Three Dems battle over state auditor post in primary race
Suzanne Bump would like your vote — she is running for state auditor in the Sept. 14 primary. So would Worcester County Sheriff Guy Glodis and political newcomer Mike Lake.
This is the first time since 1986 that the incumbent, Joe DeNucci, isn’t running and also the first time in more than 20 years, the candidates say, that voters have a choice.
For years, DeNucci called himself the “watchdog for the underdog.” Aside from the three democratic candidates, a Republican is also in the race.
Mary Z. Connaughton is a certified public accountant and was a member of the Massachusetts Turnpike Board of Directors. She also served as chief financial officer for the State Lottery, vice chairman of Framingham’s Finance Committee and taught accounting at Framingham State College.
Without any opposition on the Republican side, the focus has been on the democratic candidates.
On a recent campaign stop, Bump stood tall with cropped blond hair, light eyes and a bright toothy-smile. Dressed for a summer party but with gold flats for walking, she navigated a crowd off Warren Avenue in Roxbury before the Caribbean Festival earlier this month.
“I’m very comfortable in communities of color and have actually spent a lot of time working in them over the years,” she said.
Eight years ago she was a volunteer on Shannon O’Brien’s campaign for governor and she spent a lot of time in the community. Bump said that it gave her insight to the priorities she should have as a state-wide leader. When Gov. Deval Patrick picked her as his labor secretary, she said that she made a point to open up “my own work force to people of color.”
As state secretary of labor, Bump employed more than 650 minorities; a 12.6 percent increase in non-management and 15.8 percent increase in management over the former labor secretary’s workforce.
She called this a “significant achievement,” and said, “I want to provide that same opportunity as state auditor.”
Two weeks ago, she attended services at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury. Rev. Gerald endorsed her, calling her a “friend of the community.” He let her speak to the congregation, and afterwards, as Roxbury resident and Boston Volunteer Coordinator Aaron Jones recalled, one community member awarded her high praise.
“A fellow came up to us, his name was Robert Woodson,” said Jones, “he had just wanted to reach out to Suzanne,” and tell her that he worked for the division of unemployment for the past twenty years and saw more positive changes under her leadership than any of her predecessors. “He said that she had a very unique style and that he really appreciated her work,” Jones said.
He called that comment “refreshing” and indicative of Bump’s leadership. He praised her as trustworthy and honest. Jones says Bump has positive motives and believes that she will be good for the community.
Good motives aside, her actions speak more to Bump’s ‘watchdog for the underdog’ potential.
One example, Bump’s efforts in the 1990s to reform workers’ compensation. At the time, she said, the system was “on the verge of collapse.”
Wrought with denied claims and inflated insurance premiums, said Bump, “employers, workers, doctors and hospitals, everybody was playing the system to their own advantage.” She went through the dynamics of workers’ compensation one line item at a time and determined that if there were fewer incentives for litigating, the system would be more efficient.
“A lot of lawyers lost business because we fixed the system so that it wasn’t so dependent on lawyers to resolve claims,” she said. This decision cost her the election in 1992, when lawyers backed her opponent and pushed her out of office.
“I knew that I was taking a risk when I was doing this, and that’s a price I paid and I would do so again because we have one of the best workers’ comp programs in the country,” she said.
She isn’t shy about taking the credit, nor about past mistakes.
In 1991, Bump and her husband accepted a $200 evening out with a lobbyist when $50 was the limit. A few years later, the ethics commission ordered her to pay a $600 fine. She complied and she currently discloses this report on her campaign website at the end of “QandA with Suzanne.”
“If you are going to undertake any of these responsibilities than compliance with the law is of paramount importance,” she said.
She points out that the Ethics Commission report determined there was no “intent to influence any particular act within her official responsibility” over the dinner and theater tickets, and that she “fully cooperated with the investigation.”
“When you are talking about people breaking the law,” said Bump, “that brings it to a whole other level.”
Speaking of her closest opponent this month, Guy Glodis, she shares his many shortcomings with as much ease as her own.
A recent Boston Globe article revealed that Glodis failed to properly identify the source of a $20,000 no-interest personal loan from a friend. Days after receiving the funds, he loaned $22,000 to his 2004 campaign for Worcester County Sherriff. His friend turned out to be Amit Mathur, a hedge fund manager who is currently serving a 10-year federal prison sentence for defrauding investors.
“It is a guilt by association type story,” said Glodis campaign spokesman Ernie Corrigan, adding “I thought Suzanne would run a better campaign than this.”
At least one of her complaints can be found in the 2010 audit report of the Worcester Sheriff’s Office. Bump has asserted that Glodis compensated his staff with more than $180,000 in lunches. According to the audit, Worcester Sheriff’s Office officials defended the free lunches by arguing “that if the free meals were eliminated, collective bargaining agreements would have to be amended to compensate for this benefit, creating additional costs.”
Bump says this is part of “a pattern that really raises serious questions about his trustworthiness. He has had problems with campaign finances, public finances and accounting for personal finances. And we’re talking about a job that is the ultimate in taxpayer protection.”
Corrigan calls Bump’s comments a “mudbath.”
Mike Lake is the third Democratic choice in the auditor’s race. Like Bump he is campaigning as a progressive. Lake is the youngest and least experienced candidate — a political outsider with neither management nor political experience to speak of — save for an undergraduate co-op in President Clinton’s White House. His campaign has garnered less media attention because of his smaller war chest and lack of celebrity, but he is not to be counted out.
He earned 25 percent of the vote at the 2010 Massachusetts Democratic Convention in Worcester earlier this year, a contest Bump won by just .5 percent.
The convention is one thing, and the upcoming Democratic primary is another. Corrigan asks voters to look at the issues, and to focus on each candidate’s priorities.
The Glodis campaign has promised to audit the auditor’s office, eliminate wasteful spending on rental space, create a method for increased citizen input, make certain as many contracts go to companies in Massachusetts as possible and protect property taxes from increasing.
For his part, Lake has announced his intentions for greater accountability, independence, initiative and innovation. What that really means to voters remains to be seen. He admits that he has no intention of being a career politician and has said that his first order of business will be to rescind the 5 percent pay raise that DeNucci gave his staff earlier this year.
Bump considers herself a major reformer and promises to look into the usefulness of tax credits and incentives as her first priority. She will also increase the performance audits on state contracts for services, specifically in the health and human services area.
In the primary, Bump says, the issues aren’t going to be what sway the voters. She says that winning votes will “come down to the image of trustworthiness and professionalism and experience that each of us is able to convey to the voters.”