Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cocaine and guns don't mix - not even for cops.

Cocaine and guns don't mix - not even for cops.
by Kevin John Sowyrda

If dozens of Bostonians who were licensed to carry firearms were discovered to be cocaine ridden, this Second Amendment advocate would be the first to advocate the suspension of their firearms licenses as regulated under Mass. General Laws. However, if you work for the City of Boston and wear a blue uniform, being high on cocaine in no way means that the Gaston Glock handgun in your holster will be taken away.

That's nothing less than deplorable public policy, worthy only of a banana republic regime.

As first reported by the Boston Globe's Suzanne Smalley on July 30, 75 city cops have failed their mandatory drug tests since testing began in 1999, with results showing that a good time was had by all, including one officer who tested positive for heroin. But the drug of choice was evidently cocaine - with some ecstasy for good measure - and the decision of the present administration was, in accordance with the police contract, to give everybody a second chance.

You see, unlike you and I, and unlike police officers in New York City for example, Boston police officers have a highly unique contractual immunity; a right to be coked up at least once. And one need not be Angela Lansbury to figure out this mystery. A member of the constabulary testing positive for cocaine once, is probably using the substance on a more than casual basis. Cocaine is not equivalent to that occasional glass of splendid Chablis.

Mayor Menino will tell you his hands are tied. The contract, enforceable in a court of law, says that Boston police can test positive for drugs at least once without termination, and technically that is indeed correct.

I say shred the contract, burn it before every television camera in town at City Hall Plaza during a major press event, and slug it out in court while the nation watches - and the nation would indeed watch and debate.

Any responsible chief executive officer who signed a contract allowing multitudes of drug addicted police officers to continue on the job, heavily armed, has more explaining to do - in my book anyway - than does Matt Amorello right about now, the ousted big dig chief whose looking better by the day in comparison to the stories coming out of city hall, the other mess in town second only in size-of-mess to the Big Dig.

This question is hereby put to every Bostonian - would you have signed a contract that allows any police officer to put his gun back in his belt, and get behind the wheel of a police cruiser, with all the powers incumbent a peace officer under state statutes, after testing positive for cocaine or heroine or ecstasy? If we consider the question with sober consciences and not political minds, we come to the inevitable answer that all is not well at Schroeder Plaza.

The fact that Menino has so clearly failed the city in his fiduciary responsibilities via negotiating the public workers' contracts is a sad story so old, so long and so sordid that I'd need all the ink in town to compose it. Therefore, suffice it to say the time has come to simply move beyond the mayor's inability to negotiate and insist that he restore at least some semblance of integrity to our public safety department - which has exhibited all the competence these past many months of the Boulder City Police Department.

Moving forward means exactly that. Mayor Menino should immediately order Acting Police Commissioner Albert Goslin to dismiss all officers on the force today who have failed any drug testing yesterday. Though the union would immediately huff and puff and proceed to court seeking an injunction, temporarily those officers would be off the job and an absolutely vital, spiritual message would be sent - that being, Boston has a zero tolerance policy for police corruption.

Beyond that imperative message, the mayor should retain a team of competent attorneys (I assure you he'll have to look well beyond city hall to find them) and slug this one out before the judge. A paragraph in a contract does not make an action right, and a judge ruling that a public employees union is not entitled to a protection they otherwise felt entitled to would hardly be an unprecedented ruling in America, where contracts get struck down in court every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

I'm not naive and I know the mayor and his inner circle of sycophants will not subscribe or surrender to the aforementioned points of advice and admonishment. However, for the sake of a hurting city - and his own legacy - Mayor Menino should listen to this message.

The past few months have shown us a city mayor more interested in behaving like a heftier, blue suited Queen Elizabeth than the can do mayor we once perceived His Honor to be. Mayoral events have become purely ceremonial with ridiculous trappings. We observe the usual confusing speeches which are no more decipherable than rap music; and the occasional missives from city hall appear to be falling on the deaf ears of a citizenry increasingly yearning for some leadership from that obtuse bunker at Downtown Boston.

The mayor cannot afford to be the Queen. Her Majesty's forebears may have once ruled here but I think we won that war. We deserve a proactive, Democratic leader whose not afraid to say the following, "This is wrong, this contract is wrong, I was wrong to ever sign it, and we are proceeding to court - and we are not going to let cops who have been proven to be serious drug users to wear the badge."

Unfortunately, the mayor doesn't have the will of spirit to do the right thing in this matter. His lack of vision, his evaporating energy and his inability to comprehend the many crises consuming this great city like fire have painted him as a political King Lear, handicapped by serious events as much as by his own strange, persona. He's simply counting the days to January 2011, when he takes his generous retirement to Boca Raton and hands the seals of office to his unwitting successor.

Regular Bostonians are also counting the days.

Kevin John Sowyrda is a political writer and commentator.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Restless political thoughts.

Restless thoughts of a meandering summer mind
by Kevin John Sowyrda

Tom Reilly's media barrage proclaiming his virtues as the political antitheses to George Bush, defender of the elderly and ever watchful chief law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth seems to be hysterically ironic for ignoring one key issue for an attorney general running for governor at this precise moment in state history. His ads purposely ignore his role, or non role, regarding Big Dig corruption. It should naturally be the only issue for any law enforcement chieftain at the precise moment the world is focusing attention to the most obese public works corruption scandal in American history, right here in Massachusetts; a scandal which is ruining the already fragile reputation of Boston and jeopardizing any chance to reclaim population and desperately needed economic growth for the Hub.

It all makes Tea Pot Dome - the infamous public works scandal of 1922 - pale in comparison, and yet Reilly appears nothing less than awkward for not mentioning the words "big" or "dig" in any of these ads flooding the three major Boston networks of late. He's like the Warren Harding of the modern day, the naive president consumed by Tea Pot who never quite understood how events surrounding him were also sinking him.

It all proves true my theory that Reilly's simply not in the hunt in this campaign and will soon end, courtesy you the voters, his long but uninspiring Massachusetts political career.

I attribute it to the perception that Reilly's not the aggressive prosecutor one would expect but instead the politically effeminate "enforcer-negotiator" whose shied away from one too many fights for the fancy of an electorate demanding their A.G.'s be tough and steadfast; a rather reasonable expectation for such an office holder.

The "Reilly Whimp Factor" began to grip our imaginations and irritate our sensibilities when the state's top elected Democrat refused to pursue the crimes of Cardinal law, a pathetic omission of law enforcement savvy which I believe infuriated Catholics more than non-Catholics. Further, ever since the Big Dig exposed so many politicians for being negligent in not minding the store on behalf of their constituency, Reilly's credibility is right were I think it belongs; in third place in a three way primary contest.

History may well summarize Reilly's media blitz for what it didn't say more than for what little it tried to say.

Meanwhile, the emerging eight hundred pound guerilla in the Democratic Primary race is certainly Chris Gabrielli, whose on-the-air-now media buy, which makes specific mention of the Big Mess, is helping to compensate for his understandable absence from the campaign trail since the very sudden death of his mother, who in her own right was a very affective political activist. One Gabrielli advisor told me this weekend that the venture capitalist, who squeaked his way on to the ballot after some amazing bargaining at the party convention months ago, has been "hit hard" by his mother's death and "will need some time" to get fully back in gear.

He can take all the time he needs because this race is now his to lose. I base that on the following obvious suppositions. First, the only political issue in this race is the Big Dig. A candidate could come out in favor of legalizing Heroine for sale at Kindergartens state-wide and all voters would care about is what he or she plans to do about this monstrosity which could have made us the pride of the nation had our elected officials been a little less piggish. Since Gabrielli is clearly the de jure political outsider, having never held a public post in his life, moderate voters bound to flood the Democratic primary will easily gravitate to him - and his new ad preaching the need for "accountability" is an ad Reilly wishes he could also run were it not for his own guilty conscience.

In other words, we're all witnessing an '06 repeat of 1990, when a huge state budget crisis croaked the political ambitions of political pros like Evelyn Murphy and Frank Bellotti; and instead gave birth and credence to political neophytes like John Silber and Bill Weld in that year's barn-burner election. Voters went for the more sane of the two, and wanted nothing to do with politicians during a crisis triggered by the same people running for the chance to fix it.

This is 1990 "biggie sized", with the same electoral distaste for the Massachusetts political establishment.

And what of Duval Patrick, you say? I don't see a Governor Patrick in our future. I think he gets overshadowed by the growing Gabrielli media blitz and though he's not tainted by having ever held state office, his credentials as a Washington bureaucrat suddenly play against him. That leaves his admittedly impressive corporate executive credentials for bragging rights as an outsider, but you can bet the house that for every dollar he spends on television ads - something we've yet to see - Gabrielli spends about ten.

Meanwhile, one question remains unanswered during this pre primary advertising season - where in the world is independent candidate Christy Mihos and when does he plan to spend some of the millions he's made selling all those Slurpies on some critical television time. Here's the guy who can really say "I told you so." It's a consultant's dream come true, and though Mihos - once fired from the board which oversees the Big Dig because he was seen as overly critical by then Governor Jane Swift - has no primary hurdle to worry about it, I'd be on the air right now nonetheless if I had his credibility on the issue and his fat, check book in my pocket. His frequent appearances on WRKO radio might be fine and dandy for him, but it won't put the election in his pocket.

Oh yes, there is a fourth candidate and in my book she's back to her prior state of being; "governor what's-her-name," if I may quote myself. Lurking in the shadow of born-again hard hat Mitt Romney, the state's number two Republican and also the standard bearer for November, Kerry-Healey, a.k.a. "what's her name," sort of reminds me of that immortal moment in time when Ray Flynn was on the front page of every newspaper in the country holding that giant, black umbrella above the Holy Head of Pope John Paul II when the Pontiff once visited the U.S.

Sometimes pictures are a political handicap (just ask Joe Lieberman if kissing the presidential cheek was such a brilliant move), and the more Healey is seen in Romney's shadow touring this ramp and surveying that ceiling, the more she appears like a low-level courtier and a bad bet for anxious voters seeking someone with a little more gravitas.

Prediction - if the Democratic Primary were held today Gabrielli would win by an impressive margin, leaving Patrick about eight points behind and Reilly utterly in the dust. The only way the dynamics of the race change is if Patrick gets help from his secret weapon - his old boss, Bill Clinton; whose magnetism in the eyes of Massachusetts Democrats cannot be underestimated.

It could happen. Keep your eyes open for secret service agents scoping out the Park Plaza Hotel, Clinton's favorite digs while visiting Bean Town.

Kevin John Sowyrda is a political commentator and writer. You can reach him at kevinsow@aol.com