The Hill and the Hall Week in Review
Each 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 sees an opening and bites back; Scenes from an Obama rally; Plus: Why the hate for Barbara Lee?
Governor Deval Patrick put on his most serious-est face Thursday morning and warned everybody that his ambitious agenda, which was a bit beyond everybody’s reach to begin with, will remain even more so for the time being. That’s because of all the hot Dust Bowl action happening out there. “It’s not that we’ll be off-track,” Patrick said. “But it’ll be a slower train, there’s no doubt about it.”
Patrick announced a plan to make “hundreds of millions” in emergency cuts to the budget, which will begin two weeks from now; after his budget writers figure out just how much has to actually be cut. But it’s his longer-term proposals that show definite growth, and political savvy, in his administration.
Patrick said Thursday that he wanted to eliminate the Turnpike, have the state restructure crushing Big Dig debt, reform state and MBTA pensions, consolidate agencies, and accelerate health care reform maneuvers.
There are no new proposals there, and none of them would ease the state’s budget crunch in the short term. But the oncoming fiscal crisis gives the governor the political opening he needs, and has long sought, to blow up the Pike and bring the T’s unions to their knees.
It also makes legislators much less likely to stand in his way, because if they do, they won’t just be obstructing reform, as Mitt Romney liked to charge. They’ll be Nero. Only with cod involved somehow.
Thursday’s presser was held in a cramped and smelly (thanks, TV cameramen!) third floor room, not the State House’s first floor press tank. The room was more than overflowing, and some reporters were left wondering whether Patrick harbors a strange preference for one room over the other, or whether forcing the press corps to stand in place, trip over wires, and elbow each other in the face might be a tactic to shorten the encounter.
Asked about how the cuts would effect his pledge to lower property taxes, Patrick briefly indulged the urge to bash the legislature. “That depends on a lot, including cooperation from the legislature,” he said. Noting, “I put four ideas forward.”
He was pressed twice on whether fiscal doom might tempt him to resurrect his doomed casino bill. Patrick responded to the second one by nodding towards the Globe’s Frank Phillips and asking, “Didn’t you just see me ignore his question?”
Thursday also saw a rally for Barack Obama by a group of the state’s top female politicians. Senate President Therese Murray, who had generated a good deal of gossip in January when she laid into Senators Kennedy and Kerry for supporting Obama (saying their endorsement was “dead wrong” and “disappointed” her), announced her support for the Democratic nominee, “as a woman, as the first female president of the Senate, and as an American.”
Murray also raised eyebrows by cryptically introducing Attorney General Martha Coakley thusly: “We’ll be following her career in the very near future” Intriguing!
The day’s best line belonged to House Majority Whip Lida Harkins. She’d been a strong Hillary Clinton supporter, and had wanted to see the election of the country’s first female president. It won’t be Sarah Palin, she said. “I cannot vote for that kind of woman,” Harkins said, characterizing “her attitude” as, “Let them eat moose.” Afterward, a television reporter was overheard asking a bystander, “What was her name?”
Still, the rally demonstrated the perils of discussing matters of national importance on a busy city sidewalk. Spare Change Guy warmed up the crowd by giving out free hugs. “I love you sooooo much,” he cooed to one lucky female, a cigarette dangling perilously from his lips.
A gust of wind sent Murray’s speech flying towards Beacon Street—and an aide hurtling after it. A crazed gentleman shambled down the street, repeatedly screaming “OBAMAOBAMAOBAMA.” It was not immediately apparent whether he was a fan or opponent of the junior senator from Illinois.
And two separate passing motorists exclaimed their support for the Republican ticket by hollering partisan gibberish at the assemblage. “SARAH PALIN WOOOOO!” was one such remark—enough to get Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral to halt her prepared remarks.
“I didn’t hear that,” Cabral admitted. “Was it positive?” It was not, she was told. She shrugged. “Another country heard from.”
Boston’s ugly race about race generated headlines for the second straight week. On Tuesday night, Chuck Turner told Politicker that Sonia Chang-Diaz has “no roots politically or socially or anything else in the Hispanic communities” of the Second Suffolk. (The board of MassVOTE no longer counts, apparently.)
He added, “To have Ms. Chang-Diaz in the seat really takes away a treasured resource,” as the district “needs someone in the Senate that really understands what our needs are.”
Politicker wrote that, “Turner questioned Chang-Diaz’s Latina heritage, saying that he heard that she added ‘Diaz’ to her last name when she first considered running for public office,” and “said the candidate’s base of support comes from liberal white women.”
Turner singled out Barbara Lee, a Cambridge philanthropist, for criticism, and painted Chang-Diaz’s base as “part of the national group that thought Barack Obama getting the nomination was depriving white women everywhere of something they deserved to have.” (The Roxbury city councilor is one of the few elected officials still publicly standing with the embattled senator; everybody else is totally staying out of this thing.)
Never mind the irony of the councilor noting the historical roots of the Dorchester and Roxbury-based district in one breath, and condemning activists for chasing an office, “they deserved to have” in the other. It’s the Barbara Lee line of inquiry—one other Wilkerson allies have also pursued—that’s the puzzling one.
Yeah, Lee is a rich white lady from Cambridge. She pulled hard for Hillary Clinton because that’s what she does—she gets women elected. Lee sent $4,600 to Clinton’s campaign last year; and this past August, she did the same for Obama. Then she chipped in another $28,500 for the Obama Victory Fund.
Lee has also worked to advance the fortunes of Cabral—a pol both Dianne Wilkerson and Turner have strongly backed.
In 2004, during Cabral’s contentious race against Steve Murphy, Lee was hosting a DNC women’s leadership rally at the Southie convention center. She got Cabral onto the bill, sharing a stage with Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Carol Moseley Braun, Donna Brazile, and Madeline Albright. (No other candidate for county sheriff received a speaking slot that afternoon.) Lee also sent Cabral maximum $500 contributions in 2005 and 2007.