Reilly should exit

Why the Democrats should look for another candidate for governor  
By EDITORIAL  |  February 16, 2006

BIG GAFFE Tom Reilly was so eager to name Marie St. Fleur as his running mate that he neglected to vet her financial background.Attorney General Thomas Reilly should quit the race for governor. The news that self-made millionaire and good-government political activist Chris Gabrieli is allowing organizers of a “Draft Chris” movement to go forward together with the already declared candidacy of Bill Clinton’s assistant attorney general for civil rights and corporate lawyer Deval Patrick means that the Democratic Party is not without options when it comes to challenging Republican lieutenant governor Kerry Healey for the big office in the State House. (And the speculation that maverick Republican Christy Mihos might challenge Healey or — most interesting and probable of all — run as an independent, means that Massachusetts voters could face some unexpected choices in the months ahead.)

But the first order of business is for Reilly to exit. Reilly’s principal claim on the Democratic Party’s nomination is the incontestable fact that he’s raised a lot of money — $3.7 million as reported by the end of last year. But are big bucks from well-heeled party insiders and special interests the best measure of what Democrats want in a gubernatorial candidate? What about vision? What about political competence? Truth be told, Reilly has been a passable attorney general, but hardly stellar. He’s a garden-variety local prosecutor whose biggest claim to fame is that he managed to win statewide election. As attorney general he has not been in the same league as his predecessors, Republican Elliot Richardson or Democrats Robert Quinn, Frank Bellotti, and Scott Harshbarger.

Reilly is not ready for prime time. His political ineptitude and bad judgment have been sadly demonstrated on two pathetic recent occasions: the Worcester County case where he perhaps understandably but nevertheless inappropriately interceded in the investigation of an automobile fatality that may have involved an instance of underage drinking, and his embarrassing choice of the financially challenged Dorchester state senator Marie St. Fleur as his running mate without properly vetting her, even after she hinted broadly — but not broadly enough — that she had substantial tax-related problems.

It’s true that everybody makes mistakes, but do the Democrats want to entrust their party, which has been frozen out of the governor’s office for 12 years running, to a guy who makes two whoppers within a period of several weeks? Reilly has tried to deflect criticism by saying that politics has never been his strong suit. That won’t wash. As governor he would be the state’s chief executive, and as such he would have to combine the instincts needed for public life with the managerial talents demanded by the private sector. By these measures, he’s a double failure.

Reilly’s performance at the recent Democratic caucuses was equally dispiriting. The left-leaning wing of the party may enjoy an outsize influence in these intramural scrims, but should a two-time, statewide officeholder suffer a loss to electoral virgin Patrick by a margin that may exceed four to one (the ballots are still being counted) and presume to be a winner in November?

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