in the politics of work, but in substance,” Turner adds. “As a council, we’re showing that we’re not here to play personal politics. People can’t afford politicians to behave the way they have behaved.”

“For the sake of the body, it was important that we all get together,” Ross says. “I like Steve’s people a lot. I like Steve. Three months to go is a long period of time. Why not work with everyone, and pull everyone together?”

The future president, for one, lauds his predecessor for fostering the atmosphere where such a deal could take place. It’s a stark departure from the bitter atmosphere that once shrouded the council.

“We’ve had two years where divisiveness wasn’t present, and everyone worked well together,” he says. “She raised the bar for cooperation, for non-acrimony. It’s difficult to keep the workflow going with all the background noise going on. I reached out, I made my case, and he listened and came back and did what’s best for the body. It was harder for him than it was for me. We’ve had a good two years, and we should keep that going.” Feeney spoke Thursday of being “proud” of the détente.

There’s one intriguing theory that surfaced while piecing together this timeline. It went like this: Murphy wasn’t really the administration’s favorite. “Maybe he thought he was legitimate, but they knew that he’d hit the ceiling,” says the theorist. The plan was to peel off a vote from Ross, have Yancey tie up the vote, and send it to a second ballot.

Then, another candidate – LaMattina or Consalvo, maybe – would suddenly emerge as a compromise candidate, with the administration’s blessing. It would have been 2002, all over again. It’s fascinating. And we’ll likely never know whether or not it’s true.

October 17, 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: Congratulations Mike Ross, but what is it, exactly, that you’ve won? Plus: Let the jockeying to replace Secretary Kerry begin. Wait, was that out loud?

Last week’s Hill and the Hall detailed how Mike Ross was able to wrap up the City Council presidency so early. But it’s the other side to that discussion—thewhy—that should really shake up city politics.

Mayor Tom Menino rode the council presidency to Kevin White’s doorstep. And, balky limbs and dust bowls permitting, he’ll ride it beyondMichael Flaherty used the presidency to become Menino’s heir apparent. His five-year run atop the rostrum raised his public profile and expand his fundraising base so successfully that the mayor’s people decided they had to destroy the monster they’d created.

This year’s council president race looked to be so competitive because observers thought the prize—a spot second in line behind Menino at a time when Hizzoner’s future was uncertain—was great enough that no councilor with an outside shot at the mayor’s office (roughly half of them) would ever put a potential rival inches away from the very thing they themselves coveted.

The potential was great enough that ambitious councilors would avoid elevating a potential rival at all costs. Why let somebody else pull the trick Flaherty had already pulled?

Ross is young and has broad citywide appeal. He’s the type of politician that any councilor should want to keep out of the public eye—assuming that those councilors see futures for themselves beyond the council’s awful concrete walls. But Ross is about to step closer to the mayor’s office than any of his colleagues, and he’s doing it with their help and unanimous support.

He can thank Maureen Feeney.

The two-year term limits Feeney placed on the presidency didn’t just change the timing of the vote-wrangling and arm-twisting that surrounds the position. It also caused a fundamental shift in councilors’ perceptions of the presidency as a zero-sum position.

The councilors wanted to dump Flaherty two years ago because they felt they were “Enabling him to become mayor,” one says. That’s no longer the case. “It felt different this year,” this person says. Most people figured, “never in a million years would the young guys pick another young guy to be the leader.”

Some of the younger faces on the council were different five yeas ago, but the dynamic is the same. The body then was largely split along generational lines with the young members, backing Flaherty, cooperating and running the show.

Steve Murphy called the arrangement “a house of cards.” He predicted that competing ambitions would eventually turn councilors against each other. “It’s all bound to come down,” he promised the Globe. And he was right.

Some, frustrated by a lack of advancement, left city politics. Others backed Feeney in a bid to take Flaherty down a notch. But then Feeney changed the rules of the game.

Term limits have weakened the political potential inherent in the council presidency, and that means that councilors aren’t giving away their own futures by backing an equally ambitious colleague. It’s a bit like SALT treaties for small-time politics. Nobody is gaining an extraordinary advantage, so everybody’s free to trust each other again.

Because now, all the new council president is guaranteed is two years of reaction quotes in the dailies, and then a swift return to the back bench.

Barack Obama warned supporters yesterday against getting cocky in the final weeks before Election Day. “We don’t take anything for granted,” David Axelrod told the Times.

Seems like a perfect time to begin speculating about what will happen when Obama wins, taps John Kerry for a spot in the State Department or Defense or anything else that’ll save the 2004 presidential loser from worrying aboutUxbridge, and Massachusetts finally gets the bloody Senate race we’ve been drooling after for four years now. That wouldn’t jinx the whole thing for everybody, would it?

So, hypothetically and not at all lustily speaking, if Kerry moves up and out, who jumps in?

Attorney General Martha Coakley would seem to be a sure entrant. She’s smart, effective and very well liked by both sides of the Democratic party. But with just over $115,000 in her campaign account, she has less cash on hand than the head of the RMV. That’s a hurdle that needs to be addressed.

War chest-wise, Treasurer Tim Cahill is in better shape—for somebody still schlubbing around Beacon Hill. He’s sitting on top of $312,000, and he’s widely believed to be interested in moving up.

The question is whether he guns for Kerry’s seat, or Deval Patrick’s. Wereported back in July that Cahill was feeling bearish about his chances in an open Senate race and might be hedging his bets, beating up on Patrick andwaiting for the governor to flub any response to a possible economic collapse.

Well, the damn thing went and collapsed on us, and thus far, Patrick is still standing. Cahill’s strategy may change if the governor continues to refuse to fall on his face for everybody to see. A run for Senate would vaporize the war chest Cahill has worked so hard to amass, but the streets of this town are lined with the bodies of pols who didn’t take the first shot that came their way.

Still, Cahill and Coakley would be fighting any Senate race uphill. The state’s Congressional delegation mobilized for Kerry’s imminent departure once before. They didn’t get to slaughter each other then, so they’re sure to be ready this time around.

There are two fewer contenders now: Marty Meehan took his $4.8 million in campaign cash and decamped to UMass-Lowell, while Barney Frank has ridden the Democrats  majority in the House to a plum committee chairmanship, and all the perks that come with that office.

But that just means that the remaining Reps see the numbers breaking in their favor. Most are well armed for the fight.

Bill Delahunt has $1.28 million on hand. Steve Lynch has $1.3 million. John Tierney: $1.3 million. Richard Neal: $2.1 million. Ed Markey, the delegation’s dean, is sitting on $2.6 million.

Then there are the Congressmen in the poor house. John Olver only has $157,000 to his name. Jim McGovern isn’t too much better off, with $333,000. And Mike Capuano, though sitting on top of a district overflowing with good votes, has just $887,000. Just $887,000.

Yeah, this is the same state where Deval Patrick shocked the political establishment and proved that grassroots blah blah blah. Coakley and Cahill should still get busy getting busy. They may soon find that a couple hundred grand—or even a million or two—doesn’t buy what it used to.

October 24, 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: This just in: We’re broke; The Reluctant Legislature; Plus: Nothing beats a good Commie joke.

Normally, this time of year, lawmakers would be at home defending their seats against their nonexistent opponents. This is not a normal year. And so the week began on Monday morning—“Wait ’til Next Year Day,” as the whiteboard outside the State House cafeteria christened it—with a five-hour marathon hearing. The subject: Just how crappy is our crappy economy? (Spoiler: Very.)

Senator Ways and Means chairman Steven Panagiotakos needed two bottles of Diet Coke and a large cup of Dunkin’s to make it through the hearing. Many other attendees lacked the Lowell Democrat’s stamina, and either napped or slunk off early. But those who matched Panagiotakos and his House counterpart,Bob DeLeo, were treated to a truly terrifying series of economic prognostication.

But first, some absurdity!

Tough times call for soaring rhetoric and mixed metaphors, and Stephen Brewer set the bar high early on. The affable senator managed to invoke both “sacred cows” and “the Sword of Damocles” in the same sentence. Well done, sir.

Leslie Kirwan, Governor Deval Patrick’s Secretary of Administration and Finance, made a strong bid for Understatement of the Day, proclaiming of the economy, “It’s not a popular or a happy topic.”

She was edged out for that honor by DeLeo, who hoped that the day’s testimony would “Hopefully be a little more positive than the results of the baseball game last night.” It wasn’t. Not even close.

Part of the trouble DeLeo and Panagiotakos face is that nobody knows how long the current crisis will last, or how bad will be. They threw every permutation of those two questions at a battery of economists, to no avail.

Harvard economist James Stock did meet them halfway, often referring to a happy ending and to another, “darker scenario.” He repeated the words several times—enough to intrigue Panagiotakos. “Can we hear more about this darkerscenario?” he asked. He quickly added, “I’m not trying to turn you into Stephen King.”

The financial crisis has forced some wagon-circling on Beacon Hill, and aggressive collegiality was the spirit of the day. Several speakers and lawmakers congratulated the administration on their recent budget cuts.

Senator Michael Knapik did them one better, calling Kirwan “one of the smartest people in state government.” Not one to offend his friends, he hastily added, “and my colleagues are some of the smartest people I know.” Seeing his cue, Rep. Vinny DeMacedo leaned across the podium, raised his hand, smiled wide and waved at Knapik.

The legislature has this awesome new technology that transcribes testimony onto a projector screen in real time. It appears to be another helpless victim of these tough times: Legislators’ words turned up just fine, but the closed captioning of testimony was hampered by what appeared to be some budget-assmicrophones.

At one point, the phrase “I’m sorry, can this gentleman please get a better mic?” scrolled across the screen. Then, “Sorry I can’t hear can anybody help with the mic?”

“Can anybody help?” “Sound unclear.” “Audio is muffled.” “Audio is bad.” Etc.

At one point, apologies cropped up at a rate of two to three per minute. Then the dude just gave up and took a long lunch break.

Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation president Michael Widmer was the first (but by no means the last) to spread gloom and financial darkness. But he did have some kinda good news: The state won’t be tied with Michigan for recession-time job loss this time around, as we were the last few times the nation went to the breadline.

“Relative to other states, we’re not the worst,” he said. “It’s very serious nonetheless. We’re likely to see a larger hole to fill than the $1.4 billion.”

DeLeo immediately seized on the not-worst line. “So we’re better off than others?” he asked.

“I’d say we’re less bad,” Widmer replied. DeLeo took his half-full glass where he could get it. “I suppose it’s better to be less bad,” he said sagely.

Steven Baddour wasn’t so lucky. The transportation committee co-chair asked Widmer whether the state could afford its transportation obligations. “The short answer is, no,” he was told. “The system is in dire, dire straits. The MBTA and the Turnpike are heading towards bankruptcy. There’s a huge mismatch between their needs and revenue. That’s a reality that won’t go away.”

He closed his testimony by thanking the assembled legislators and wishing them luck.

“Recessions are good for one group of people—economists,” said the man who followed him, Northeastern’s Barry Bluestone. “We’re in high demand at this point.”

That’s not to say that Bluestone’s testimony was any more welcome. When he said that the state would likely have to dip into its rainy day account “for at least two more years,” both chairmen visibly grimaced.

“What I took away was, expect the worst, hope for the best, plan for the inevitable,” Panagiotakos said afterward. “And we’re still trying to figure out what that inevitable is. Normal recessionary downturns, there’s a range—those are known. No one knows how long and deep this will be. We know about economic cycles. This is completely unknown. And it’s more dangerous because of that uncertainty.”

“The hope was, you’ve had your $1.4 billion in cuts, and it’ll all be over next summer,” DeLeo added. “I didn’t hear that. It could last two or three budget cycles. There’s a slight chance it’ll be four or five.”

What’s with the legislature’s reluctance to go back to work before January,end of the world notwithstanding?

For one, it appears that legislators are highly uncomfortable with two of Patrick’s proposals—taxing telephone polls and jacking up health insurance payments for state workers making over $50,000 a year. The former is a long-dead plank from Patrick’s doomed municipal partnership plan, while the latter was the subject of some brief but pointed sparring on Monday. It’s unclear whether either has the unanimous support needed to pass right now—or whether leadership is willing to twist arms to get that support.

“It’s our obligation to the membership to make sure they’re comfortable,” DeLeo told us. “Do they want more debate? Do folks want more information? Do they want to wait for a new session? They’ve got a lot to weigh, what can wait, and what can’t.”

On Wednesday, Patrick told reporters, “I don’t care if they give me what I need in informal session or formal session,” and, “I just want them to give me what I need.” Stay tuned.

File this under “not helping.”

This, too.

Overheard in the halls of the State House: A legislator talking about his weekend trip to New Hampshire to canvass for Barack Obama. Things had been going well for our friend up north. Until a certain gentleman opened the door to his home and, upon learning that the legislator supports Obama, angrily announced his support for John McCain. He then told the legislator, “You’re a Communist!”

His reply: “How’d you know I was from Massachusetts?”

Wire services contributed to this report.

October 31, 2008

Eaten by the internet

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