Power 2008: The Elements of Influence

Case Study: Martha Coakley, Massachusetts attorney general


WHEN REPUBLICAN LAWYER and local Machiavelli Dan Winslow first met Martha Coakley, he was struck by how the state’s first woman AG had never come uncoupled from her Catholic upbringing in North Adams. There she was, "fretting about whether to eat meat on a Friday," he laughs. In fact, Coakley’s good-Catholic-girl persona is key to her effectiveness, as she’s marshaled a growing list of big-ticket wins in her first year and a half in office.

Though she made her name in the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office on high-profile cases — prosecuting the likes of notorious nanny Louise Woodward and lecherous priest Paul Shanley — Coakley has taken a less flashy line as AG. In her biggest case so far, she defused predecessor Tom Reilly’s noisy and futile attempt to bring criminal charges against the Big Dig contractors responsible for the death of Milena Del Valle, opting instead to negotiate behind the scenes to secure a $458 million settlement. But like pre–gubernatorial candidate Reilly, she also knows the im
portance of picking critical public fights, which for her meant introducing healthcare reforms and installing some of the nation’s more aggressive regulations for subprime mortgages.

To the frustration of her fans, Coakley tends to play down such triumphs in the press. "My only criticism is that she isn’t quite as political as she could be," says an insider in the AG’s office. "If her goal in life were to be governor, she could be doing more." Still, strategically, her stance is a canny one: The chronic weakness of the corner office’s current occupant is that he talks big but doesn’t deliver, and by keeping her head down, Coakley (who a source suggests has begun fundraising for a possible gubernatorial run) has already built a track record that eclipses his. —Julia Reischel

Call 617-439-7775 or 617-348-1716.

That first number is for lawyer Tom Kiley, the fire extinguisher of choice for Billy Bulger (among many others) and, for the past year, business partner of ex–Senate President Robert Travaglini. The second is for Bob Popeo, who performs his butt-saving from a perch atop the law firm of Mintz Levin. Put them on speed dial in case of emergency, the way the state’s most powerful pols and execs do. This has been a service of Boston magazine.