Left In Lowell

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February 12, 2012

The Wrong Kind of Democrat

by at 8:14 pm.

My Republican friends are quick to bust my chops. There is always a subtext to our political discussions that I am naive, ignorant of the reality of being a “Democrat” in Massachusetts.

… Murray showed uniquely bad judgment in aligning himself with McLaughlin, a notorious political grifter. But the larger system of alliance-building through state and municipal government, greased along by dubious fundraising and the awarding of patronage jobs, is a deeper threat to Massachusetts. Murray has rejected McLaughlin, but he and other elected officials need to be far more forthright in declaring that the system of rewarding political supporters with jobs is morally wrong, unfair to other applicants, and damaging to the credibility of the state government. It simply shouldn’t happen.

But rather than promise to change the system, elected officials try to hide behind it. Everyone’s heard their alibis: How political supporters and their friends are merely “referred’’ to hiring officers, rather than hired outright; how rewarding a political crony is no different from any other managers putting their own people in positions of authority; how some of those hired through political contacts are actually hard workers who get unfairly stigmatized.
-snip

This is the legacy of Chelsea, Springfield, Lawrence, and other municipalities that have been so hobbled by corruption as to require state oversight. It’s the legacy of the Probation Department, the Legislature’s patronage dumping zone. And it’s the legacy of elected officials who played the game, either tolerating it as a price of entry or participating in order to build a network of supporters.

Murray belongs to the latter category.

Note: Before I go on, please take a moment to ponder why Lowell missed ending up on the list of shamed cities, above. Further, please know, Lowell is but a few bad choices from slipping backwards. I’m not that naive. Are you?

I’ve always felt that Tim Murray’s pick* (*not picked, see comments below) as LG was a nod to the “old guard” in the machine politics of MA. Deval Patrick was the outsider, who brilliantly upsurped the nomination from a bumbling Tom Reilly. Of course, Patrick had the help of a chunk of Obama’s team, before they had convinced Obama (likely, Michelle) to run. Square one in MA politics is, you pay the vig. Even if you give an IOU. Tim Murray is that IOU.

There is a long list of Lowellians fully enamored with Tim Murray’s, until recently, political trajectory. You could always sense the difference when the local Dems would go to a Patrick event or a Murray event. They relax around Murray. Watching the who’s who smile and nod at Deval Patrick at Western Ave Studio is starkly different from the causual camraderie displayed for Murray, at the Blue Shamrock. You hear the phrase, “one of us” thrown around in Lowell. For sure, Murray is and Patrick ain’t. If you’re confused, remember the “Blue Carpet” the LPD rolled out for Deval at the Owl Diner in 2010. The organizers of that performance were more than happy to slap Timmy on the back, later, when he came to town.

I should clearify, I get the patronage game. Meaning, there is a logic to it.

Often, I catch myself being disappointed with activists that fail to deliver or show up. It’s a malady common amongst ‘do gooders’ that tire of sacrificing time and energy, only to reap meager progress in the name of ‘the cause.’ When seeking to ensure the dedication of ’soldiers,’ it is much easier to reward politcal hardship with a paying gig. So many volunteers blindly jump aboard a campaign, “believing” in their candidate. As one of them, I see the few seasoned indigenous organizers. They are skilled in campaign tactics and any winning campaign has a gaggle of them around. These folks steer the idealists from event to event, canvass to canvass, and phone bank to phone bank. These folks never quit campaigning. They slow their pace in the off season, but they are always engaged. What does it take to keep them around?

Heading into the 2012 election, I’ve wondered how it will be? See, I was one of the original ‘hopemongers.’ An early Obama supporter, who jumped on the coat-tails of the ‘Draft Obama’ movement of late 2006. It will be very different in 2012, as Obama now is the machine that the Clinton’s were back in 2007.

Though, I don’t think MA Dems have ever really accepted Obama, as “one of us.” Not because of race, for you more cynical lurkers. But, he never moved into MA politcal circles with his own people. I’m not even sure Deval Patrick has. If you have no true politcal leverage in the midlevels of the politcal power structure, you can ride high. But, only for so long.

What’s really interesting, in this context, is Liz Warren. She is a politcal outsider, fully supported by Obama and delivered to us, by Obama. It’s like the President is skipping over the muck and mire of our state party, and installing reformers on top of them.

Imagine if the IOU implodes on itself. If Murray crashes, what type of Dem would rise to grab the nomination for Governor in 2014? Assuming we have a Senator Warren, an outsider, the power structure could be shifted in a way that would spell trouble for the ‘old guard.’

The next 10 years could potentially usher in a new type of reform minded Democrat in Massachusetts. Though, I’m not sure how they would cement control without falling into the same bad habits that the ‘old guard’ has. My Republican friends will remind me, “There is no free lunch.”

No doubt, there is “the wrong kind of Democrat.” But, it’s going to take a decade or more to find out, is it me or Mike McLaughlin?

15 Responses to “The Wrong Kind of Democrat”

  1. Lowell Resident Says:

    Tim Murray wasn’t “picked” as the LG by anybody but the Democratic Primary voters…in Massachusetts, the LG nomination and the Governor nominations are separate races. I’m pretty sure Patrick may have even prefered another candidate (Deb Goldberg?) but the voters elected each of them separately. After the primaries, they run as a ticket. I do think that old school ethic/knowledge was an asset to the ticket/partnership, but if the voters wanted two Deval Patrick types, they could have done so. From what I remember, Tim Murray actively campaigned as a LG candidate while the others weren’t around as much…at least in Lowell.

  2. Sd Says:

    I venture to propose that the new guard of democrats in Massachusetts will rise from the capable group of 25-45 year old innovative mayors who are able to keep one foot in the old world of their local community politics while still pushing the progressive edge of the party. Murry could have been one of them, but he never was comfortable leaving the old ways behind. (dont forget that the democrats don’t run tickets in their governor’s primary, so Patrick didn’t pick Murray, the party voters did. Murray did help Patrick because Patrick will always be way more of an outsider than most of the old guard in Massachusetts is comfortable with (note that even moderates and republicans in this state struggle with electing leaders who are not ‘’from” here.

    So keep an eye out for Kim Driscoll (Salem), Joe Curtatone (Somerville), Rob Dolan (Melrose), Setti Warren (Newton), maybe Demaria from Everett, Lisa Wong from Fitchburg and possibly someday Lowell’s Patrick Murphy and then new mayor of Holyoke. That’s the future of the Massachusetts democratic party. Not Patrick. Not Murray. Certainly not the John Cox GOB crowd. And certainly not any of the ‘leadership’ in the state legislature who have already sold their souls for plum committee assignments.

  3. Jack Says:

    I’m happy to stand corrected about the Patrick/Murray ticket formation.

    But, I distinctly remember Tom Reilly crashing and burning after aligning himself with Marie St. Fleur. So, I sorta figured Deval picked Murray.

  4. Lowell Resident Says:

    That is true. Picking Marie St. Fleur was Reilly’s attempt at portraying himself as the inevitable nominee by announcing a hand-picked running mate. To be fair to Reilly, the Republicans in MA have often picked their tickets in this manner rather than having each in a competitive primary (Actually the Mass Republicans tend to not have competitive primaries for the governorship itself) Although thinking back, I’m not sure Deval took any sides in the LG election, I think I’m remembering the Globe endorsing both him and Goldberg or something.

  5. Christopher Says:

    I for one supported Deval Patrick and Tim Murray in their respective races before they were joined as a ticket. For Governor I was looking for someone other than Reilly because I was having trouble seeing the justification for his candidacy beyond that it was his turn, and Patrick offered a more inspiring vision. For LG, I was at least looking for someone with governing experience and having a mayor on any ticket would insure a local perspective. Plus before Murray entered the race I think only Goldberg had any elected experience and that was just as a selectman, which led me to think, “this is the best we can do?”

    Not sure how an LG can affect a Housing or any other appointment, but maybe more advice and consent is necessary to check this process.

  6. HLPeary Says:

    The best thing to happen to Patrick was Murray who brought Central and Western MA along with him as well as a statewide network of Mayors…when Deval’s numbers were plummeting from his early political gaffes and absurd appointments, Murray pulled his butt out of the fire more than a few times, especially with legislators. Murray clearly misjudged McLaughlin and got burned by this slug but so did Deval Patrick, Baddour, Reinstein, Tisei, O’Flaherty, etc., dozens of etc.s, ALL (repeat ALL) of whom received and accepted money from McLaughlin. Murray is a solid Democrat who can work with the old and new guard. He has accomplished more than any Lt. Gov. anyone can remember and frankly would be a great governor because he gets what cities and towns desperately need from state govt….Deval cares about book contracts and his next soft landing.

  7. Jack Says:

    Lowell, please extend a warm welcome to our Blue Mass Group friends. Really. It’s good to have a wider perspective offered. Other than the last subjective piddly whack at Deval, HLPeary comes in strapped.

  8. Lynne Says:

    Yeah, I disagree with the last bit too. I watched carefully the governing strategy of Gov Patrick, and what I saw was largely really great, for the most part. The guy does work, and he cares about governing. One of the reasons MA did and is doing so well compared to the rest of the nation right now.

    They did all the right things, made some good decisions vis a vis the economy and leveraging the stimulus money we got, etc. I have no major complaints, other than casinos.

  9. HLPeary Says:

    Jack: Thanks for the welcome to a Bluemassgroup friend and very decidedly a Tsongas Democrat (Paul AND Niki)…sorry about the Deval book comment (file that under jealous that someone can get a second book deal after having sold only 10,000 copies on the first)…That aside, Deval Patrick is the first to sing the praises of Tim Murray for his help in several critical directions including the CSX negotiations, expansion of veterans services, decrease in homelessness and passage of the health reform legislation, all of which the administration takes credit for and should. The fact that the Globe has chosen to make Murray the whipping-boy for all things wrong with state government is laughable considering all that is wrong with state govt. and who is really responsible and the Globe’s trashing of small cities and their leaders who with a few glaring exceptions are doing a great job is absurd. I know the Globe is desperate to sell papers but I don’t think character assassination is a good strategy. JMHO

  10. Jack Says:

    Yes, the Globe roughed up Timmy pretty good.

    It seems that you are rejecting the premise, by saluting Murray’s effectiveness. On several key issues, you credit Murray’s political savvy on closing the deal for Patrick. It is the very context, the fabric of unsavory practices, that portend Murray’s adeptness over the outsider, Patrick.

    I have no whim to accuse. But, I know the game is rigged. We all know it. Being a winner in a rigged game is hard to explain with a straight face. Luck?

    Finally. Lowell isn’t on that list of shamed cities. Not that some aren’t trying. You’ll have to pardon if I overreact to the narrative at hand. Crusading makes me grouchy.

  11. pablo Says:

    The choice in the primary in 2006 was:
    Deborah B. Goldberg
    Timothy P. Murray
    Andrea C. Silbert

    This choice, from my vantage point, was a no-brainer. Murray, as mayor and chair of the Worcester School Committee, understood my world. My passions are local government and public education, and he had a long history of doing the right thing in Worcester. Andrea Silbert was a “social entrepreneur” who was big on funding charter schools. Deborah Goldberg was a Brookline Selectman whose candidacy was based more on the boatload of money she brought into the campaign as a Stop & Shop heiress.

    Damn straight I was with Murray. I still am. He was an excellent mayor, and has been a great voice for schools and municipalities in the Patrick administration. Of course, the Globe has never liked Tim Murray because he has been the highest ranked state official to stand up to the confiscatory charter school funding scheme in Massachusetts, one of the Globe’s pet projects.

    Your lefty, good government friend
    Pablo

  12. HLPeary Says:

    Jack: You missed (or twisted) my point…I credit Tim Murray as Gov. Patrick has publicly credited Tim Murray for the CSX negotiations, expansion of veterans services, decrease in homelessness and passage of the health reform legislation. There were no “unsavory practices” as you assert, just hard work, persistence and more than a little creativity. Those are totally different issues than campaign finance or state public hiring policies. I give Murray credit where it is due. On the other issue: Tim Murray rejected McLaughlin when he learned what he was up to and acknowledged that he had made a mistake in accepting his support in the campaign. McLaughlin has played many, many a politician over the years but the Globe failed (chose not) to go after them or the Governors, AGs, and his Federal Housing Authority bosses who looked the other way while McLaughlin carried on. If he was so notorious, where was the Globe and Herald in blowing the whistle on him over the last 30 years?

    All that aside…we do need serious reform in campaigns and how campaigns are funded. If you are not independently wealthy, you must raise enormous amounts of money to run for office. That kind of system has resulted in the mess we have at the federal and state level (Read: “Republic, Lost” by Lawrence Lessig…it is a sobering wake up call)…And as far as public employment jobs are concerned, what is your solution? Should we prohibit any and all elected officials from recommending anyone they know or anyone who has supported them in the past for a state job? (Dukakis tried that when he was first elected governor and that got us Ed King the next time around.) Should we revert to a 100% civil service system where top test takers get the job? or blind resumes where names are replaced with numbers for consideration? Maybe that’s what will have to happen. No one wants a pay-to-play system that undermines public trust and involvement. But, Murray’s mistake with this McLaughlin guy, one slug in a sea of many slugs around the state, does not make him some king of patronage politics. If the Globe had really wanted to write that kind of story and put together a list of Massachusetts pols who have major league credentials in that area, Murray couldn’t have made the top 500 list.

  13. Jack Says:

    In Lowell, Murray runs with reformers and hacks alike. Not sure which is his true crew. Was he tight with Glodis?

  14. C R Krieger Says:

    The following is incorrect:  “My Republican friends are quick to bust my chops.”  At least that is my opinion.  We do, when deserved, but we are not quick to do it.  Thought is involved.

    I do like H L Peary’s idea of a civil service system.

    Aside from that I have nothing to say.  I don’t wish to get in the way.

    Regards  —  Cliff

  15. Lynne Says:

    Cliff, I will admit, that when YOU bust our chops, thought is definitely involved.

    In many cases of other people though I beg to differ. ;)

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