Is Dan Wolf Risking His Status As Political Outsider?

Wolf may be risking his outsider status by getting a line-up of Beacon Hill heavy-hitters on his side.

A group of Beacon Hill’s heavy-hitters—former attorneys general, judges, and a onetime ethics commissioner—are stepping up to the plate for state Sen. Dan Wolf as he hopes to convince the state Ethics Commission to overhaul a rule barring the Cape Air owner from holding public office.

Ironically, despite the popular belief he’s been treated unfairly, Wolf resorting to Beacon Hill insiders could undermine his image as an outsider hoping to change the system if he restarts his campaign for governor.

“This could prove to be a pyrrhic victory,” said Lou DiNatale, a Massachusetts political analyst. “His opponent would use his supporters against him. This is a tough road for this guy to follow, and it’s unlikely he can survive it.”

Wolf filed his petition with the Ethics Commission on September 5, ahead of the next commission meeting on September 19. The Cape Air mogul’s fellow petitioners include a bi-partisan All-Star line-up of former Attorneys General Frank Bellotti and Scott Harshbarger; former Congressman William Delahunt; former U.S. federal U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner; Tufts Health Plan CEO James Roosevelt, former state Ethics Commission commissioner and current Judge August Wagner Jr.; and Republican state Rep. Daniel Winslow.

Wolf isn’t taking issue with the ruling, which he says was made according to the law. He is asking the board to create an exemption so businesspeople like him can own private companies, do business with the state, and hold office—so long as they don’t receive special treatment and it’s all in the open.

What’s more, Wolf and the lawyers who composed the brief (he hired power law firm Cosgrove, Eisenberg and Kiley, P.C. and Peter Sturges, former executive director of the Ethics Commission) argue the Ethics Commission have done this more than a dozen times. And he cites all of them.

Paul Watanabe, a University of Massachusetts political scientist, said the campaign will decide if Wolf’s decision to hire the big guns was a bad one. “There’s no hard and fast definition of insiders and outsiders,” Watanabe said. “Everyone wants to be positioned as not fully entrenched or perceived as well connected. That’s the line he’s chosen to walk.”

Wolf explained his decision in a press release last week:

“Today an eminent group of petitioners asked the State Ethics Commission to act to ensure that Massachusetts residents from all walks of life can serve in elected office, while continuing to protect the public from any real conflicts of interest,” Wolf said. “This initiative both respects the Ethics Commission’s mandate, and furthers the cause of participatory government. Its adoption would also allow me to continue in public service and face the fundamental challenge in our state and nation.”

Wolf submitted the petition after the Ethics Commission ruled August 2 that Wolf’s 23 percent ownership of Cape Air conflicts with state ethics law because his agreement to pay landing fees to Massport amounted to a no-bid contract barred under the ethics law. Wolf asked for the opinion “out of an abundance of caution.”

The Ethics Commission gave Wolf three options: divest his Cape Air stock, cancel his Massport contracts, or resign as Senator. He had 30 days to act. Wolf suspended his gubernatorial campaign while he sorted out his options.

Want to see the filings? Check out the PDFs here, here, and here.

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