Maybe, In the wake of his landslide win at this month’s democratic caucuses, Deval Patrick Is the new front-runner. Maybe he’s neck-and-neck with the former favorite, Attorney General Tom Reilly, who’s stumbled more in the past six weeks than most politicians do in a year. Whatever you make of Deval Patrick’s chances in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, one thing is clear: his years as a high-powered corporate executive are about to get some serious scrutiny.
There’s a political paradox at work here. Patrick’s business bona fides could be invaluable in a general-election fight with Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, the likely Republican nominee, and Big Dig whistle blower Christy Mihos, who may run as an independent. At the same time, Patrick’s Fortune 500 roots practically beg Reilly, who’s been cultivating an Everyman persona, to play the economic-populist card with a vengeance. Whether Reilly can do this skillfully is unclear — but so is Patrick’s ability to reconcile his abiding business loyalties with the exigencies of his candidacy.
Patrick had an impressive career as an attorney — with stints at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Hill & Barlow, the storied Boston law firm — before joining the Clinton administration as an assistant US attorney general in 1994. But after leaving the US Department of Justice (DOJ), where he was Clinton’s top civil-rights enforcer, he entered the corporate stratosphere. From 1997 to 1998, Patrick headed a task force charged with implementing a $176 million settlement of a discrimination lawsuit at Texaco. (In a recent interview with the Phoenix, Patrick emphasized that neither he nor the DOJ were involved in this case.) Texaco then asked Patrick to come aboard as an employee. From 1999 to 2001, he served as Texaco’s vice-president and general counsel, overseeing the company’s legal affairs and a high-stakes merger with Chevron.
Next, Patrick joined the Coca-Cola Company, which had recently reached a $193 million discrimination-suit settlement of its own. From 2001 until 2004, Patrick served as Coke’s general counsel and executive vice-president; he was elected corporate secretary in 2002. He’s also served on several corporate boards — including Coca-Cola Enterprises, United Airlines, and Reebok — and he still sits on the board of ACC Capital Holdings, the parent company of Ameriquest, the embattled mortgage-brokerage house. Patrick has been well compensated for his efforts: in 2003, Corporate Counsel magazine ranked him as the fourth-highest-earning GC in America, with salary and bonuses totaling nearly $1.75 million.
Add it all up, and it’s possible that, if a Patrick-Healey general-election fight materializes, a Democrat will be the preferred candidate of many Republicans and independents. After all, while the state’s business elite may appreciate Healey’s determination to reduce the income tax to five percent, Healey herself brings no comparable experience to the table. (She’s a criminologist, after all.) Which means the 2006 governor’s campaign could be a mirror image of 2002, when Mitt Romney’s private-sector background helped him defeat Democrat Shannon O’Brien. (One problem with this scenario: the Globe’s recent revelations that Patrick and his wife had a tax lien placed on their home several years ago, and are carrying mortgages totaling approximately $6 million, give Patrick’s opponents in both parties an opening to question his financial judgment. Another problem: the possible entry of Chris Gabrieli, the wealthy Democratic venture capitalist and 2002 lieutenant-governor candidate, into the primary race.)
Patrick isn’t waiting to play up his business background, however. During a recent appearance in Worcester, he drew an explicit analogy between corporate and political leadership. “In business, one of the phenomena that’s happening is that managers are managing for the short term, for this quarter, and sacrificing the long-term interests of the end product along the way,” Patrick said. “The same thing, I think, is beginning to affect government, when we govern for the next election cycle — or, in the case of the incumbent, for the next news cycle.”
Given the anti-business stance of much of the Democratic left, there’s some risk here. But Patrick insists the Democratic Party needs to lose its business baggage. “The point I make when I’m out talking to Democrats,” Patrick told the Phoenix, “is that Democrats have got to get comfortable again talking about the importance of the private economy. Because that’s where most people make their way.
“The difference between us and the right is — or ought to be — that we understand that there’s more than one bottom line,” he continues. “There’s the profit bottom line, and that’s right. That’s fine; I’m a capitalist; I understand this. But there are also environmental bottom lines, and community bottom lines, and human bottom lines. And the role of government, as I see it, is to balance those bottom lines — to create the corridor within which the free market operates. I don’t know that that is a Republican or a Democratic message. It’s pragmatism.”