^ best at the Enviro-Forum and emerging as quite practical too : Don Berwick

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The iconic Speakers’ Hall at Boston’s Faneuil Hall hosted a good 500 environmental issues citizens at a candidates Forum earlier today. All five Democratic candidates participated; Charlie Baker did not; but yesterday he announced that he too was taking the Forum’s “1 % pledge” to dedicate at that much of every year’s State budget to what the Forum calls “environmental justice.”.

Moderating the Forum were the Boston Globe’s Derrick Jackson and former Romney administration official Douglas Hoy. Each asked hard questions, as the advance fliers for the Forum promised. Unhappily, it was hard to hear what they were asking. Foy spoke as if at a dinner table. Nor were all of the candidates’ answers audible.

Nonetheless, what I did hear left a sufficient impression.

For every single question, Treasurer Steve Grossman had ready a well prepared answer, almost too well prepared. Even when answering the Forum’s last question — which Derrick Jackson said was a throwaway — of water issues, Grossman spoke a full brief ¬†on what he would do to safeguard the state’s water supply, delivered as rigidly as a water pump whose attendant had flicked the “on” switch.


Steve Grossman : needs to tone it down a few hundred pegs

Juliette Kayyem continues to converse at length, as if presenting a suggestion at a think tank symposium, rather than say “this is what I will do as Governor.” (One exception : she will oppose the ballot initiative that would repeal gas tax indexing.)

Joe Avellone continued to emerge from his very grey personality and to get usefully specific on several topics, including the gas tax, carbon tax, and the state’s “20,000 gas leaks,” as he was the one to point out, ending with “fix the gas leaks !” Even then, however, he sounded more the local town official he once was than a Governor evoking the big picture.

Martha Coakley attuned better to the questioners’ intentions than at prior Forums. She gave the best answer on Jackson’s “fish versus fishermen” question and often played The Flexible Thoughtful One, against Steve Grossman’s Mr Know It All. She also made clear that she was not about to commit, on the spot, to the Forum’s many yes or no pledges.

Don Berwick gave the best answers to most of the Forum’s questions and showed that, while he is the Democrats’ purest progressive, he is not just a dreamer. Alone of the five he said that no, he would NOT divest the State’s investment money from corporations not environmentally green. And why ? His answer was as smart as it was obvious: “I’d rather continue to be a shareholder and work to change corporate policy from within.” Berwick made the other four look spineless.

The Forum wamted everything. It wanted wind power, a carbon tax, fish over fishermen, conservation of land, of forest, and of water; it wanted fossil fuel usage cut back. It wanted alternatives to cars. And, as usual with groups that want everything, it looked selfish, and it was good to see some of the candidates — even Steve Grossman, who rejected cutting the gas tax because “we need it to do our transportation work” — sometimes say no. Particularly embarrassing were the candidates’ jellyfish answers to “what have you personally done to lower the carbon footprint” or “what was your most recent recreational activity.” I so wanted one of the five to announce, “my most recent recreational activity ? I drove a stock car at a NASCAR race !”

That said, the Forum left me far more uncertain than I had been of which Democrat is actually likely to be an effective Governor. My opinion had been Steve Grossman; but I am beginning to tire of his overly prepared advocacy. Can he not just once grope for an answer, or say, I will have to think about it ? Is he really just Governor Bot ? I have found Martha Coakley to be snarky, but today, after listening all Forum long to Governor Bot, she sounded remedially human in comparison. And as the two Democratic biggies made no secret of differing sharply with each other, personally as well on policy, I found myself on Coakley’s side troublingly often. As for the others, I am frustrated still. I would love say Juliette Kayyem is it : she is THAT stunningly chic and charismatic. But her persona is so much the think tank participant, almost never I Am The Leader. She should plug into some of whatever Steve Grossman is bot-ing.


^ one on one is Juliette Kayyem’s forte’

This leaves Joe Avellone, who simply lacks the bigness of vision for this race, and Don Berwick, who has hitched his lucky star to several pie in the sky adventures — no casinos, single payer health insurance, a graduated income tax — that won’t happen and, except for single payer, probably shouldn’t. Yet Berwick showed at this Forum — and has, at times, at others — that he can be very smoothly practical when he has to be. I have imagined the Big Dogs of the legislature laughing Don Berwick off, as they let him talk and then do what they were going to do anyway — because they, not the Governor, have the power. After toady, I think Don Berwick just might be able to play cards with them — even win a few games.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere