Bill Weld - we hardly knew ya.
by Kevin John Sowyrda
When in Rome, do as the Romans, or so was the credo of former Bay State Governor William Floyd Weld, whose aspirations for new glory in his state of birth, New York, were dashed on June 6 when he took his campaign for governor off life support, and what a campaign it never was.
I remember a frantic call from a pretty solid reporter at the New York Daily News who asked me months ago what I thought about this Yankee of all Yankees entering the court of New York politics, which makes our game of same pale in comparison. In Massachusetts we play political hardball, but in New York they play political bio-warfare. None the less, I predicted in print that the wealthy Brahmin, whose recreational tastes range from ceaselessly quoting Melville's 'Moby Dick' to worshipping the garbage which is the drug infested Grateful Dead Band, would be to New York what he was to Massachusetts - an extremely colorful and vibrant candidate whose eccentricities were more than compensated for when considering his intellect and what that brought to the table of modern-day public policy making.
I was flat, out wrong. Bill Weld's campaign, run in large part by right-wing G.O.P. operative Rob Gray, was an amalgamation of back peddling, lame excuses for suspicious business dealings which did not pass "the smell test," to use the governor's more remembered quotes, and a platform of such outdated, unappealing and "we've heard all that before" pabulum that even Weld's fellow moderate Republicans - few in New York - did not come close to embracing the candidate. His attention deficit disorder is rarely discussed but was so obviously the primary reason for his peripatetic and brief New York political career.
Weld instantly suffered from an Achilles heel in his nascent bid for New York governor when the press there had a feeding frenzy regarding his role as CEO of Decker College in Kentucky, which went bankrupt and is accused of stealing student aid money. It was reported that Weld's annual salary for working at the college was $750,000 annually, which hardly facilitated his ridiculous efforts to downplay his role in the school finance scandal. If the New York media is to be believed, Weld participated in the type of business dealings he would have investigated when U.S. attorney for Massachusetts.
Suddenly, the Massachusetts governor missed his press pals in Boston, that gang of giggly, soft-hitting reporters who hoisted more beers with him than anyone could count and gave him a free pass on more events than we can recount in this space.
Weld and his aid Rob Gray forgot something early on - the New York press has no friends and is not bought by a few rounds of brew. It ain't Boston.
Divorced from his Harvard Professor wife of fifteen years and now remarried, Weld's race for governor was more than casually observed by the nation's Gay Community for very obvious reasons. While reigning in Massachusetts, Weld's pro-Gay agenda secured national headlines and established His Excellency as both the de facto leader of the moderate Republican movement in America and the scorn of conservatives, who could not countenance a party member embracing the Gay constituency with such utter enthusiasm. There were times in the 90's that if I didn't know better I'd swear Weld was himself......well, forget that for now.
But New York was a very different place - make that different dimension - and it's in this race that we were sadly reminded that politicians are not frequently chastised as camellions for little reason. Finding himself captured by a vituperative Republican Party apparatus and a separate Conservative Party, neither of which relished Big Red's Jacob Javits like social liberalism, Weld was suddenly back peddling on his most famous stand, that being support for Gay marriage. He ran away from the issue quicker than Johnny Damon bolted Boston for the Yankees. Clearly, Weld's personal ambition for a new crown and scepter in Rome exceeded what we were all naive enough to think was his commitment to his own core values.
The emperor started to lose his clothing last summer When the New York Post asked Weld if he supported Gay Marriage. Weld delivered a terse "No" to the asking reporter. It was after the Post article that the big press in the Big Apple, the New York Times, upped the anti. In a lengthy article, the Gray Lady clarified, to the detriment of Weld's reputation with the Gay Community, that the former "Mr. Pro Gay Governor" supported Gay Marriage when limited to Massachusetts and not allowed beyond those borders. For New York Gays, civil unions would have to suffice, said Weld. The hole enchilada was just for his pals back in Boston and Cambridge, apparently.
It was an ironic born-again philosophy for a man who once preached to numerous Gay organizations that he believed Gay men and women, nation wide, should enjoy the same rights as any other taxpayers. He even intimated, in a speech to the the Log Cabin club last summer, that the Massachusetts Supreme Court Ruling legalizing Gay marriage was a sensible boiler plate for all states. Directly referencing the Marshall majority opinion he said, "I'm surprised that that is not a more broadly held point of view."
The civil libertarian streak in Bill Weld seemed so completely solid and deeply spiritual that his abandonment of this so-Weldian belief in Gay marriage may have ironically hurt the guv with conservatives themselves, oddly enough. Let's face it, even your opponents respect you for sticking by your guns and ignore you when you turn out to be so plastic. Suddenly, friends and foes saw the new, New York Bill Weld. Here was a guy just bursting at the seams to spill what ever words sufficed to get into the political hunt. It was cheap, and beneath the man's intellectual reputation.
He just started to represent a needless sideshow, like one of those tents at the Topsfield Fair where they charge you five bucks to glare at some oversized cow or pumpkin.
Weld's political career is in more than hibernation today. He's age 60 and his bid for New York governor did nothing to enhance his reputation. In my opinion his political career is, based on ethical lapses in judgement and lack of self-honesty, completely dead and meriting just a paragraph or two in the history books. And his abandoning the Gay community, the same group which clearly made him governor in that incredible 1990 Massachusetts election, was just all too common politics of betrayal.
Farewell, Mr. Weld. It's unfortunate you pursued the life of Ahab - the Moby Dick character you so relish and now resemble. In pursuit of an unreachable goal you forgot yourself and you forgot decency.