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

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