Hack in Action

Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray is exactly the kind of politician Deval Patrick railed against four years ago. He’s also the reason Patrick may win again in November.

JOHN BINIENDA IS A SHUFFLING, wizened state legislator of 12-term vintage, prominent enough within his Worcester district to be attended to in life by a striking and significantly younger girlfriend.

Binienda also tends bar at the American Legion Main South Post in Worcester. One evening in March 2007, he was pouring drinks there while Congressman Jim McGovern, another Worcester Democrat, was holding a fundraiser down the street at Mechanics Hall. That event featured the state’s new governor, Deval Patrick, who at the time was being hounded by mini scandals: using a Cadillac as his state vehicle, purchasing expensive office drapes. But Patrick’s larger concern was the state House of Representatives. The governor had been battling the legislature over a tax package that would increase levies on corporations, hotels, meals, and telecommunications equipment. Most important, the change would finance the property tax relief Patrick had promised during his campaign. No matter how many times he stated his case, though, Patrick kept butting heads with Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi and the Revenue Committee, the House side of which Binienda happened to chair.

That night, Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray saw an opportunity. He, too, is a Worcester politician, and he pulled Patrick aside after the McGovern event to see if the governor would be up for a diplomatic mission. Murray knew Binienda was tending bar at the Legion. “It’d mean a lot to him, probably shock the hell out of him, if you walked in,” Murray told Patrick.

“Let’s go,” Patrick said.

The governor’s four-car convoy wended down Main Street and stopped outside the post. Ed Augustus, a native of the neighborhood and then a state senator, pressed the buzzer, and Binienda looked at the security camera behind the bar. Once inside, Augustus said he had some friends who wanted to see Binienda. In came a pair of state troopers, state Democratic Party chair John Walsh, Murray — and then Patrick. Binienda dropped the beers he was holding.

Patrick strode to the bar. “Is this where I have to come to get your attention?” he asked. The governor bought a round for the place, then doffed his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and sat down to a game of pitch at a table in the corner. On the way out, Patrick and Murray stopped at the bar to push the administration’s tax package. “They said, ‘Can I see you next week at the State House?’” Binienda remembers. “I says, ‘Of course you can.’”

Though the visit didn’t achieve the intended goal—property tax relief lagged and then died — it had a lasting influence on Binienda, humanizing Patrick at a time when his administration was seen as imperious and insensitive to the needs of legislators. “Everybody talked about it for months after they had left,” Binienda says. He still refers to it as “the big visit.”