Tone deaf

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  March 25, 2009

Presumably, the administration believes it has some legitimate reason for the move. But it has been strikingly unwilling to articulate one. It has not, for instance, publicly argued that there are serious problems with HEFA — which by several accounts there are — that have developed in part because its number-two position has been vacant so long. Instead, the appointment was announced by HEFA while Patrick was vacationing in Jamaica, with no comment from the governor's office. As the predictable criticisms came, the administration remained silent.

The same pattern held with the Group Insurance Commission's plan to eliminate the appeal board. Some people argue that the board is a wasteful anachronism, made obsolete by the change to an openly competitive auto-insurance market — but few have heard the Patrick administration make that case.

"Of course we try to counter the bad news," responds Patrick's chief of staff, Doug Rubin, in an e-mail. "The people who are saying we aren't are the same people who have been criticizing how we do things from day one."

Patrick recently conducted a string of town-hall meetings around the state. Rubin argues that getting Patrick "out on the road talking to real people" in response to bad news "is the most effective way to counter these stories."

Rubin also has courted the blogosphere, occasionally posting policy explanations on Blue Mass Group (bluemassgroup.com), for example. But that mentality blew up in his face last week, when Transportation Secretary Aloisi vented on the Web.

Aloisi, whose appointment was controversial to begin with — due to his Big Dig background — seems to be unraveling. Senate President Therese Murray makes no secret of her personal disdain for him, effectively blocking his ability to push the governor's reform plan. Aloisi has exacerbated that poor relationship by calling Murray's "reform before revenue" approach to transportation reform — i.e., reducing wasteful spending rather than hiking tolls and taxes — a "meaningless slogan."

Then, when the Globe reported on Aloisi's sister, Carol, who reportedly has a no-show job provided by the legislature (not the Patrick administration), Aloisi posted an ill-advised screed on the Blue Mass Group Web site — and quickly found himself issuing apologies, but not explanations. Aloisi also seemed clearly frustrated with the administration's unwillingness to defend his own performance from public criticism.

"The death watch is clearly on for Aloisi," says one political observer. "How does he have any credibility with the legislature now?"

Almost immediately after that episode, Patrick backed down from his March 29 toll-hike deadline. According to State House insiders, it was his only remaining option: the legislature was likely to vote for a toll freeze to override his plan — which would have made them the public heroes. Patrick agreed to a share-the-credit joint announcement that the hike would be delayed. It was not a proud moment for the governor: at the press conference, Murray declared that her "reform before revenue" plan had won the day.

A new enemy
The Patrick administration spent the better part of the past two years banging heads with former House Speaker Sal DiMasi. With him now gone, they had high hopes of a smoother relationship with the legislators.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Doug Rubin, Deval Patrick, Group Insurance Commission,  More more >
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