Governor Fuzzy: Has Deval Patrick lost his edge — already?

Plus, Boston City Council president Stephen Murphy.
By EDITORIAL  |  January 5, 2011

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VIDEO: Deval Speaks (To The Press!)

Some folks — including this newspaper — who supported Governor Deval Patrick's re-election and wish him well as he wrestles with the daunting task of steering Massachusetts through the next four years are scratching their heads.

Has the man we grew accustomed to on the campaign trail — let's call him Governor Focused — been replaced by his alter ego, Governor Fuzzy?

Take, for example, his response to the murder of Woburn police officer John Maguire by an armed robber who was also a parolee.

The governor, quite rightly, ordered an investigation. But when asked if he had viewed the widely broadcast video of the parole board's hearing, Patrick said he had not.

This was a surprisingly disengaged answer.

We can understand the governor's desire not to further rile already inflamed public opinion. But what's wrong with an answer of: "Yes I have, but I'm holding all comment until I have the report examining this important matter in front of me."

That would certainly have been both credible and high-minded.

More puzzling — and potentially disturbing — is the news that Patrick plans to spend more time out of the state.

"Full of confidence, and a bit of bluster, since his re-election in November," the Boston Globe wrote, "the governor is planning more travel, both domestically and overseas, to promote the state on trade missions, to research other states' policies, to publicize his upcoming memoir, and possibly to campaign for President Obama."

Rocket to Patrick: Massachusetts and the nation are in the midst of the worst economic crisis of a lifetime. Does a hands-on leader begin a new term in office by explaining why he's planning on spending more time on the road?

We'll grant that this is a candid expression of Patrick's plans, a reflection of his state of mind — no more, no less. And plans, as the governor himself pointed out, are subject to change.

But it strikes us an odd thing to say on the eve of being sworn in for the second time as the state's chief executive officer.

Then there is the weirdness of the 0.5 percent pay cut that Patrick engineered for himself and the legislature. It is nothing short of a tasteless joke: feeble at best, insulting at worst. If it could have been ignored, that would have been better.

A state constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1998 requires that the salaries of the governor and legislature move in synch with the commonwealth's median income. On paper, however, Massachusetts — thanks to its highly educated work force and its knowledge-based job structure — is one of the states least traumatized by the Great Downturn. While those in the bottom and middle economic strata may be suffering in proportion with the rest of the nation, the gains and general solidity of the upper reaches statistically nullify the loss.

In the real world, of course, there is a whole lot of suffering going on. Given the general shakiness of state finances and the specific crisis in the health-care system, the pain level is going to increase for many — even if an economic recovery takes root.

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