The Governor in his Labyrinth

In year five of his administration, Patrick is keeping his options open
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  March 10, 2011

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick

Governor Deval Patrick has always excelled at inciting political speculation. Through his first three years in office, most Beacon Hill insiders remained convinced — even as his re-election effort began — that Patrick would not serve out his full four-year term.

Now, in year five, the what's-Deval-really-up-to rumor mill has not slowed. If anything, it has grown more feverish.

Depending on who's doing the speculating, Patrick will soon become either: (A) chairman of the Democratic National Committee, (B) head of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, (C) challenger to Republican Scott Brown for US Senate in 2012, or even ( D) ambassador to China.

Interestingly, Team Patrick has had little to do with this most recent spate of wild-eyed political forecasting.

Sure, there may be a few in the governor's orbit seeking to inflate their own importance by claiming to be in the know, when they are not.

But as far as I can tell — as both an avid consumer of and a periodic trafficker in Patrick rumorology — the stories have a life of their own. They appear as if by spontaneous combustion — sparked by news of a stop on the governor's schedule, or an unexpected job opening in Washington — and spread rapidly, gaining circumstantial corroboration or unsourced confirmation along the way.

Perhaps that's to be expected, given that Patrick's predecessors — Mitt Romney, Paul Cellucci, Bill Weld, and Mike Dukakis — all insisted they were focused only on the present job, even while they were planning their next steps (presidential campaigns in the case of Romney and Dukakis; a Senate race for Weld; and an ambassadorship for Cellucci).

Or maybe, in the inbred world of Bay State politics — where more than a few back-room mossbacks still consider senior senator and former presidential nominee John Kerry a bit of a novelty — Patrick is a political exotic, whose motives must constantly be questioned.

Either way, Patrick's inscrutability only adds fuel to the fire. After a painful — and in retrospect, brief — early period of harsh media criticism and thorny relationships with legislative leaders, Patrick has learned that honesty is not necessarily the best policy when dealing with the commonwealth's self-important and snarky political class. He's not inclined to lie, but he wouldn't tell a Beacon Hill denizen his or her coat was on fire unless it served a specific strategic plan.

All of this is the setting for the publication of Patrick's long-awaited memoir, on April 12.

A Reason To Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life, is expected to chronicle Patrick's personal history in far greater detail than what he has carefully parceled out to the public to date.

Media and politicos will pore over it, searching for clues to the author's intentions. Is he positioning himself for the next campaign — either for Senate or president? Is he establishing credentials for a cabinet post, or perhaps a seat on the Supreme Court, in Obama's second term? Or does he intend to leave politics and return to the business world for the big payday?

I suspect that once again, all of these theories have nothing to do with Patrick himself — who, according to people close to him, spends little time plotting his future, and sees many more options than others do.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Deval Patrick, Massachusetts, Massachusetts politics,  More more >
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