MAGOV14 : WHAT THE DORCHESTER DAY PARADE SHOWED ME

1 charlie b aker and karyn polito

^ right now, the team to beat : Karyn Polito and Charlie Baker

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Governor campaigns in Massachusetts resemble no other partisan election here. Whatever the polarization poisoning elections to national office, none have any force when our commonwealth’s voters go to choose who will run things at the State House. It was proved to me forcefully, yesterday at the iconic Dorchester day parade. There, marching over three miles along Dorchester Avenue from Lower Mills to Columbia Road, Republican candidate Charlie Baker got a very enthusiastic reception from the crowd — mot of whose hands he shook. There, in the heartland of Marty Walsh’s almost entirely Democratic-enrolled wards of Boston, Baker — and his electrifying running mate Karyn Polito — conquered all. Beyond the reception, which might well be just a nicety, there was commitment given by many activists and neighborhood leaders whom i talked to. There was also, so a first hand source told me, a very good bond established– revived — even celebrated — between Mayor Walsh and both Baker and Polito, conversing before the parade’s start, with whom, after all, Walsh served during his legislative time. I do not suppose a commitment was given; that wouldn’t work. But my source’s impression — that of a political activist — was that Baker, Polito, and Walsh made it clear to each other that they could work together and would work together if Baker is elected. One friend, who is himself a candidate this year (not for Governor), seeing the reception given to Baker, told me quite directly : “Baker’s gonna win.” There are several solid reasons why Baker and Polito look so strong right now : 1. Baker and Polito are running as a team. On the Democratic side, with four (of five) governor hopefuls running and three (or four) lieutenant governor hopefuls, who knows who will be the ticket ? Or if they can work together, even like one another ? In addition, none of the Democratic candidates or the second spot has anything close to the experience that Karyn Polito has, not to mention the charisma. 2. Baker — and Polito — have forged solid ties to several big-city ethnic communities, not to mention the LGBT communities. I’ve personally witnessed it and seen the results as I have talked to many, many people whom I know in all these communities. The reception given baker and Polito at the Dorchester Day parade tells me that, as of now, they’d win a much bigger share of the Boston vote than any of the Democratic hopefuls : possibly as much as 40 %. Of course the election is NOT now. But the momentum and presence is there. 3.The fundamental fact of how Massachusetts is governed is that only a GOP governor has a power base big enough, and independent enough, to deal with the Speaker of the House on a more or less equal footing. When the governor is a Democrat, he or she and the Speaker compete for influence within the same party — or else they split the party, and as has been shown time and again, the Speaker always wins that fight. It’s his agenda, his priorities, his timing, his details, that get enacted. With a strongly based GOP governor — and baker would be that — there’s influence on legislation beyond the Speaker’s range of power, and a GOP governor isn’t embarrassed, as Governor Patrick has been, facing a Speaker who is also a Democrat, to compromise with a Speaker not of his own party. Thus the fact ; a GOP governor and Democratic Speaker move the state forward with strong political efficiency. At last night’s Governor / Lieutenant Governor Forum at Roxbury Community College, all of the weaknesses of the Democratic position stood in plain sight. The lieutenant governor trio — Mike Lake, Steve Kerrigfan, James Arena-DeRosa- either bloviated with great prolixity Lake) or talked blue ribbon agendas that would do justice to a high school civics aclass but on which no elected lieutenant governor — certainly not these three, whom no one but activists has ever heard of — would have the slightest influence. The governor hopefuls definitely have learned a thing or two since I first saw them on stage Forum-ing. At the Roxbury event several actually mentioned Speaker DeLeo, quite respectfully too. Clearly they see that they had better include him in their message, because of exactly the problem i have outlined. The matter is not merely my own thing. at several recent Forums, progressives have pushed the governor hopefuls ; what exactly will you do about the Spreaker’s conservatism ? the answer that i heard most often last night was “compromise.” That they will have to do, because the agendas set forth by several at the Forum reach for the moon, a place that does not include Speaker DeLeo in its population. It is not a good sign when candidates feel the need to mae promises which they surely cannot keep, just as surely will have to unravel if they’re to get anything at all done. And much needs be done. Juliette Kayyem continues to get the fundamental point, one that Charlie baker has been talking for two months ; the state needs to modernize its systems big time. Baker calls it “move the state’s technology into the 21st Century,” Kayyem calls it “better data management,’ but the policy point is the same. Steve Grossman soke the Forum’s best answer, to any question, when in two minutes he summed up the injustice and the financial waste of incarcerating people for low level drug offenses. His message is too “jobs and business” to fit the progressive dream, but time and again he shows long and profound command of social justice issues. Clearly as governor he will be as aggressive as possible ; “level playing field, no one left out.” Yet Grossman has no more, or longer, commitment to social justice issues than Baker, and so far I have yet to see a Grossman plan that surpasses the social justice, economic connection tandem that Charlie Baker has put forth. All of what i have just written can change. Next weekend the democrats convene to choose a party nominee. After that, media focus will shift to that nominee and to the Democratic run up to the September primary. Baker will no longer have the voters basically to himself. And if the Democratic nominee has to play catch-up — ironic, in this bluest of states on national issues — there’s plenty of Democratic voters to play catch up with. Still, Baker and Polito have given themselves a huge head start; and my experience says that votes won early are the votes won most solidly. Steve Grossman, now the likely Democratic nominee, has a huge fight on his hands.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

MAGOV14 : CANDIDATES NIGHT IN BOSTON’S WARD 3

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As politically savvy, now, as she has always been personally c harming : Juliette Kayyem at Boston’s Ward 3 Forum

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About 35 activists in Boston’s Ward 3 gathered in a basement room of the Michael Nazzaro Center in the North End to listen to a line of Democratic candidates for governotr, attorney general, and lieutenant governor. the candidates were introduced by committee chairman Jason Aluia, spoke, then took questions. However brief each’s time, much ws learned. The candidates for governor, especially, now know what they are about, and why; the vagueness of January has left us, its place taken by almost jarring specificity.

Three governor aspirants spoke : Juliette Kayyem, Steve Grossman, and Joe Avellone. All have evolved — Kayyem the most.

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running against Charlie Baker, he is : Steve Grossman at ward 3 Forum

Grossman continues to have succinct answers in great detail for every issue given him, and he has shifted to “general election mode” ; half of his talk attacked Charlie Baker, whose campaign themes — at which Grossman guesses — he was happy to dismiss. Unhappily for Grossman, Baker’s themes aren’t at all what Grossman told ward 3’s Democratic activists they would be.

Avellone has long had his theme : fighting substance abuse — he’ll appoint a cabinet level officer of Recovery and Re-entry. Very good idea; and Avellone had no problem answering my question about the state’s 56 million dollar health connector disaster by calling for an immediate waiver from the Federal ACA. He’s the first Democratic governor candidate to do so.

Juliette Kayyem has grown enormously as a political leader and is evolving faster and more fully every week. This I had already seen. Last night she spoke with great clarity about criminal justice reform — which is coming to be her companion issue to “better data management,’ her first — in ways most voters have already come to agree with, bit which, as she said, has been taken up first by Republican governors “because they can; no one will accuse them of being soft on crime.” She’s right, and persuasive. how can Democratic activists in progressive Massachusetts refuse to demand reforms that Republican governors, no less, are already implementing ?

This is the second time, in as many Forums, that I have heard Kayyem evoke the example of Republican reform as a prod to the Massachusetts Democratic party ; last week, at the ProgressiveMass Forum, when quizzed about her role in Bush-era interrogation discussions, she cited John McCain as taking the same torture position that she advocated. And ;praised him.

I had a longish talk with Kayyem before the ward 3 Forum about how she would deal with the Speaker of the House, who rules all Massachusetts legislation, regardless of governors or anybody else. During our discussion Kayyem suggested ways of dealing but did not mention the method that I now think she has right at hand. How better to move the Democratic Speaker than to show that the reforms she wants are already being done by Republicans ? At the very least, this line of argument puts the Speaker on the defensive even.

Will Kayyem make this an explicit tactic ? We shall see. It has legs, if she wants them.

I also learned much at the ward 3 Forum about three of the Democrats’ Lieutenant Governor candidates. Here is potential embarrassment aplenty for whoever becomes the governor nominee, because none of the three has a resume even close to the long experience of local and state government possessed by Baker’s running mate Karyn Polito. Nor do they have any of her charisma. Still, two of the three spoke well and boast resumes strong on bureaucratic accomplishment.

James arena-deRosa and Steve Kerrigan both claim stints as Obama administrators, to which Kerrigan adds time as a staffer for the later Ted Kennedy. Arena deRosa spoke eloquently about his passion for politics (though to my knowledge he has never been a candidate before now), Kerrigan of his sense of duty. both men discussed a few of the major issues that their boss, the governor, might delegate to them to help with.

Still, neither man can possibly tell who that boss will be; where Karyn Polito have already had three months to synchronise and to combine their long and varied experience of state government both executive and legislative, it’s strictly guess work whether Arena deRosa or Kerrigan will get along with whoever the Democratic nominee is, much less blend well with him or her. And don;t scoff : I well remember how fully Mike Dukakis shunted aside his own lieutenant governor, Thomas P. O’Neill III, or how utterly Democratic governor nominee John Silber, in 1990, threw his running mate Marjorie Clapprood under the bus.

Mike Lake also spoke. His words had more smile in them than mile, however. I do not see a bright future for him as second clarinet to the first Democrat.

But to return to Juliette Kayyem : I have now seen and heard enough to be able to say it : she is my pick for the Democratic primary. This is not a formal Here and Sphere endorsement, as i have yet to talk of it with my partner. But it is my personal choice. Juliette Kayyem is best able to compete with Charlie Baker. She’s less rigid, intellectually or personally, than Steve Grossman, bolder than Martha Coakley, much more realistic than Don Berwick, and of wider experience and personal charisma than Joe Avellone.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

MAGOV14 : FOR LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, IT’S NO CONTEST

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^ charisma and Italian heritage plus a strong political resume make Karyn Polito a significant presence for Charlie Baker

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Voters vote for Governor, not Lieutenant governor. But were voters to focus on the subordinate part of the Governor ticket, it’d be no contest this year. Karyn Polito, Charlie Baker’s running mate, has more political clout than all four Democratic hopefuls combined.

Polito has been a Shrewsbury select-woman and was a five-term State representative. She ran statewide in 2010, for state treasurer, drawing 45 % of the vote in her losing effort. This year, as Baker’s running mate, she has raised significant money : 67,369.98 in February 2014, 181,378.96 in March, and 127,693.49 in April. She has 354,587.89 on hand as of May 1st. She also slammed the GOP convention door shut in her home area, the Worcester suburbs, on Baker’s rival, Mark Fisher. Though Fisher also lives in Shrewsbury, he drew zero — yes, zero — Shrewsbury votes at the convention to Baker’s 39.

Polito’s politics have evolved, from opposition to gay marriage and Tea Party friendly to mainstream, even somewhat progressive : today she asserts her support for marriage equality. Opponents have noted the rapidity of the shift and questioned its sincerity; but it’s what running mates always do if the “top of the ticket’ demands it. Sincere or not, it’s not easily taken back. Voters will allow a politicians’ views to evolve. They are less kind to backsliding afterwards. Committed to equality she is.

Baker has always been a civil rights progressive, and Polito is on his team. Her significance is by no means limited to money-raising. Entering a room, she turns heads, electrifies — Juliette Kayyem is her only charisma equal in this year’s election. I’ve seen it, it’s real. Polito is also the only person of Italian name — other than governor hopeful Joe Avellone — running for any statewide office this year. it matters.

Italian ethnic voting has faded plenty since 1960, when John A. Volpe used a then still huge and vibrant Italian community to win the governorship despite John Kennedy carrying Massachusetts for President by more than a million votes. Today, voters of Italian name are the grandchildren of 1960. As often as not, they are Italian in name only. Nonetheless, many do identify their Italian heritage, especially in the old Italian “heartland” on Boston’s north side and points north up Routes 28 and 1-A — and also in Worcester’s Belmont Hill neighborhood, where Volpe confidant Al Manzi once held political sway.

In these neighborhoods, Karyn Polito might as well be the governor candidate, not the running mate, given the intensity with which she is welcomed. I have seen this too — more than once.

Polito’s voters might make a difference if the governor contest is close — as it will be if Steve Grossman is the Democratic nominee. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Polito brings Baker as much as three percent of the state’s vote.

That’s because, in contrast, the four Democrats running for lieutenant governor all look B-team, even C team. Until this year I hadn’t even heard of Leland Cheung, a Cambridge City councillor, or of Steve Kerrigan, who has been a selectman in the small Worcester County town of Lancaster (and whom I’ve actually met). As for James Arena deRosa, who knew ? Not I. The fourth Democratic lieutenant governor candidate is Mike Lake. Him, I’m familiar with, more or less. In 2010 he ran for Auditor, losing to Suzanne Bump in the Democratic Primary. Lake grew up in Melrose and has enjoyed a career, so his biography tells us, with United Way and now as an executive with a city-university partnership initiative at Northeastern University. All good; and in 2010 he did have visible support among activists. Still, his resume can’t compare with Polito’s.

As for money on hand, the four Democrats look like add-ons :

Mike Lake as of May 1 had 42,935.07 cash on hand.
Leland Cheung on this date had 87,199.63 on hand and raised 5,209.63 in April.
Steve Kerrigan had 180,903.84 but raised only 9,555.00 in April
James Arena DeRosa had 20,079.71 on hand and raised 4,475.89 in April

Why didn’t more significant Democrats run for Lieutenant Governor ? Warren Tolman, for example. He’s running for attorney general but would have been a very significant candidate. But he has traveled another road.

And for Karyn Polito and her running mate that has — so far — made all the difference.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE May 8, 2014 at 11 AM: Last night, at a candidate Forum in Boston’s ward 3, I had an extensive look at three of the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor. Read my impression of them in my new post coming this afternoon.