This article originally appeared in the May 22, 1973 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
I have a friend who finds the Watergate scandal only mildly amusing. This friend — call him “Thomas” — has been around Massachusetts for a couple of decades and has seen this all before. Thomas is a campaign spy; a homegrown version of E. Howard Hunt, Donald Segretti and Gordon Liddy.
“The trouble with those guys,” says Thomas, “is that they got caught. You’d think they teach them better at the CIA, wouldn’t you?” Thomas, who now works in state government as a reward for good and faithful service to a prominent elected official during a recent election, finds the failure of the Gemstone team the most repugnant aspect of the Watergate affair. He simply cannot believe that the men who planned and executed the break-in and related espionage could be as stupid as they were.
“I was only almost caught once,” he recalls. “Back in 1971 I broke into a campaign trailer of Louise Day Hicks for ---------. Someone saw me and I almost got nailed. Even then I managed to get away with some good stuff and still make it look like a burglary not anything political.” It was a break-in that received some coverage from the local press — a mayoral campaign sidebar at most. No one attributed anything political to it. And it is doubtful that Hicks ever suspected who did it. Thomas remained a top campaign aide to the very end.
Campaigning spying and related skullduggery is an old tradition in Massachusetts politics. James Michael Curley used to vote the graveyards in his candidacies and the Combat Zone/Boston Common winoes could feast on the dough they received to vote for various candidates around election time. In more recent elections, campaign spying has become a better paying, more complex sort of affair. Nearly every hotly contested Boston mayoral, gubernational and congressional race of the past decade has featured undercover agents, double agents, faked documents, erroneous rumors, set-up scandals, and leaks to the press.
Sometimes these actions can drive a candidate right out of the race. In 1970, Governor Frank Sargent was all set to put State Representative Martin Linsky of Brookline on his ticket as the nominee for lieutenant governor. Mysteriously a report surfaced that Linsky had once been caught with a Combat Zone prostitute by the Boston police. There was a police report to back it up. It appears the whole affair was rigged by a Boston pol with good connections in prostitute circles and the Boston police department. To help his good friend, State Senator John Quinlan of Norwood who was also seeking the spot on Sargent’s ticket, this pol nailed Linsky.
The sordid business ended with Linsky stepping out of contention. Sargent did not go with Quinlan, though, but picked Don Dwight instead — partially in reaction to the way his original choice was done in.
Most of the espionage is aimed at the defeat of a candidate. To this day, no one is quite sure who rigged the arrest of Cam Kerry, brother of Congressional candidate John, and another Kerry campaign aide during last fall’s elections. There were too many calls in the night, too many coincidences, however, for it to have been anything but a set-up deal. That the press learned of the two Kerry workers’ arrest on charges of breaking into another candidate’s headquarters almost before the police did bears out the suspicious nature of the affair. And it did hurt Kerry, probably enough to account for Paul Cronin’s small margin of victory in November.