The Hill and the Hall Week in Review

1210706266Each 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: Gov. Patrick’s special photo-op; Mayor Menino’s charm; and about the budget: We’re still screwed.

Under normal circumstances, any press aides who allowed their boss to be photographed – and videoed! – participating in a humiliating stunt like the one Gov. Deval Patrick engaged in this week would have their asses handed to them. Hard.

Yeah, we get it, Google is fun and quirky and the web bubble’s champagne and caviar days are here to stay. And all of that means that MIT grads are now building Massachusetts’s high-tech economy, one ping-pong ball at a time. But this is not a photo that conveys the dignity and gravitas governors usually strive to project. The super-sized photo that ran in Wednesday’s Globe made Patrick look downright, uh, special.

And looking at the nonexistent blowback from these photos, all of that’s just fine. That fact, more than any other, shows how radically the balance of power has shifted on Beacon Hill recently. These circumstances aren’t the least bit normal – not to the formerly beleaguered governor, anyway.

As recently as two months ago, Patrick’s ping-pong photo-op would’ve been just another indication that he’s the punchline to a bad joke, not a functioning governor. House Speaker Sal DiMasi would’ve used the game to drop some demeaning comment about Patrick’s China trade mission into a joint media appearance, and the press would’ve howled its approval. That’s how things have gone since Patrick took office – he has enjoyed the unkindest kind of attention, while everyone around him skates free and easy.

No more, it seems. Sal’s the one scrambling to stay alive amidst a vicious ink-stained feeding frenzy. (Developments this week: Someone knows where Sal lives; Sal is not a crook; Rich Vitale will now be squirrelly half-truthful on his own time; John Rogers is still taking names).

Meanwhile, Patrick, by virtue of not being the victim of a blizzard of awful press, can do no wrong. He’s not the big game being hunted, and therefore, hitting a couple dozen ping-pong balls into the net is suddenly not news. It’s just how he rolls. Feels good, doesn’t it, governor?

Gov. Patrick didn’t have a monopoly on awkward photo ops this week, though. Far from it. Mayor Tom Menino played bocce with some seniors in the North End, took a bicycle ride in a Smurf suit, bantered with a slob on television, and pitched Macs to a Globe tech columnist. The mayor might be rolling out a massive charm offensive. Or he might be so unbeatable he’s given up caring. (It’s worth noting that Michael Flaherty raised a whopping $72 in April. That’s Felix Arroyo territory right there.)

Anyone who takes on Menino is going to have to have a sizable bankroll. Challengers will also have to out-hustle a mayor who’s made a living out-hustling everybody else in town. And even that might not be enough. This month’s Power package talked about how Menino’s apparent invincibility comes from the schedule he keeps: He’s always in the neighborhoods, and present at every event that invites him.

The voters who live in those neighborhoods will be tough to sway, because they know how much attention this mayor lavishes on the citizenry. An anecdote that didn’t make the final cut is illustrative.

City Councilor Rob Consalvo recalls trying to get a tiny, dead-end Hyde Park street renamed after the victim of a horrific car crash in the hours before Menino’s 2004 DNC speech. “The last thing he needed to be doing that day was bothering with a street change,” Consalvo recalled. “I expected five minutes. He gave me an hour. That’s why people love him.”

Now it’s time for the Hill and the Hall to remind everybody that the state budget is still, in technical terms, screwed. So says Mike Widmer, who issued a bulletin this week blasting the House’s reliance on rainy day funds for draining it, “much too rapidly.” It also called for a final budget figure to be, “several hundred million dollars less than the House budget’s bottom line.”

Ben LaGuer will be governor before that happens. The Senate’s spending plan always tops the House, and then the two split the difference. It doesn’t work in reverse. Still, we’re not just here to spread doom. We’re also here to help.

Our suggestion for shoring up the budget in these tough financial times: Leave that awful banner up in front of the State House, and sell corporate ads on it. If it’s good enough for the Pine Street Inn, it’s good enough for this great Commonwealth. Charles Bulfinch would surely understand that tough times mean desperate measures.

And as luck would have it, I happen to know a guy who knows a guy who can wrangle a few initial buys. Just, you know, as a favor.