Enter the wonk

Chris Gabrieli joins the governor’s race  
By ADAM REILLY  |  April 5, 2006

BUFFALO WINGS: Chris Gabrieli's decision to run for governor should inject some substance into the campaign - but how long will he be in the race?Chris Gabrieli’s decision to jump into the race for governor — which he’ll do this week, if all goes according to plan — has an almost Shakespearean quality. Consider: at the end of January, attorney general and would-be governor Tom Reilly was poised to pick Gabrieli as his running mate, but changed his mind at the last minute and tapped state representative Marie St. Fleur instead. The about-face stunned Gabrieli; worse, when St. Fleur’s financial woes led her to quit after one day, it exacerbated doubts about Reilly’s political skills. and now, two months later, Gabrieli is challenging his erstwhile ally for the state’s top job.

Betrayal! Irony! Revenge! All great stuff, if you like political theater. But Gabrieli, a venture capitalist best known as Democrat Shannon O’Brien’s 2002 gubernatorial running mate, can’t afford to be typecast as a grudge candidate. He’s already got the 500 signatures necessary to get into June’s Democratic state convention — more on that later — but he’ll need votes from around 300 extra delegates to land a spot on the primary ballot. And prospective supporters might balk if they decide that Gabrieli’s campaign is just about payback.

Which, to be fair, it isn’t. After all, Gabrieli has a long history of political and civic activism. He ran for Congress in 1998, and for lieutenant governor in 2002. He chaired MassINC, the influential nonpartisan think tank, for six years. And he co-founded the nonprofit Massachusetts 2020.

Consequently, when the Phoenix asked Gabrieli why he wants to be governor, his answer — he loves Massachusetts, and a groundswell of popular support convinced him to enter the race — was largely convincing. “Our state is stagnating; it’s losing its fastball,” Gabrieli said. “And I find that incredibly frustrating ... Our track record of getting results for people, both in the private sector and in the public sector, puts me in a position to step forward as governor and say, ‘Here’s some things we can really do. And I will get them done.’ ”

And yet. However noble Gabrieli’s intentions are, whatever popular pressure may have pushed him to enter the gubernatorial fray, there seems to be a glimmer of residual resentment. Take this line, which seems like an obvious swipe at Reilly’s Kerry-esque positions on gay marriage and the death penalty. “I think that it’s really important that candidates for office can answer, really briefly, where they stand on issues that people care about, and tell people what they think is right and wrong,” Gabrieli said. “I’m for gay marriage. I’m pro-choice. I’m against the death penalty.”

Three’s company
Whatever blend of altruism and ego is fueling Gabrieli’s candidacy, Massachusetts voters should benefit from his entry into the race, at least in the short term. With just Reilly and Deval Patrick vying for the Democratic nomination, the primary contest could have been a monotonous battle of caricatures: in one corner, the Boy from Springfield, a humble everyman who wants to show us his tax returns; in the other, the candidate known simply as Deval, whose social liberalism, Alger-esque life story, and existential take on politics make the faithful swoon.

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The Phoenix interviews Chris Gabrieli (podcast mp3)

Flying away on Buffalo wings

Gabrieli — who grew up in the depressed city of Buffalo, New York, and attended Harvard College — is a big fan of The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, by Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman, who argues that social and political progress depend on economic growth. “My brother and I loved growing up [in Buffalo]; we also knew we had no intention of going back there after we went to college,” he says. “My wife is the type who grew up here and never wants to leave. And I’m in the other half of the population of Massachusetts who did not grow up here but thought, ‘This is where I want to be.’ ”
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