Go for the gelt

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 10, 2007

Several others wrote large checks to the Romney-chaired Republican Governors Association, including Sheldon Adelson and Dawn Arnall. Eric Tanenblatt, a Bush “Ranger” (meaning he raised at least $200,000 for George W. Bush’s re-election campaign), has signed on as Romney’s Georgia finance chair. And Massachusetts businessman and Jewish philanthropist Theodore Cutler also has been a big Romney supporter. The mitzvah list is sure to grow in the coming months.

Rush to judgment
Last Thursday, while Massachusetts Democrats were celebrating the inauguration of Deval Patrick, the Massachusetts Republican Party was supposed to elect the person who would lead the opposition to the new governor and the Democrat-dominated legislature. Although eight candidates were running for party chair, reports indicated that the election, scheduled that evening, would be a coronation of former congressman Peter Torkildsen.

Turns out, the election wasn’t even held.

The January 4 election was postponed to the 16th, after complaints surfaced that not all committee members received the requisite 10-day notification. Normally that sort of technicality gets brushed aside. But some committee members, upset by the way outgoing chair Darrell Crate seemed to be rushing the vote, used it to force a postponement and buy extra time.

Crate has already gotten grief from committee members for seeming to endorse Torkildsen in a November interview with Jon Keller. But underlying that annoyance is concern that Torkildsen might be too closely aligned with Crate, who they associate with the Romney-Healey forces that have led the party since 2002 — and from whom many want a clean break. “The vast majority of state-committee members are not supportive of Romney for anything,” says Peter Lukes, committee member from Worcester.

“Committee members are split between those who want to continue the way things have been going, and those who don’t,” says Shari Worthington, a committee member who says she is undecided.

Aside from being concerned that Torkildsen, who serves in Romney’s Department of Workforce Development, is too closely aligned with the former governor, committee members are vexed by some of his expectations. Torkildsen wants a $100,000 salary for what has been an unpaid position in recent years. He also wants a car. The other candidates have said they would not ask to be paid.

Torkildsen is also widely seen as wanting the chairmanship to rebuild his own public profile, perhaps for another run at political office. Needless to say, many in the state’s GOP circles are tired of self-serving party leaders (Weld, Cellucci, Romney) skipping out on them.

All of these concerns are getting extra airing thanks to the postponement of the vote. “I think Torkildsen is running into trouble,” says committee member Polly Logan, of Cohasset.

Still, no other candidate has been able to gain traction. “I think Peter Torkildsen likely has the votes, if only because the anti-establishment voters are divided,” says Lukes.

But with the postponement, that could change; already one of the seven other candidates has dropped out.

And surprisingly, some committee members are putting the remaining candidates through an open campaign process — a startling alternative to the usual backroom deal-making of most state party elections, Democrat or Republican. They’re even having public candidate debates, including one last Friday in Woburn, with at least one more scheduled.

This is, after all, probably the most important vote the committee has faced in two decades, committee members say.

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