The Hill and the Hall Week in Review

1198248225Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. It’s like TMZ on Beacon Hill, which makes Mitt Romney our Britney Spears this week.

The biggest story in the city this week happened up in New Hampshire, where former Governor Willard Romney was taken to the woodshed, and then forced to smile for the cameras and put the sunniest possible face on his presidential primary defeat: “There have been three races so far,” he deadpanned. “I’ve gotten two silvers and one gold — thank-you, Wyoming.” Two silvers and one gold, and good news all around? While you’re at it, why not scold us for forgetting Poland?

In truth, Romney spent years, and many millions, on a campaign strategy that hinged on overwhelming his opposition with money and organization in early primary states. It cost the governor upwards of $20 million of his own filthy lucre to lose the Iowa and New Hampshire (it turns out that buying $20 lottery tickets carries a better return on investment than vote-buying), and now he’s getting off the airwaves in South Carolina and Florida – two other early primary states Romney has invested heavily in to build a now-faltering organization. All Romney’s chips are now in Michigan – a state John McCain carried in 2000 and is currently leading in, and the site of dad George Romney’s infamous hand-holding march with Martin Luther King.

Before jetting off to Michigan, Romney swung by the Southie convention center, staying in town for just long enough to fleece some suckers for a few million. All the while, he lavished praise on his birth state (“For me, Michigan is personal. I’m not sure that I must win it, but I will win it”), while pointedly refusing to guarantee victory in Massachusetts. And no wonder. We all know how well familiarity suits Mitt.

With New Hampshire’s primary over and Massachusetts’s own election still weeks away, Beacon Hill politicians were free for, like, five minutes, to focus on the business of running the state. The most scintillating development was the state’s three chief budget-writers agreeing on a consensus revenue estimate to guide upcoming budget negotiations. No. Please. Keep your clothes on, and contain your excitement.

The announcement of the revenue figure ($20.987 billion, as if you cared) sets the stage for a considerably entertaining political bloodbath. It leaves the Commonwealth with a $1 billion-plus deficit, and lawmakers will be sorely tempted to close that deficit with the $800 million in free casino money Governor Deval Patrick is dangling in front of them. Senate Ways and Means Chair Steven Panagiotakos favors taking Patrick’s casino money because it’ll “help move the [gambling] debate.”

How will House Speaker Sal DiMasi react to this gun being leveled at his head? That’ll be the fun part.

Elsewhere on the Hill, Gov. Patrick unveiled plans to re-create the cabinet position of Education Secretary. He called education reform his “signature pursuit,” and began rallying his network of grassroots activists toward the cause.

For those keeping score at home, over the past twelve months, Patrick’s other signature pursuits included his troubled casino plan. And his Municipal Partnership Act. And the development of a clean energy economy. And his promotion of the biotech industry. And don’t forget about clean parks and shiny new bridges that won’t fall on anybody’s head. Please send spare Ritalinto: Governor Deval Patrick, State House, Boston, MA 02133.

Finally, over at City Hall, Steve Murphy and John Connolly managed to be sworn onto the Boston City Council without coming to blows. There’s time for that yet. The council reelected Maureen Feeney as the body’s president; Feeney then lobbed a grenade Mayor Menino’s way, calling for a one-day citywide summit on Boston’s many ills. To be held in the future Tom Menino Convention Center, no less.

Feeney’s announcement opens her up to wild speculation over her motives and future ambitions. The mayor pulled for her to dethrone Michael Flaherty last year because he was worried about Flaherty’s mayoral aspirations, while Feeney reportedly had her sites set on a job as city clerk.

No longer, it seems.

One City Hall insider called Feeney’s inaugural speech “very mayoral.” The council presidency has suited Feeney well – it has forced her to grapple with citywide issues, which, it is believed, may have her rethinking that whole not wanting to be mayor thing. The mayor is reportedly none too happy about these rumors; he “hates” Feeney’s summit idea, the insider says, “because it’s not his idea.” It doesn’t help that it’s Menino’s former chief of staff, Jim Rooney, offering Feeney space for this subversive little summit; Rooney and the mayor aren’t said to be on the best of terms.

We see conspiracies everywhere!

Other wild City Hall rumors to keep an eye on: We just swore in Maureen Feeney as president, but the jockeying to replace her next year is expected to begin in earnest. Feeney put term limits in place last year and, barring a rules change, can’t be president next year; whoever succeeds her will own a high-profile bully pulpit heading into the mayoral election.

Michael Flaherty was buoyed by topping the at-large ticket this past November, but he badly needs to recapture the council presidency. That may be easier said than done, as sources on the floor say Flaherty has lost, not gained, friends over the past year. The names that surface to challenge Flaherty will give great clues as to how the race to replace (more likely, to challenge) Menino will shape up.

Along those lines, all’s quiet on the Ralph Martin/Paul Grogan front. For now. Although, with Martin continuing to quietly feel around for support, and with the sizable bank account the former DA has managed to retain, that could change soon.

Don’t take your eyes off Marian Walsh‘s senate district, either. Rumors continue to persist that Walsh will land a job with the Patrick administration – possibly an appointment to the bench? Patrick largely passed on tapping legislators for jobs in his first year (he certainly didn’t want a slew of patronage-related press on top of an already rocky first year in office), but several observers believe that a number of legislators who supported Patrick will soon get their rewards. Walsh’s name is among the most prominent, and intriguing, being thrown out. Look at the names of the pols who live in Walsh’s district: city councilors Steve Murphy, Rob Consalvo, and John Tobin; State Rep. Mike Rush; even John Rogers, who may be on the outs with speaker DiMasi, or former city councilor Jerry McDermott, who recently moved from Brighton to Westwood, could conceivably make runs at the seat.

The only catch: any Boston politician would likely have to choose between running for Senate this year and running for mayor in 2009.