Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A huge protest against Wilkerson

Look for Chang-Diaz in 2008.
by Kevin John Sowyrda

If I had told you just two years ago, despite her myriad of legal problems and an attitude of self-entitlement that could fill Foxboro Stadium, that 13 year incumbent state senator Diane Wilkerson would be nearly beaten in a sticker-write-in-campaign by a 28 year old social studies teacher and neophyte to electoral politics, you would have rejected the concept out of hand with good reason. But Sonia Chang-Diaz almost did it, and how and why it happened is to be ignored only by the propagandists who continue to cover for Wilkerson, a law maker whose odd journey through life is worthy of a dramatic series on Masterpiece Theatre.

Chang-Diaz garnered more than 5,000 votes, nearly besting the incumbent in a state where incumbents are rarely toppled in their own primaries. But Wilkerson is a rare breed of politician and the enormous protest vote is a message to be ignored only at the senator's own peril, should she wish to run successfully again in two years.

Yes, it's apparent that Wilkerson probably survived this unlikely challenge and may win again in November. Despite her status as the most scandal plagued Bay State legislator of the day, Wilkerson has proven to be a quintessential anomaly to cover, the incontrovertible survivor of bad press. Ronald Reagan's infamous Teflon coating would be inert when compared to Wilkerson's uncanny ability to soar above the storm clouds and turbulence of her self created political controversies. George Bush must look at this woman with green envy in his eyes.

Though serious Democrats no longer take her seriously, the misplaced loyalty of some of Wilkerson's constituents - good people who deserve better - have fueled her insufferable campaigns to cling to public office despite a credibility ratio on par with the credit rating of El Salvador. There's certainly a junta in the Hub that's built a Berlin Wall around Wilkerson for her protection sake, certainly a necessity given the phalanx of state investigators who continue to unearth inscrutable evidence that the senator simply lacks any semblance of senatorial judgement. Her months as a prisoner in a half way house - for pleading guilty on tax evasion charges - have done little to humble Wilkerson. The "do you know who I am" demeanor is omnipresent and clearly exhibited, almost weekly, by the decisions she makes; I hope in bad conscience.

But somebody forget to tell Chang-Diaz that running against an incumbent in the incumbent's own primary is a fruitless endeavor, where the challenger will be utterly blown away and humiliated, never able to eat lunch in this town again. I think Chang-Diaz ran a first class campaign and has proven to be a woman who is not easily intimated by what can often be the aggressive tactics of veteran political operations. Chang-Diaz had ideas, Change-Diaz was graceful, and, apparently almost half of those who voted in this contest considered her worthy of the senate seat. That's an event worth analyzing.

A seemingly inevitable recount and unusually harsh words from State Secretary Bill Galvin regarding election procedures have left a dark cloud over the Primary Day results. However, recounts thus far show that Chang-Diaz will unlikely be sitting in the senate chamber this January.

However, out there somewhere are more than 5,000 people who made the unorthodox effort to write in the name of a very young woman whose never held public office in her life. Those 5,000 people are emblematic of a growing frustration with an intelligent incumbent senator who needs to start behaving intelligently.

I for one could survive without the daily briefings on who Wilkerson owes money to and how many rubber checks she tried to pass by her condo association. "That's got nothin to do with me," as an old South End friend told me this morning. But there is something we should care about. The ongoing state investigation of thousands of campaign dollars spent illegally by Wilkerson, allegedly, is one of the most damning cases I've witnessed in years against a public official in the Commonwealth.

Campaign treasuries are, by legal definition, public funds; and must be treated with the appropriate prudence. To read the "indictments" from the attorney general and the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance as to what Wilkerson has done with these public monies is painfully ironic given Wilkerson's background as a trained lawyer and officer of the court. But, in this writer's opinion, the evidence is simply overwhelming that the senator has clearly treated her campaign fund as a personal reservoir for self aggrandizement.

The abuse of public trust by a public official should be heinous to anyone who cares about preserving a vibrant democracy and a healthy state government. If Wilkerson were a gray haired Republican, under these same circumstances, you can bet the house that the Globe and other papers would have demanded her resignation long ago. Apparently more than 5,000 people agree with me on this point.

Additional Wilkerson embarrassments will swell the ranks of the loyal opposition and propel Chang-Diaz to a highly credible rematch in '08. If the senator's behavior is not much improved, it won't take much to swing just a few hundred votes to defeat the state's most controversial legislator in about 24 months.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

PATRICK !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It's Patrick's to lose in November
by Kevin John Sowyrda

It was an Al Gore-like political defeat for Chris Gabrieli Tuesday night, full of bitter ironies and painfully hard for him and his supporters to digest. He ran for Congress in 1998, spending millions to lose. He was a powerful and compelling compliment to his running mate when he was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2002, spending more millions only to lose a second consecutive time. This year, Gabrieli spent more money to win a primary race than any other person in Massachusetts history, and yet the venture capitalist was soundly defeated by a political neophyte, an under funded underdog who just eighteen months earlier was a name recognized only by people who browse political almanacs in their spare time.

In total, Chris Gabrieli has spent at least 15 millions dollars in his three nosedive bids for public office in the Commonwealth. That's enough money to buy about 500 Chrysler 300 luxury sedans.

Time for Chris to find another way to serve mankind. His triad of defeats prove that there truly is an element of either luck or fatal misfortune to the electoral venue, because a guy this eloquent, this smart and this filthy rich should have picked up an elected office by now. Political fate has treated Gabrieli in a Machiavellian way. The best conclusion I can devise is that the political Gods that be will not give their blessing to Chris Gabrieli holding any of the seals of public office, at least not for now.

I'm not suggesting Gabrieli revert to the fetal position or become a political Howard Hughes, especially given the fact that he's a man with many worthy things to say. However, 'tis the season to avoid the ballot boxes and better invest that enormous fortune in an innovative think tank, thus avoiding the inevitable and unenviable label of 'perennial candidate.' (Though I'll admit Boston Mayor Gabrieli is still appealing to my sensibilities.)

Segue to one Deval Patrick, whose about to do something the founders of this colony never could have conceived possible or tolerable. This person of color, a Black kid from the Chicago projects where children are literally consumed by an unforgiving environment of drugs and crime, is poised to be the governor of the state that makes presidents. Not too shabby, Patrick.

Next time your son or daughter says the word 'can't' to you, show them a picture of Deval Patrick. He kicked know.....on Tuesday night because the only word he knows is can. People saw that and embraced it. That's why he won.

Now for November. Sensing that she's poised to be the last in a string of disengaged Republican governors the Commonwealth has suffered, the G.O.P. standard bearer Kerry-Healey will be pressured by her inner circle to run against Patrick the most negative campaign we've seen in the Commonwealth since the more infamous blood feuds of years gone by. Here are the candidates' strengths and weaknesses, and what will be the dynamics of the campaign this Fall.

First, Deval exudes excitement and beats his opponent on the charisma quotient as much as Kennedy did Nixon. It's a simple proposition, almost rudimentary, but it's noteworthy because it's already proven to be a key factor to Patrick's enormous success. Fresh and radiant; untainted by any connections to the incestuous beast that is Bay State politics, Patrick shines like a new penny when compared to the incumbent lieutenant governor.

On the money front, forget what you've heard about Deval not having the resources to compete with the very deep pockets of the well healed Kerry Healey. Deval will absolutely not be outspent. Democrats will unite behind his candidacy which will attract national attention and national dollars. The lieutenant governor's personal fortune pales in comparison to the money that can be raised by Democrats named Clinton, Solomont, Kennedy and Grossman, to name just a few.

Further, Deval comes out of this primary tried, true and better tested than his opponent. While the lieutenant governor was lucky enough to be unopposed in her primary, she was also unlucky enough to be unopposed in her primary. Deval got fresh debate experience and looks like the proverbial eight hundred pound guerilla following this fantastic primary win. For atleast a week, the only articles you'll read will be how in the world did he do it, hence relegating Healey to the back pages in what is a brief stretch to November.

Next, there is the anti incumbency fervor which will dictate the final terms of the general election more than any other factor. This is Healey's true Achilles heal and Patrick's greatest asset. Healey faces the daunting task of boasting her credentials as 'co-governor' while also attempting to dispossess all responsibility for Big Dig mis-management these past four years. Her advisors already have the ads in the can which they believe will raise Patrick's negatives, to compensate for this predicament. It's the only way for them to win, from their perspective, since Patrick has no strings attached to the corrupt beast which is our state government.

And here lies Patrick's weakness - that his opponent's lieutenants are disciples of the philosophy that the end justifies the means. The nuclear bombs will start this week, and Healey's own Dr. Strangelove has his finger on the button. Meet the city's most right wing, zealot; Rob Gray. If politics has war criminals, Gray would be the Slobodan Milosevic of Bay State elections, and there are the political corpses to prove it. "He doesn't take prisoners," a retiring G.O.P legislator told me Tuesday evening as I watched the candidates concede and celebrate. "Politics is definitely a contact sport for him, and he prefers to hit his opponent below the belt where it will hurt the most," he told me.

So Patrick will have to prepare for a negative campaign and not complain about it, as he very unwisely complained during the second Democratic debate about tough ads. Reilly made one brilliant comment that night, which is if Patrick thinks the primary fight is tough, wait till the Republicans start their attacks.

Last, but hardly least, there's the independent candidacy of Christy Mihos, a wild-card factor to some people, but by many estimates nothing less than a death knell to Healey; as Mihos is likely to siphon more votes from Healey than he ever would from Patrick. If Patrick wins this, he'll owe Mihos his old seat on the Turnpike Authority.

As of today, the whole enchilada is Patrick's to lose. And being the sophisticated candidate he's proven to be, he'll prepare immediately for the capabilities of Healey's minions. To do otherwise could prove politically fatal.

Kevin John Sowyrda is a political writer. You can reach him at and read his daily blog at

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The race for governor.

It's Patrick's to lose.
by Kevin John Sowyrda

Little did we know that Irwin Allen, the Jedi Master of big screen disaster flicks in the 1970's, was back from the dead - literally - and prepping Attorney General Tom Reilly for last week's debate, which will be better remembered for who tanked than for who triumphed.

Clearly, Reilly must have been carefully tutored by the man who brought us such quintessentially 70's genre as "Earthquake," "The Towering Inferno," and "The Poseidon Adventure." The state's top elected Democrat began last week's Harvard hosted event by shaking the stage with some only-insiders-could-understand-it bomb tossing and was breathing fire shortly thereafter, doing a simply dandy job of turning off any soccer mom in sight. By the debate's sixty minute conclusion he had pretty much capsized, dead in the water with all compartments flooded. The only thing missing from the sad demise of this once powerful politician was the hefty Shelly Winters jumping into that oil slick so that Gene Hackman could get the remaining survivors to the engine room propeller shaft.

Not until last week did I think it conceivable that a man could finish fourth in a three way race. Fifty bucks says it happens next week. Don't forget, some people actually blank the top race on the ballot and I think the A.G. should be worried about the growing popularity of Mr. Blank in comparison to himself.

What was Reilly's strategy, so dissected these past many days by all of us? To be perfectly blunt, knowing some of the people affiliated with his campaign I find it almost inconceivable that any of them, with dreams of top, state jobs still dancing in their heads, would have advised Reilly to behave so recklessly and crass, so bitter and off message. I think Reilly pulled a Reilly. I think he got up on that stage and simply resented the fact that two guys who between them don't have a half his government experience seem poised to trounce him on Primary Day and dare to cheat him of what he actually perceives to be "his turn". I think it's possible that Reilly simply lost it, and let his gut do the talking while his mind and political sensibilities were put in a straight jacket by his own, very peripatetic psyche.

The consequences for Tom Reilly are quite significant. This was the first post Labor Day political event of the campaign. A lot of people were watching and a lot more read about it. For many voters it was their first, real impression of the candidates. What they saw and what they read about - that vital, first impression - was a cantankerous and irritable incumbent versus two other guys who conducted themselves with a good measure of class and dignity. Maybe there wasn't a clear winner, but there sure as Heaven was a clear loser.

Reilly's career is over and the only logical, political conclusion is that he should do what's necessary to stop the present bleeding so that his third place finish is not such a distant third that it is historically humiliating. However, I sense there's little he can do. In a matter of day's he'll be an afterthought in state political history. A Reilly campaign donor told me that morale at headquarters could not be lower. I sense there's about as much action there these final days as you'll find in Tom and Katie's bedroom.

Now for what matters. Their names are Gabrielli and Patrick. I say Gabrielli won last week's debate on the visual factors. He dwarfed his opponents, literally, was perfectly situated at near center stage, to the debate moderator's left, and he simply "looked" gubernatorial. But for my money, Patrick had some of the truly poignant moments and may be the real winner from last week on points of substance and ingenuity.

Take this moment for example. A question was put to the Democratic threesome about disaster response by whoever is the next governor. Reilly's answer was nonsensical, Gabrielli's was a tad week, but Patrick's is still resonating. He told people what he would not do, using as the perfect metaphor the surveying of Hurricane Katrina damage by President Bush from the comfort and distance of his Air force One.

Patrick said he'd be the chief executive who would get out and meet the people and comfort those suffering. Every person in that audience applauded Patrick's answer.

Another Patrick strategy which was brilliant - and one he should use a great deal more if he wins next week - was to associate himself with the late Senator Paul Tsongas, who represents the spirit of moderate, pro-business Democrats. Patrick was trying to fend off the bone breaking question of the night which came from WBUR's Bob Oates, the best and most solid journalist the debate had to offer. When Oates asked Patrick if he was too liberal for November voters, Patrick used the Tsongas principles respectfully and effectively. Quite frankly, I think he took the toughest question of the night and hit it out of the park without sweating for a moment.

So what do we look for in a matter of hours, when three careers of three famous people are on the line. First and foremost, watch the turnout. I say Patrick has mobilized battalions of volunteers who will get his people to the polls, whereas Gabrielli's campaign is solely an electronic one, powered by superior financial resources and scant foot soldiers. A moderate turnout favors Patrick, whereas an enormous turnout could be a positive bell weather for Gabrielli. Second and more specifically, watch the turnout not only in the urban areas, but in progressive suburbs like Newton, Cambridge, Brookline and Somerville. If turnout there is off the charts, Patrick can start to celebrate.

It's a tough race to call because the anxiety of voters is high given recent state scandals, making the atmosphere more volatile than usual. But if I had to bet the house, I'd put it on Patrick winning this one in a squeaker. He's just what the doctor ordered; the ultimate outsider who proved in the debate that his eloquence and intellect are more than up for the job of being governor.

For Gabrielli, there can still be one more run. If he loses Tuesday, watch for him to prepare for a Boston mayoral bid in 2009. It's what he should have done in '05.