Then she changed her mind. Weeks later Zaroulis called, saying Coakley wanted to be “helpful.” I asked repeatedly what had changed. Zaroulis wouldn’t say.
Coakley and I met two nights later at Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge. She opened by apologizing for avoiding me. She said it had to do more with her schedule than any deliberate stance. Perhaps. But this is the same woman who has staffers appear at each of her opponents’ public outings, video camera in hand, the better to know exactly what they’re saying—and saying about her. The more likely reason Coakley agreed to talk was that she realized I was doing a story regardless of her cooperation, and so she wanted to mitigate any ill will.
Still, as the conversation progressed, I could see why she charms people. She’s personable. At one point, she gave me a sly smile and a wink. I never got the sense that she was selling anything, that this was a stump speech.
Her eyes narrowed, though, at the question of Wilkerson and DiMasi and her lack of involvement in those cases. “I find the complaints or the challenges that somehow I dropped the ball on that completely inaccurate.” She said her office is limited in what it can prosecute, especially in clandestine cases. Federal officials have much more leeway regarding the evidence that will stand up in court. (A person close to the U.S. Attorney’s Office says Coakley could have convened a grand jury for the Wilkerson and DiMasi cases. Boston College law professor Bob Bloom says though certain state statutes are more restrictive than their federal counterparts, “crimes can still be prosecuted [at the state level]…I’ve found Martha to be a less than courageous prosecutor.”)
About her campaign finances, Coakley didn’t dispute the $130,000. (Her office later called to say that $25,000 should be exempt from the total because it was paid for, in part, by her federal exploratory committee.) But she continued to claim that any allegations are politically motivated. “I am convinced the Federal Election Committee will do the [right] thing,” she said.
When I pressed her on why she would need to spend all this money, given that she’d previously won the AG’s office so handily, she asked if we could go off the record. When I said no, Coakley said, “Let me just say this: We wanted to gear up and make sure we were ready for reelection.”
Even if Coakley wins, she won’t do it in a way that will convince the populace she’s the best person for the job. That’s not necessarily her fault, of course. The race is too short, the field too crowded, and she’s got a big lead. But it’s hard to avoid feeling that it doesn’t have to be this way, that Coakley is better than the campaign she’s running. Avoiding the press or, worse, the opponents who seek to debate her is a cynical ploy; touting the inevitability of her candidacy is the hollowest of platforms.
If her lead holds through the eve of this December primary, she will win on shrewdness. Not on the boldness her campaign promised. Not on the potential her friends talked about. Not on the greatness her predecessor held. She may yet be a great senator, but senators don’t become great by acting like every other politician.