Mitt's Katrina

Could the Big Dig collapse doom Romney's presidential dreams?
By ADAM REILLY  |  July 14, 2006

Mitt Romney

It seems callous to talk about the political implications of Milena Del Valle’s death Monday night, which came when she was crushed by a three-ton chunk of ceiling inside a Big Dig tunnel. But a host of factors — Mitt Romney’s White House ambitions, the 2006 Massachusetts governor’s election, the Big Dig’s bloated $14.6 billion price tag — make the tunnel collapse that took the 38-year-old Jamaica Plain woman’s life an intensely political matter, both locally and nationally.

The stakes are highest — and the damage could be greatest — for Governor Mitt Romney, who aspires to run the United States but hasn’t been able to get a handle on the Big Dig boondoggle during his three and a half years in office. In that time, the governor’s Big Dig strategy has been simple: call for the ouster of ex–Republican state senator Matt Amorello — who, as chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, has had ultimate control over the Big Dig since his appointment in 2002.

It’s hard to argue with Romney’s basic premise. Amorello’s defenders invariably point out that most of the Big Dig’s problems existed before he took the reins. But the fact remains that Amorello has repeatedly promised the public that the Big Dig’s various tunnels are safe. Hell, he’s even accepted an award for his involvement with the project. Now, though, Amorello looks like an ignorant jackass — and any assurances he makes in the future are sure to ring hollow.

Unfortunately for Mitt, Amorello — who’s comfortably ensconced in the State House’s good-old-boy network — hasn’t been inclined to heed Romney’s calls for his resignation. And his former colleagues in the Massachusetts legislature have shown no inclination to dislodge him from office. So Amorello happily keeps his job, month after month, year after year.

But now that a woman has died, all that may change. At a press conference the day after Del Valle’s death, Romney announced he was starting legal proceedings to remove Amorello from his post. Romney wanted to do that last year, and asked the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for an advisory opinion that he hoped would give him the requisite legal justification. But when the SJC didn’t comply — “The governor is seeking approval from the justices for what is essentially a basic employment decision,” the court noted dryly — Romney opted not to push the issue.

Today, the governor expressed confidence that his current bid to boot Amorello would pass legal muster. “While I take this action in the immediate aftermath of last night’s tragedy, I don't take it solely because of that tragedy,” Romney said. “This has been a continuing and ongoing pattern of mismanagement. And I’m following the course set out in the law, to bring in new leadership that can restore the public’s confidence.... We believe that the series of steps and mismanagement of this Turnpike Authority leader have reached a level that we will be able to prevail legally in this removal effort.”

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Related: The fallout, Call for justice, The truth behind the MBTA fare hike, More more >
  Topics: Talking Politics , Mitt Romney, U.S. Government, U.S. State Government,  More more >
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