The Hill and the Hall Week in Review

1201278220Each 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. This week, Team Unity takes a step back, Deval Patrick throws an elbow, and Eric Gagne took home more dough than Bechtel/Parsons-Brinckerhoff?

How many players can leave a team before it ceases functioning as such, and devolves into a couple of guys wearing the same funny shirt and hat, standing around and staring at each other?

We may soon find out, as Team Unity, the Boston City Council’s progressive bloc, enters the 2008 session down a man.

When Felix Arroyo was dumped from the Council last November, Team Unity saw its power drastically diminished. As a bloc of four votes, it was already more than halfway to a majority vote, and thus had the potential to act as a significant power player, even king-maker. Maureen Feeney knows that better than anyone. But as a group of three, the voting power wielded by the remaining members – Chuck Turner, Charles Yancey, and Sam Yoon – has been greatly reduced.

Many City Hall observers had assumed that Arroyo’s departure would, and should, spell the end of Team Unity’s weekly strategy meetings. Four is a team, but three guys sitting around talking about politics is a coffee break, not a movement. Besides, the very notion of Team Unity has long raised hackles among the councilors’ colleagues. (Steve Murphy once joked that he and Feeney should sport matching T-shirts that read “Team Geritol.”)

Even so, before the council meets for its first full day of 2008 business next Wednesday, Team Unity will huddle up, just as it always has.

“It continues to be what it was – a minority caucus,” says Yoon, now the only at-large member of that caucus. “Chuck and Charles are district councilors and they represent a heavily minority population, and that’s still reason alone to talk. To ask: what’s going on, what needs attention, what we can do for our community?”

Yoon notes that his colleagues are free to caucus with the trio any time they wish, or to meet with each other. He jokes that he may soon “start an Asian caucus, and elect myself president.”

But he also acknowledges that the dynamics will be drastically different than in his first two years. We’ve heard Yoon will likely not return as the chair of the council’s housing committee – a blessing for a councilor who saw much of his freshman term swallowed by a housing albatross. Now he should be free to assert himself in all matters.

For all three remaining (uniters? unitarians?), there will have to be a broadening of ambitions, as well as more cooperation between the shrinking team members and their council colleagues. At least one City Hall insider believes that will be a good thing for Yoon in particular.

“He’s no longer yoked to Felix,” this person reasons. “He’ll be able to do what he should’ve done two years ago, and if he does, there’s no reason he can’t top the ticket” in 2009.

Governor Deval Patrick unveiled his second budget on Wednesday. Alongside his State of the Commonwealth speech, it was a (somewhat) bold challenge to the legislature: Either finally start acknowledging that I’m the governor and falling in line behind me, or fix this garbage your damn selves.

Patrick, who was the victim of a cheerily combative Sal DiMasi the day before, appears to be a man whose patience is wearing thin. He seemed to grow annoyed as he fielded questions about the propriety of budgeting for casino and corporate tax money that hasn’t been approved yet, especially because Patrick has repeatedly criticized the legislature for not moving on those proposals.

It’s the governor’s responsibility “to put thoughtful ideas on the table,” he said tersely. “The responsibility of the legislature is to take them up… This job is not to take boxes and move them around. Life is full of uncertainties. Our job is to make responsible proposals.”

Who would’ve guessed that when the governor pitched his casino plan Thursday night, the crowd would’ve gone wild? All that whooping and hollering certainly made it sound like the legislature can’t wait to topple King Sal and start throwing their spare quarters at Steve Wynn.

Of course, the ruckus might have something to do with the fact that somebody packed the House gallery full of T-shirt wearing casino enthusiasts. You remember those people, don’t you? We have absolutely no idea how they managed to score such prime seating.

It appears that after a year of catching elbows to the face, Patrick is learning how to finally throw them. Asked if he was worried about the Obama-Clinton spat spilling over into his relationship with legislative leadership, Patrick replied, “We’re professionals.” He paused and smiled. “I am, and I hope the speaker will be as well.”

Brilliant bastard move of the week: Mike Widmer crashing Patrick’s budget press conference. As soon as Patrick stepped off the podium, Widmer rose from his seat, and somehow found himself mobbed by reporters. Finding himself in this situation, he obliged their inquisitiveness and told them what he thought about the governor’s plan: That it ain’t no good. And guess what? Those quotes wound up all over the place. Imagine that.

All these fun budgetary times were overshadowed, though, by the action across the street – the announcement of a less than massive $458 million Big Dig settlement. It’s been covered extensively, but from our perspective, the most shocking bit of news was Mike Sullivan’s revelation that Bechtel/Parsons-Brinckerhoff only made $150 million off the project.

Testy reporters asked him why the state couldn’t recoup more money from the nearly $15 billion project, and Sullivan replied that the settlement represented a “substantial loss” for the consortium – more than three times what they’d made on the project.

Let’s do some math here. Twenty years, and $150 million. That’s only $7.5 million in profit a year. Meanwhile, Eric Gagne will make $10 million next year. Who knew not being able to throw a little round ball for strikes was a more profitable career avenue than managing the biggest public works project in American history?

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