Anything Fishy In Lake's Bio?

Mike Lake is running for state Auditor at just 31 years old, which has prompted questions about his experience -- and whether he may be inflating his bio to make himself appear more qualified than he is.

After looking into it, and speaking with Lake, I would say that the answer may lie in the eye of the beholder -- or perhaps in the sometimes subtle distinction between implication and inference.

His campaign literature, including his web site, certainly leaves one with the impression that Lake has had greater responsibility in his jobs than he has -- but the actual wording of the claims are accurate.

Lake, running as a reform-minded Beacon Hill outsider, certainly does not claim the experience of his two main Democratic opponents: Suzanne Bump and Guy Glodis. Bump and Glodis both know state government as former state legislators, and both have run large public agencies: Bump as Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, and Glodis as Worcester County Sheriff. The Auditor's office has a $17 million budget and 250 full-time-equivalent staff, and conducts audits on a very wide range of government departments and operations.

So, what is Mike Lake's experience?

Lake's current position is executive director of Northeastern's World Class Cities Partnership, part of the Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy. That is a new program, launched a year ago, which is still largely in development stages -- Lake says he has not yet hired staff.

Lake's campaign literature describes his previous job as Director of Development for United Way of Massachusetts Bay. That was his title, but the wording gives the impression that he was the head of development for UWMB. But in fact, that title is held by many people in the UWMB development office.

But the most striking resume item is the one described on Lake's web site this way: 

" Special Assistant for White House Operations, Mike effectively managed the day-to-day operations of the White House, re-designing and improving processes and systems for the $54 million government agency." 

Striking, because Lake held this appointed position from late-Spring 2000 to early 2001 -- when he was 22 years old, and not yet a college graduate.

Striking, but essentially true. According to someone who worked there at the time, it was common for this position to go to a promising young intern -- which is what Lake was; he was there doing one of his several co-ops for his Northeastern program. Lake temporarily withdrew from Northeastern to accept the appointment.

The White House Operations office is part of the White House Office of Management and Administration (OMA); it is in charge of a myriad of practical, nuts-and-bolts matters ranging from making sure White House staff have desks, to fulfilling technology requests. Lake, as he described it to me, handled all of the procurement for White House operations: "I had the only White House credit card," he says. And, he did re-design certain processes and systems.

The former OMA staffer I spoke with (who was not referred to me by Lake, I would note) says that Lake's job duties were, generally speaking, as he described them to me. (And, that Lake was a smart and impressive young man).

Those duties are impressive; they are not, however, what probably comes to most people's minds when they see the phrase: "managed the day-to-day operations of the White House." Most people don't know that "White House Operations" is separate from the political functions; they are likely to infer that Lake was a Josh Lyman-esque deputy chief of staff. 

In addition, Lake's recounting of his work experience, both in print and when speaking, tends to leave the impression -- again, not explicitly -- that he has been gaining experience steadily since college at these jobs. He worked at the White House position for less than a year (he was kept on by the Bush administration for a few months during the transition), for only a couple of years at UWMB, and less than a year to date at Northeastern. For several years after graduating college, Lake worked on a series of political campaigns -- for candidates including Mike Festa, Angus McQuilken, and Sam Kelley.

So, what's the bottom line? I certainly can't conclude that Lake is lying about his experience. Nor would I necessarily say that he has puffed it up (through omissions or hyperbole) more than many other pols.

I do think it likely that most people who read or hear him describing those experiences -- and how they prepare him for running the state Auditor's office -- come away with a false impression that Lake has had more experience and greater authority than he has, and has managed large staffs and budgets.

I'll leave it to you and the voters to decide whether Lake should be faulted for that -- and, more importantly, whether his experience and qualifications are what you are looking for in a state Auditor.

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