Meet Charlie Baker: The Man Destined to Become Our Next Governor
WORCESTER. CITY OF ETERNAL DISAPPOINTMENT. It’s bad here in the flush times, worse in the recessions.
Today Charlie Baker is going to declare that things in Massachusetts have got to change, and as his tour bus rolls through Worcester’s battered downtown square of empty storefronts, boarded-up buildings, and check-cashing outlets, it’s clear that he has come to the right place to deliver his message.
Baker and a busload of his supporters are here for one of two speeches the Republican nominee for governor will give today, part of his brand-new “Had Enough?” bus tour of Massachusetts. The motor coach pulls up to Worcester City Hall and campaign workers begin hauling colorful signs out of the luggage hold, lining them up against a wall. It’s an overcast morning in mid-May, and as people file off the bus, the empty sidewalks only add to the sense of gloom. Besides those on the coach, just 10 or so people have shown up for the event, and it looks like they, too, have been brought in by the campaign. Everyone from the bus grabs a sign and marches over to the public green. Baker, with his long, brisk strides, leads the way.
This tour is a kind of message reboot for Baker, an attempt at a clean start for a candidate who’s just fired his campaign manager after weeks of getting knocked around by bad press and worse polls. The idea is for Baker to recharge his candidacy by traveling to cities and towns all across the state for rallies with fed-up voters who’ve “had enough” of Governor Deval Patrick. Today it’s Worcester and Lowell.
The podium for Baker’s speech has been set up outside City Hall. Nearby is an “I’ve Had Enough” banner signed by 30 or so people. A speaker blares David Bowie’s “Young Americans.”
The rah-rah bus tour is a curious choice for Baker, a sober man who’s spent his entire career behind the scenes, digging into spreadsheets and thinking up clever accounting maneuvers. Baker is the kind of person who actually enjoys the mundane details of government, the drilling down into policy minutiae. When he was elected to the Swampscott Board of Selectmen in 2004, he was working as the CEO of Harvard Pilgrim, the state’s second-largest health insurance company, and he’d once been the most influential adviser to Governor William Weld – the “heart and soul” of the administration. Yet far from commanding a leadership role on the local board, Baker was largely content to work in the background, busying himself with the details of the town budget.
Still, here he is, tall and trim, leading a bus tour. He’s standing right now in front of the podium, making small talk with a few of his supporters in the moments before his speech. A woman carrying an infant in a BabyBjorn walks up to the group and shares a laugh with the candidate. Someone, sensing the opportunity for a classic campaign photo op, calls out, “Awww, you’ve got a baby to kiss!” The mother is beaming. Baker leans forward to kiss the child. But then, for some reason, he pulls back, awkward and uncertain. Finally, he reaches out his arm and pats the baby respectfully on the shoulder.