The Left, left out?

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 3, 2007

For the governor’s part, say several Boston liberals, Patrick hasn’t given progressives a single issue to rally around. At one time, he seemed to be elevating his taxation plan — closing certain corporate tax “loopholes” and allowing municipalities to tax meals and hotel bills — to rally status. The governor held a series of events on the issue, and warned the legislature that he would sic his progressive supporters on those who opposed the bills. But the legislature ditched those ideas without the governor raising any further hell, and Patrick’s threats have been largely forgotten — more so since he unveiled his casino proposal.

Choosing a darling
There is another way of looking at these recent elections: the progressive agenda has become a minimum requirement for election. Perhaps the most liberal candidate didn’t win, but the winning candidate was pretty darn liberal.

“In many cases,” says John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, “there has been an embarrassment of riches for progressives.”

Anthony Galluccio, who won the Democratic primary to replace Barrios, is liberal enough to have gained the enthusiastic endorsement of several progressive groups in Cambridge. Ciommo, who finished first in the Allston-Brighton council preliminary, meets all the usual progressive tests on the issues. Even Basile, in East Boston, is pro-choice, anti-death-penalty, and supports gay marriage.

All of those candidates, observers say, succeeded through hard work — getting to know and impress people in their districts over many years. Yet none of them became a “darling” of the new progressives. And most of those who were anointed darlings — Schofield in Allston-Brighton, Jamie Eldridge in the Fifth Congressional District, Gloribell Mota in East Boston, Tim Flaherty and Jeff Ross in Cambridge — couldn’t put together the kind of effective district-wide campaign that wins races.

Matt O’Malley, a Boston progressive who has twice run for city council, suggests that it’s a rare candidate who can generate enthusiasm among the new progressives and also marshal that energy into an effective grassroots campaign. Patrick was that rare exception. It is not surprising that others fall short, says O’Malley.

Many progressives only get fired up, one pol suggests, by an underdog candidate — which Patrick certainly was at the time they flocked to him — or by a candidate who deliberately appeals to the far left, itself hardly a strategy for electoral success. After all, it’s hard to feel as if you’re challenging the system by supporting a front-runner.

Others, such as Democratic consultant Scott Ferson, say that many ardent progressives are standing on principle and refusing to compromise. “They are true believers,” he says. “They would rather be right than win, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Feeling marginalized
Regardless of the reason for the progressive neglect at the ballot box, the result is that Massachusetts officeholders don’t fear paying a price at the polls for standing against the liberal base of the Democratic Party, a perception that State House staffers confirm.

Patrick’s casino initiative is a case in point. Despite mounting opposition, voiced mostly in left-wing blogs, Patrick chose to champion multiple casinos licensed by the state.

The apparent popularity of the casino plan, and of Patrick, wrote the left-wing blogger The Outraged Liberal, “suggests no one is listening to us.”

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