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Best of Boston 2009

Sweeping up

Deval Patrick’s late appointments show a surer hand at the wheel
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  May 30, 2007


Whether by design or dumb luck, Governor Deval Patrick has managed to depoliticize the news coming from Beacon Hill. After a rocky start, the recent lull in conflict has allowed Patrick to recharge his batteries and project a newfound image of quiet, controlled competence.

This is one conclusion some are drawing from the lack of fuss that followed last week’s announcement of 11 gubernatorial appointees. What could easily have drawn controversy and criticism instead came and went peacefully.

Those appointments were, politically speaking, relatively easy, but could foreshadow a good political outcome in the tougher ongoing budget negotiations, bill discussions, and personnel decisions yet to be made.

Perhaps most impressive, Patrick has found his equilibrium without giving in to temptation to back down or to bend his goals. Despite his administration’s well-documented missteps and lost momentum, and the reported political dominance of House Speaker Sal DiMasi, Patrick has kept alive underdog hopes for enacting a local-options bill for meal and hotel taxes, closing corporate tax loopholes, raising revenue through casino gambling, and defeating the upcoming anti-gay-marriage vote.

Any one of these initiatives easily could have been killed by now. That they are still under negotiation is testament to Patrick’s tenacity and swiftly acquired political deftness.

Both traits were apparent in this past week’s appointments, which conceded nothing to Beacon Hill insiders, yet received few complaints. Patrick fired officeholders Harry Spence and Gerald Morrissey, who both had strong advocates in the legislature; rejected legislators’ suggestions to fill posts, most notably at the Department of Conservation and Recreation; and appointed outsiders unknown on the Hill.

But, in a departure from his earliest days in the Corner Office, the governor controlled the news adroitly. He leaked the big story — the long-awaited decision about Spence — a day early, making sure not to demonize him. And he bundled the appointments to ensure a “sweeping change” story line. Rather than shun the press, Patrick met with local newspaper editorial boards to discuss the changes. His reward: big headlines and little criticism. Even his first nominee to the parole board — which should have received intense scrutiny, given campaign allegations of criminal-coddling — flew under the radar.

Patrick appears to have made political moves and received public credit without stepping on toes or straining ongoing negotiations elsewhere.

So far, the same calm seems to be holding true on other fronts. It’s been two months since the death of Supreme Judicial Court justice Martha Susman. Amazingly, Patrick has kept the speculation and public lobbying over her replacement muted — thanks largely to Lisa Goodheart, Patrick’s cohort from his Hill & Barlow days, whom he has entrusted to select candidates. Patrick’s other recent appointments, including his former rival Chris Gabrieli to chair the board handling Springfield’s finances, have raised no hackles. Neither DiMasi nor Senate president Therese Murray publicly belittled Patrick’s role in the budget-reconciliation process. Things are quiet. And that’s a good sign.

Still micromanaging
Much of the credit for Patrick’s recovery is given to Doug Rubin and David Morales, two Beacon Hill veterans brought in after the governor’s shaky start. “Is it a coincidence that David and Doug came in, and all this started happening?” asks one Democratic observer. “Now that you do have Morales and Rubin in place, [the Patrick administration] is going to work much more like a political organization.”

Some also point to the addition by subtraction of respected but overmatched early appointees Joan Wallace-Benjamin and Nancy Fernandez Mills.

But some of the credit has to go to Patrick himself, who has proven capable of learning from mistakes and listening to outsiders — including a crew of Dukakis-era Democrats now serving as his kitchen cabinet.

That said, Patrick has reportedly not shed one bad trait: micromanaging. That tendency could derail his suddenly smooth ride.

Patrick is still doing too much personal vetting, say some of his supporters, rather than entrusting his cabinet secretaries and advisers with the bulk of that work. The governor may be understandably overcautious, thanks to the blasting he took for earlier mistakes, but his reluctance to delegate power is a big reason why long-needed appointments of second- and third-level secretaries and commissioners are being held up. These are the administration’s field commanders, says Democratic consultant Dan Payne, who asks: “Why is it taking so long to get these Republicans out of there?”

He’s not the only one asking. Many Democratic Party veterans expected Patrick to request across-the-board resignations on day one — a common practice when administrations change parties — not month five. But Patrick, too absorbed in the minutiae of the budget process, failed to realize the importance of the task, say Democratic observers.

Patrick is also making a mistake, according to some, in personally chairing both his economic-development cabinet and the new crime task force. That will tend to reduce honest and open exchange, say a number of government veterans.

Patrick’s over-involvement has left cabinet secretaries like JudyAnn Bigby in Health and Human Services and Suzanne Bump in Labor and Human Services in untenable situations: too closely directed from above while trying to prod a team of change-resistant Republican holdovers.

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Related: Hard sell, Financial fallout, Is it Tim time?, More more >
  Topics: Talking Politics , Allston, Althea Garrison, Bill Linehan,  More more >
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Sweeping up
let's just say there's "a hand" at the wheel. it's kinda like when the chinese where asked about the impact of the french revolution on their's, lin biao's response was, "it's too early to tell".
By jeffery mcnary on 06/05/2007 at 1:11:37

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 See all articles by: DAVID S. BERNSTEIN

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