SPRINGFIELD — In spite of its stated purpose, the biennial Democratic issues convention is less about policy and more about politics, especially in the year before statewide elections.
As much as the 3,000 Bay State delegates paid attention to the boilerplate platform language or signed petitions supporting one cause or another, the Democratic faithful spent a lot more time talking about the leadership crisis on Beacon Hill and the 2010 re-election prospects of incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick.
Inside the Mass Mutual Center, in the bars and restaurants surrounding the convention hall, and in conversations spilling out into the streets and sidewalks, delegates and conventioneers relentlessly traded views regarding the recent indictment of former House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and the governor’s looming battle for a second term.
Patrick himself did much to quell speculation about any strong challenges with spirited appearances at receptions and a well-received speech in which he sounded touchstone themes about holding fast to Democratic values.
He also repeated his pledge not to raise taxes without first making fundamental changes in the way the state does business — the “reform before revenues” mantra intended to win over a public worried about service cuts, but wary of schemes to pick their pockets to plug huge budget gaps caused by the faltering economy.
Kevin C. Peterson, a convention observer and veteran political operative who now runs the Ella Baker House in Dorchester, said that in spite of rising unfavorable ratings, the state’s first African American chief executive will survive to win re-election.
“The governor’s doing as well as he can, given the state of the economy and the need for vast resources to run state government,” said Peterson.
“Ostensibly, Gov. Patrick is vulnerable to the extent that there is a viable candidate with a viable message to challenge him,” he added. “In the absence of any candidate who will speak to the electorate in very clear terms about how they can do better, he will win a second term.”
Other attendees largely echoed the refrain that “you can’t beat someone with no one.”
Any possibility of a strong primary challenge from a legislator has dipped in the wake of the DiMasi charges and the recent resignations of two state senators facing their own legal problems — Dianne Wilkerson and James Marzilli. With the legislative branch scoring at near-record lows in opinion polls, speculation has turned to constitutional officers.
State Treasurer Tim Cahill bested Patrick in a hypothetical primary match-up, 35 percent to the governor’s 30 percent, in a March poll conducted by The Boston Herald. But he didn’t attend the convention and has denied rumors that he plans to challenge Patrick as an independent.
Meanwhile, Charlie Baker, a former member of GOP Gov. William Weld’s cabinet and now the CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and variety store magnate Christy Mihos, who ran for governor in 2006, are the only Republicans on the horizon in the heavily Democratic state.
In the same March poll, 33 percent of the respondents said they had never heard of Mihos, who ran for governor in 2006, while Baker, considered a rising star of the party, was unknown to 59 percent. The bad news for the governor was that only 34 percent said he deserved re-election, while a stunning 47 percent said it is “time to elect someone else.”
The good news for Patrick is that without a strong challenger to harp on such missteps as new drapes for his office, a luxury SUV at his disposal and the botched appointment of former state Sen. Marian Walsh to a well-paid state post that had gone unfilled for half a generation, Democratic voters have nowhere else to go.
State Rep. Willie Mae Allen, D-Mattapan, a convention delegate and a member of the Democratic State Committee since 1982, brushed aside criticism of the governor and pledged her support for his re-election.
“I believe the governor has used solid judgment to make decisions in the best interest of our Commonwealth and has made a sincere effort to reach out to our community,” she said.
Melissa Fuller, a 22-year-old graduate student from Mattapan working as a convention volunteer, agreed with Allen.
“I think he’s doing a great job and deserves re-election even if there are many things he’s done that people disagree with,” she said. “He has a very positive presence and in spite of the difficulties, he’ll continue to inspire people.”
A negative note was sounded over the weekend by the Rev. Eugene Rivers, the firebrand Pentecostal preacher who challenged Patrick to agree to a series of debates to review his record on four issues key to the black community — CORI reform, stimulus spending, public safety and judicial appointments.
According to Rivers, who frequently broke bread with the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in the Bush White House, Patrick has fallen short of pushing through reforms to the criminal offender registry; failed to adequately steer federal stimulus money to communities of color; done little to stem the rising tide of youth violence; and, by his own admission, compiled an abysmal record of minority appointments to the state bench, with just two minorities named to 29 judicial vacancies since he took office.
“Frankly, he gets somewhere between a D and an F on all four policy areas,” said Rivers. “On the basis of his performance to date, there is no rational basis for voting for Deval Patrick for re-election.”
But with the broader electorate more focused on scandals involving the unholy triangle of lobbyists, legislators and lucre, political analysts like Joyce Ferriabough believe the governor will win by sticking to his pledge to reform the pension system, strengthen ethics and lobbying rules, and improve the state’s transportation network.
“I think he’ll be re-elected,” said Ferriabough. “Now is the toughest time to govern, but I’m proud of the way the governor is sticking to his guns around reforming the way business is done on Beacon Hill.”
Just 18 months away from his primary re-election bid, Gov. Deval Patrick is spending campaign cash faster than he’s raising it, despite a widening fundraising gap with possible challenger Treasurer Tim Cahill. More »
Former House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and three associates were indicted on federal charges alleging they conspired to help a software company win $20 million in state contracts and conceal money they got from the company. More »
"The charges against DiMasi are far more destructive of the public welfare than the petty allegations against [City Councilor Chuck] Turner and [former state Sen. Dianne[ Wilkerson. Yet the treatment of DiMasi was civil, while the treatment of Turner and Wilkerson was hostile," the Banner wrote in its June 11, 2009, editorial. "... The Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office has some ’splaining to do." More »