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^ Democratic convention nominee Steve Grossman chats up legendary Charlestown pol Gerard Doherty on Union Street, at Bunker Hill Day parade

—- —- —

On Saturday Democratic activists made their choice for our state’s next governor emphatically known. They want Steve Grossman.

Grossman, who currently serves as state Treasurer, won about 35 % of delegate votes. His nearest rival, Attorney General Martha Coakley — once thought the front runner — received only 23 % of votes, barely edging Don Berwick, who won 22 %. Juliette Kayyem, my pick, won 12 %, Joe Avellone 7 %.

The delegates were not rong to favor Steve Grossman. He is well prepared, has every issue at his immediate command, articulates the details in easily understood sentences. He has a long history as Democratic activist, an even longer history operating a family business, understands jobs and economic priorities. Other things being equal, he would be a very strong governor.

But other things are not equal.

First, the real governor of Massachusetts is the Speaker of the House, currently Robert DeLeo. What DeLeo wants for legislation, gets enacted. what he does not want, does not get enacted. time and time again he — like his predecessors — has shown Governor Patrick who the real power is in the State House.

Second, Democratic legislators — there are 130 of these — do not like to be out in a vise between the Democratic Speaker and a Democratic governor. Much easier for them to work with a GOP governor, because then the Democratic party’s State House power is concentrated on the Speaker, and all can follow his lead, unpressured by a Democratic governor’s competing constituency.

The one requirement, for this scenario to work, is that the GOP candidate for governor be credible, as a leader, as a politician, as a vote getter. Charlie Baker this time around is proving himself that and more. He is, simply put, running the most voter-appealing, solid outreach campaign — to big city neighborhoods especially — that I’ve seen from our GOP at least since 1998, the year that gave us the late Paul Cellucci.

Baker has also raised a vital issue : major reform of the state’s technology. Almost every branch of state government needs it. Technological obsolescence is one big reason why DCF, for egregious example, has failed. Baker also supports the $ 10.50 – $ 11.00 minimum wage raise up, with significant add ons that will help low-income families and small businesses too. I’ve seen nothing like it from any of the Democratic governor hopefuls.

This is a fact that even Steve Grossman cannot compete with. For all his command of issues and all of his solid ties to Democratic activists, he still represents division, not unity, in the State House. And unlike Deval Patrick, he is not Black, or an outsider, and doesn’t move the heart of civil rights activists from Salem to Pittsfield and everywhere in between.

Only a GOP governor has an independent power base, in the 63 % of Massachusetts voters who aren’t Democrats, sufficiently large to force the Speaker to deal. This too is a fact. it is the single most important fact in choosing a Massachusetts governor. Right now, my money says that Charlie Baker will win in November by 52 % to 48 %. the polls point to that result as well.

Let the game begin for real.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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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



^ confident enough to say what she is about : Juliette Kayyem (on right) at ProgressiveMass Forum

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There’s a tendency on the part of so-called “conservatives” to dismiss the five Democrats running for governor as “all on the left.” That’s no more the case than to say Charlie Baker is “on the right.”

Fact is, the five Democrats differ immensely, on policy priorities, in political smarts, job resume, issues positions, personal style. Granted that the differences among them were not as evident at campaign’s start many months ago; each has evolved.

At the ProgressiveMass Forum yesterday, four of the five — joined by independent Evan Falchuk — made clear their evolved candidacies :

Don Berwick speaks rapid-fire his campaign of advanced position papers without offering any indication of how he plans to get from paper to fact. I’m told it’s all on his website.

Martha Coakley coolly touts her work as Attorney General, fighting foreclosure abuses, a situation which she sees as still the biggest destabilizer of our State’s economy.

Steve Grossman reminds voters of long age of former governor Mike Dukakis : detailed answers to just about every question thrown at him, earnestly delivered, no issue too arcane to miss his sweeping attention, no progressive ideal new to his long record of model citizenship. At the Forum he even talked about 1968 and the early 1970s, to a room full of people born mostly after 1984.

Juliette Kayyem, a generation younger than her competitors, looks the stylish, even athletic, cocktail party head-turner she is and speaks the realism — how to we get from here to there ? — that her rivals either avoid altogether or deem no big problem. Her big issue is true to type : “better data management.”

Joe Avellone did not speak at this Forum, but I have seen him frequently of late, and he too has evolved. The self-effaced, former Wellesley selectman now talks of drug abuse, recovery, and re-entry — a huge issue in our state and appropriate for Avellone, who, like Don Berwick, is a doctor.


^ the foreclosure crisis still hurts the state : so said \Martha Coakley yesterday


^ evolving to the Grad Tax ; Steve Grossman

The day also made clear that some of the Democratic hopefuls have devolved. Grossman, for example, started the year as the candidate of job growth and infrastructure spending — reluctant to seek new revenue but not ruling it out. at the ProgressiveMass Forum he sounded less reluctant to ask for new revenue and, surprisingly, stated support for a graduated rate income tax ; an issue that only Berwick had up till then advocated. What other issues surprises might Grossman adduce before Primary day four months from now ?


demagoguing in Salem : Dr. Don Berwick on Fairfield Street

As for Don Berwick, his revelation moment occurred before the forum, at a meet and greet in Salem, my home town. there, speaking to about twenty guests (including a friend of my Dad and Uncle), Berwick answered a question about how would he defeat Charlie Baker if he we nominated by tying Baker to the odious Republican party platform — which baker opposes top to bottom — and by calling him “an insurance executive.”

These were unfair attacks, and especially unworthy of a candidate who touts his lifetime of caring about people and attachment to a co-operative citizenship. Berwick knows very well that Baker (and running mate Karyn Polito) strongly support marriage equality and women’s health choice; knows very well that in 2010 Baker’s running mate was openly gay Richard Tisei, first sponsor of the state’s now enacted transgender civil rights law. Berwick also knows very well, he being a doctor, that the insurance firm that Baker was executive of was Harvard Pilgrim Health care, the state’s best provider.

There are plenty of real issues that Baker and Berwick disagree about. It was either campaign inexperience or a real chink in Berwick’s soul for him to play the demagogue as he did. this was devolution.

As I see it, yesterday was Juliette Kayyem’s day. Asked, at the ProgressiveMass Forum, about her work on interrogation policy, as a Homeland security advisor during the Bush presidency, she did not excuse or back off but defended her work as vital to national security in the context of 9/11. She also mentioned that her policy paper mirrored the anti-torture views of John McCain, whom — said she to the room full of Progressives — “is often good on these matters.”

She is right about that, of course. And said so.

That took guts. it took confidence. She must surely be one of the first candidates, if not the first, to mention John McCain in a positive way to a room of progressive Democrats. I always like it when candidates confront a room of skeptics by conceding nothing of who she is or is about.

One final point. On the issue perhaps most important of all, to a potential Governor, there has been no evolution at all. Asked the question “if progressive legislation is blocked by conservative forces in the legislature, what will you do ?” none of the four Democrats at the Forum had a good answer. All evaded the question — or answered a different question. Because to give the real deal would undercut their pretensions. The real governor of Massachusetts is the person whom no one in the entire room mentioned by name : Mr. “conservative forces in the legislature,” Speaker Robert DeLeo. A Democrat.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



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

—- —- —

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



^ huge SEIU candidates Forum last Saturday that Charlie Baker by-passed despite “repeated invitations sent,’ the SEIU program painfully  made known.

—- —- —

Hard on the heels of last Saturday’s hugely attended SEIU Forum on the “low wage worker crisis” comes a Governor Candidate Forum at Faneuil hall this Friday. It begins at noon. The subjects this time are Energy, the Environment, and the Innovation Economy.

You would think that GOP leader Charlie Baker would want to be on stage at Faneuil hall. Its topics are his bread and butter. 28 citizen organizations are sponsoring the Forum. How can a serious candidate for Governor decline to participate ? As Baker also declined the SEIU Forum ? I ask the question rhetorically, because Baker has indeed declined both.

This is what one would expect of the rejectionist GOP, the Tea Party that looks upon Massachusetts’s broad and diverse citizenry as an enemy.

Baker isn’t Tea Party at all. Just the opposite. So what gives ? His apologists say that he is visiting people and neighborhoods everywhere; fine and good; but that is what Scott Brown did for his entire three years as our Senator, and it didn’t get him re-elected.

As I see it, by not participating in an issues Forum set up by citizen organizations that expend much time and money to make them happen, you send a message entirely negative, a disrespect for citizens who care, as well as for the issues that they care about. We’re not talking gun nuts here, or rabid anti-taxers. We’re talking citizen reform — core of what the Massachusetts GOP has always been best at.

Skipping out of such events is the wrong thing to do. It makes me question the seriousness of Charlie Baker’s candidacy.

That Baker has the GOP convention on tap this Saturday is no excuse. His nomination is assured, and it could only enhance his candidacy to speak sharply on the issues at very public Forums widespread reported in the media.

Had Baker a huge money advantage, a case could be made that he is the people’s choice already and needn’t participate in Forums where his candidacy might find itself challenged. I think this a wrong argument, because why shouldn’t his candidacy be challenged ? if Baker cannot respond to challenges — many of them — on a face to face basis, he shouldn’t be running. In any case, he does not hold a vast money lead. The six candidates — the five Democrats and Charlie Baker — reported the following donations, expenses, and ending balance for the month of February :

Charlie Baker

beginning 562,808.84
receipts 209,425.05
expenses 184,735.99
ending bal 587,497.90

Steve Grossman

beginning 1,048,299.70
receipts 91,091.67
expenses 129,780.51
ending bal 1,003,619.86

Martha Coakley

beginning 494,328.43
receipts 184,245.04
expenses 175,951.68
ending bal 502,619.79

Juliette kayyem

beginning 160,119.47
receipts 65,038.58
expenses 108.454.20
ending bal 116,701.85

Don Berwick

beginning 174,376.01
receipts 116,670.06
expenses 139,326.80
ending bal 151,819.27

Joe Avellone

beginning 142,166.73
receipts 14,718.37
expenses 35,512.55
ending bal 121,372.55

Charlie Baker raised more money than anyone in February, but not by much more than Don Berwick, and his money on hand pales in comparison to what Steve Grossman — the clear Democratic caucus winner — commands. Baker barely has more money than Martha Coakley, whose fundraising in February picked up significantly.

Baker’s donations also arise from the usual sources ; CEO’s, high powered lawyers and developers, and residents of old-line GOP towns like Boxford, Hamilton, and communities in the Mid-Cape (Cod). In his February list I couldn’t find even one donor from Baker’s home town of Swampscott. It’s possible that I missed one; but there sure weren’t many. It’s possible, too, that big name Governor GOP donors already maxed out ($ 500 per year per person) in January; I hope so, because I saw very few such on Baker’s February list.

Meanwhile, donors to the five Democrats span pretty much the entirety of diverse Massachusetts, including even CEOs. Massachusetts works best when we pair an innovative GOP Governor with an institutional boss, Democratic House Speaker. But to get that pairing, Baker will have to step it up and be BOLD. He has been a leader on many issues this time around — look at his support for the Minimum wage hike, contrary to GOP orthodoxy — but as i see it, he needs to be bold on everything. And bolder.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE : The Boston Globe today opines that Charlie baker will get more than enough delegates to keep his Tea Party rival off the Primary ballot. this has been my view for at least the last ten days. It makes me all the more bewildered why Baker has avoided attending and speaking at major Citizen Forums. Is he afraid that if he does, the anti-everything GOP that he has spent the last three years buying off will rise up and snarl ?



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^ the Forum Five (photo courtesy of Chris Condon of SEIU local 509)

Since I last saw the Democratic Five at a candidates’ Forum — about six weeks ago — all have sharpened their profiles considerably. On stage at the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) candidates Forum today, there was lots of specifics, even some debate, and only a touch or two of the vague.

Specific, the five needed to be today. The SEIU’s members do the campaign grunt work and they have an agenda that they insist upon — and which they’ve proven, time and time again, they have the muscle to see enacted. Every one of the five badly wanted the SEIU endorsement. They want its game-on. They need it, and they made their need plain to the gathered attendees — at least 500 strong, a massive showing on a Saturday morning.

In return, SEIU members know which candidates have a chance to win the race and which ones probably don’t. So how did the five do ?


First, Steve Grossman.

Grossman reminded the gathering — maybe too many times — that they had endorsed him before, and he had always kept his promises and “stood with” them on strike lines and issues fights. He gave voice to more specific agenda items than any of his rivals — policy points are his great strength. But he missed the point of one question — about restoring rights to ex convicts : the right the questioner wanted to hear about was voting right restoration — and, addressing the minimum wage, he said that “I will veto any minimum wage bill that includes an unemployment insurance give-back !” As this give-back is Speaker Robert DeLeo’s price for supporting the minimum wage hike, Grossman opened up the door to a running fight with the Speaker — who, like his predecessor during the entirety of Deval Patrick’s two Governor terms has proven that the Speaker always wins such fights. And that any Governor who fights him comes away weakened. Grossman either is just blowing smoke here, or he has ceded the entire minimum wage issue to Charlie Baker, the almost certain GOP nominee, who has said — no ifs ands or buts — that he accepts Speaker DeLeo’s give-back and can thus get the $ 11.00 per hour minimum wage hike enacted. (Baker has also made the issue of expanding the earned income tax credit his own, and it was interesting to see that at least two of the candidates, Coakley and Avellone, mentioned expanding earned income credits. Two months ago, no Democrat at Forums mentioned it at all.)


Second, Martha Coakley.

Coakley campaigns with a light touch and an eyes-up grin that often feels snarky. She took a middle route at the Forum : not endorsing driver’s licenses for undocumented people, refusing to grant bargaining rights point-blank to public defender lawyers, sliding away from Don Berwick’s single payer health insurance call. Coakley played careful lawyer : she made clear that she agrees with SEIU’s wage hike and immigrant rights agenda, but maybe not on as all-in a basis as SEIU would like to see. Coakley spoke personally about mental health issues, and with real life stories about income equality; and before the Forum began she posed for many pictures with SEIU’ers who smiled like crazy to be photographed with her. She even said “we have to improve the economy for everybody.”


Third, Juliette Kayyem.

Kayyem continues to converse at times, in a Forum setting where conversation wanders off message. But she has become much, much more forensic in her approach; at SEIU she made big, clear points addressing criminal justice reform; she rejected Don Berwick’s single payer call, saying “even if it can be done, it can’t happen until 2018. we need a Governor for right now.” Obviously, Kayyem has realized that sweetness and glamour — which she owns in this race — must bring toughness and advocacy aboard. Yet the generalities continue. She said “Massachusetts has done well but we can do better.” Better how ? She posed an actual plan: “three points…Save, share, and grow. save money in criminal justice spending. share it by setting up a ‘green bank.’ Grow by investing in education and comprehensive immigration reform.”

Kayyem stressed her immigrant roots; that she’s a mother and wife; and — taking full advantage of being two decades younger than her rivals — that she is “the young generation ready to govern.”


Fourth, Don Berwick.

Berwick has no peer when discussion turns to health care. If he were running for Massachusetts Commissioner of Health and Welfare, he’d win by acclamation. He decries our state’s health care failings — its waste, high cost, inequities — as rigorously as Baker is likely to do. Berwick also speaks to income inequity and the “low wage crisis,” as SEIU’s Forum hosts put it, as passionately as anyone, maybe more. But Berwick overshoots the progressive mark. His solution to the health care system’s failings is single payer — a worthy idea, but it isn’t going to happen soon, and as Kayyem said back at him, “we are electing a Governor for now.” Berwick also seeks a graduated income tax (though he didn’t call it that), an idea that Massachusetts voters quite a while ago rejected in two separate referendums and which would hardly entice to our State the businesses which every Forum candidate, Berwick included, say that Massachusetts needs.


Lastly, Joe Avellone.

Avellone speaks authoritatively about the state’s drug abuse crisis, about recovery and re-entry, and about CORI reform. nd like all the Forum candidates, he supports raising the minimum wage and protection of low-wage workers’ bargaining tights, including extending them to hospital workers who don’t know have that right. Still, Avellone barely seems a possible Governor rather than what he has been, a town selectman. At no place in the Forum did he address the big picture, the massive responsibility sphere that we entrust to the state’s Governor. The Big Dogs of the Legislature would eat Avellone for lunch. So might the State House lobbyists. Avellone made some friends at the Forum; I doubt he won many members’ endorsement.

It was too bad that Charlie Baker wasn’t at the Forum. He had a delegate rally of his own to attend, in Saugus; and the GOP convention takes place next weekend. Still, an opportunity was missed. Baker could have addressed the health care issue authoritatively; the minimum wage and earned income credit; criminal justice reform; homelessness; schools reform; and jobs and innovation — even bargaining rights. It would have been an opportunity to expand his personal reach where a reformist candidate needs be : directly into the most important front of the labor movement, the fight against low-wage situations and all the burdens that low wage work puts on workers and taxpayers alike.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



The photo above is not a meme. It’s real. Governor hopeful Juliette Kayyem claims to have won the second largest number of committed delegates as selected by the party’s caucuses, which have now finished.

This would be huge news if it’s a true count. The truth of it is diminished somewhat, however, by the number of uncommitted delegates chosen. In Kayyem’s photo, “uncommitted” is not listed. Many uncommitteds were chosen in the immediate Boston area, and many of these are said to be actually Martha Coakley votes. Maybe what’s being said isn’t so, but the number of uncommitted delegates is not small. A spokesman for the Kayyem campiagn says the uncommitteds total about 50% of all delegates elected.

But to say it again : Kayyem having more committed delegates than Martha Coakley is big news. Coakley leads all public polls of the Democratic nomination; she’s a sitting Attorney General with an heroic record using that office to fight predatory mortgage lenders, whereas Kayyem holds no office at all.

Coakley’s troubles with the activists in her party are well attested. Some of it began with her dispiriting campaign and loss of a US Senate seat to Scott Brown. Coakley continues to be “unexciting” (as one Newton caucus goer called her), on stage in Forums, an under-exposed photograph, and almost as wan in the fund-raising game. And there are many who have not forgotten Coakley’s handling of the Amirault family, Fells Acres day care scandal, or her over-charging prosecution of former State Treasurer Tim Cahill.

Hardly any activist wants to see Coakley as Governor.

Will activists’ dislike of Coakley translate to her losing the Democratic Primary ? That question will be answered if Kayyem wins the 15 percent of delegates needed for the ballot. Everybody agrees that Steve Grossamn has by far the largest number of committed dekegates and that, barring an ambhush, he will win the Democratic convention’s nomination. In the Primary, however, he now polls far, far behind Coakley. Winning the convention’s Ok will bump his poll numbers a lot. Having Kayyem on the ballot will, Grossman must think, cut Coakley’s primary vote still more.

Will Coakley fail to get to 15 oercent of the convention vote ? The answer has to be : she’ll make the cut easily. Those uncommitted votes may not all be hers, but many of them are. Not being Grossman votres, whose can they be but Coakley’s ?

By no means has Kayyem yet made the 15 pecent cut. second place in committed delegates she may have — more even than coakley; but the convention includes many delegates not elected at the caucuses. Might many of these by-pass both Attorney General Coakley and Treasurer Grossman, to plunk for Kayyem (or Berwick) ? It isn’t enough for Kayyem to win 15 peecent or more of the caucused delagres; she has to win 900 votes — 15 percent of the entire body of 6,000 delegates. When I called for a number, Kayyem’s campaign wouldn’t put a figure on her second pla ce claim. It probably doesn’t total 900.

Her task is still a hard one.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Newton ward 2 caucus : idealists For Don Berwick, realists for Steve Grossman

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It’s hard to dig any message out of the five-candidate-for-Governor, Democratic caucuses that were held during the past month. Only after a full month of sitting in at about eight of those caucuses has a meaning become even hypothetically true, and it’s a cliched one : the Massachusetts Democratic party is split between idealists and realists. Or if you prefer, radicals and centrists.

This sort of division has ruled Massachusetts Democratic actives at least since John Silber, then Scott Harshbarger, then Shannon O’Brien, became the party’s nominees for Governor. Deval Patrick’s winning the 2006 Democratic nomination confirmed it. Yet in each of those cases, going back to 1990, the Democratic winner differed — in some cases sharply — about policy initiatives already contentious within the legislative calendar. This time the gulf between Democratic realists and idealists has widened. It was much in evidence at the City of Newton caucuses yesterday, where delegate candidates pledged to the quintessentially realistic Steve Grossman barely edged out delegate hopefuls pledged to this year’s idealist of idealists, Don Berwick.


^ realistically idealistic : Steve Grossman at the Boston ward 3 caucus

Both men live in Newton, and between them they claimed the entire prize of almost 100 delegates. There wasn’t much sentiment for Juliette Kayyem at the Ward caucus that I sat in on (Ward 2) and none at all for Martha Coakley or Joe Avellone. Home town strength mattered, but it wasn’t the major fact. Of this campaign, Steve Grossman epitomizes realism, Berwick the radical. Kayyem has been a candidate of glamor and nuance : but nuance doesn’t seem to cut it. She’s made scant mark on any of the caucuses I have attended, yesterday’s included. at every caucus she has her team, wearing “I am for Kayyem’ T shirts” (whose grey base contrasts meaningfully with the bold white backing dark blue of Team Berwick); but Kayyem’s team gatherings seem, at leat at the caucuses I’ve sat through, unable to translate enthusiasm into numbers. As for Joe Avellone, he doesn’t even bring a team, much less win a delegate (tough news reports have him winning quite a few out by Worcester County).


^ realistic outsider : Joe Avellone at Boston ward 14 caucus

Avellone is particularly weakened by being a candidate of realism who is also an outsider. This doesn’t work. A candidate cannot be persuasively realistic unless he or she is very much an insider. realistic goals presume the clout to get them done. Outsiders lack that. an outsider must be an idealist; must represent those who want the insider game shaken up. This, Don Berwick — or his helmsman –understands. He advocates all the wish-list that burns tyger-brightly (as William Blake once spelt it) in the night forests of Democratic progressives’ dreams : single payer health care, graduated income tax, green energy funding, sentencing reform, higher taxes to pay for transportation and infrastructure. He insists on them all; and the Democrats of idealist bent have responded. as recently as a month ago I thought that Juliette Kayyem, not Berwick, would be the third Democratic Governor hopeful to win the necessary fifteen percent of delegates or see her campaign end. Today I think it’ll be Berwick.


^ nuance and glamour may not work : Juliette Kayyem addresses Newton Governor Fum

Kayyem might have easily taken the route that Berwick took. She would have trounced him had she done so. Kayyem has charisma galore and is stunningly beautiful : if you meet her and don’;t rmemeber it vividly, physically, you’re a zombie. But Kayyem seems to have played her resume both ways : Obama administration,. Homeland security official, and thus an insider who should be realistic; but also outsider — having never run for anything elective — who gets the progressive agenda. Gets it, but doesn’t necessarily advocate it; certainly not in the all-in, progressive or bust gambol that berwick has winged. Unhappily for Kayyem, it’s unconvincing for a novice candidate to present as competent and idealist. Even for someone already an office holder, it would be difficulty to be both, especially in this season, when voters disbelieve that office holders are competent and distrust that idealists really mean it. Thus the success of Grossman and Berwick : because Grossman has proven himself uniquely competent, and Berwick, as a doctor successful in private practice and government, has the health care issue credibly to himself as well as the bedside manner that we expect of a physician.

And what of Martha Coakley, whom the polls say is still the choice of most Democratic voters ? Among activists, at least, she is falling way short because she has already failed the competency test, as a candidate first of all, and seems to continue to fail it — her money intake lags badly as does her presentation at Forums. There she demonstrates that an idealist, she isn’t. On those issues where she takes uncompromising stands — abortion rights, a prime example — she seems to move by calculation, not conviction.

Coakley may well still win the Democratic Primary, though I doubt it. If Kayyem doesn’t make the fifteen percent, I do not see her supporters going to a candidate even more diffident than Kayyem and — as one caucus goer put it — “hardly exciting.” Some will go to Berwick; but i think most will move to Steve Grossman.

If Grossman becomes the Democratic nominee, he will face a Republican who does seem convincing both as an idealist and a realist. Idealist, because in today’s GOP — even in Massachusetts, where the party at Governor level remains progressive — it’s idealistic to support marriage equality, abortion rights, expanding the earned income credit, and raising the minimum wage to $ 11.00 an hour. realistic, because Baker accepts the unemployment insurance give-back that Speaker Robert DeLeo insists on as a condition of his bringing the minimum wage hike to a vote.


^ leader and voice of the Governor GOP party, one of two MA GOP Parties : Charlie Baker with st rep Jim Lyons of North Andover and (on bottom right) Monica Medeiros, candidate in the Fifth Middlesex Senate District


^ representing the “idealism” of the “left outs, the ignored” : Mark Fisher

It’s because Baker convinces both as idealist and realist that he will win his primary against a Tea Party opponent. Mark Fisher almost perfectly represents the idealist wing of today’s Massachusetts GOP. He goes as all-in on the Tea Party;s agenda as Don Berwick does on the Wish list of Progressives. Fisher rejects marriage equality, abortion rights, a minimum wage rise. Fisher dismisses undocumented immigrants as “illegals’ and promises to make life in Massachusetts as difficult for them as he can. Fisher bitterly brandishes “gun rights.” Indeed, Fisher — a classy guy one on one — projects, in his public pronouncements, an angry tone; he rocks his “salt of the earth, long ignored” voters as they rock themselves : angry to be ignored, lashing out at those who get the attention of officials who ignore them, pissed off at Turnpike toll takers, angry about taxes that they see being spent on Boston but not out where they live.

There is, in Fisher’s campaign, an idealism of sorts — he calls it “principles” — as off the table as Berwick’s; but what a toxic idealism it is ! Anger is not a policy, scapegoating people is not legislation, and opposition to marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights is anathema to a large majority of Massachusetts voters. Only within the State’s eleven percent who register GOP does Fisher’s “idealism” have legs. Just as the idealistic Berwick has won himself a significant activist following, so Fisher’s views comport with a significantly GOP activism.

Right-wing actives have captured the GOP State Committee; this we saw in last week’s 52 to 16 vote to adopt the “values voters” platform. But the views these people espouse, their wagons circled in redoubts of reaction like the so-called “Massachusetts Republican Assembly” — which blithely calls itself “the Republican wing of the Republican party” — no more command a majority of GOP voters than the progressivism of Don Berwick commands a majority of Democrats.

It would be unlikely to find a democratic activist as negative as Fisher’s left-outs. The Democratic party is Massachusetts’s governing party; no Democrat is a “left-out.” But our GOP, except on the Governor level, runs nothing.

In fact the gulf in our GOP between Fisher’s “left-outs” and Charlie Baker’s confident moderates derives directly from this split. In fact, the he Massachusetts GOP is nothing less than two entirely separate political parties : one, a Governor GOP party, dedicated to electing its Governor — a party to which a large majority of GOP voters belongs and whose followers do not see themselves as left out or ignored; and two, a “Grass roots” GOP, spearheaded by idealists who are indeed an interest left aside by an overwhelming State consensus on the issues these “grass roots’ actives care about.  care about. Statewide, the Grass roots GOP numbers barely five percent of all voters; but within the eleven percent registered as republicans they’re a significant number — polls say 39% of the GOP whole.

Not surprisingly, the Grass roots GOP dominates in those regions of the state most alienated from Boston, in which GOP registration (and like-minded “unenrolleds”) count a majority of all voters. Almost all the State’s 30 GOP legislators represent Grass Roots GOP communities. How could it be otherwise ? the Grass roots GOP’s stands on the issues make its election impossible in most Massachusetts areas, and in any case, the Governor GOP hasn’t much interest in winning legislative elections on its realist-suburb turf. It’s far readier to accept — and usually can count on — the support of Democratic legislative realists. Can’t do that if you’re running GOP candidates against them !

NOTE : it wasn’t always this way. During the period 1990 to 2006, when Massachusetts had four consecutive GOP Governors, the entire GOP grass roots was deployed on behalf of the Governor. But since 2006 the Governor has been a democrat. With the Governor GOP out of power, the grass roots GOP has been as left out and ignored as it claims to be, and its embrace of the politics of a minority had a certain practicality about it.

Though at what a price !

In the Democratic Party, the division between realists and idealists takes a very different shape, because both mindsets win elections and thus feel anything but ignored or left out. Their differences are those of a contract negotiation, both parties knowing that once a contract is agreed to, each side will have to carry it out; and are quite ready to do so because they’re already doing it.

It is good that Mark Fisher has arisen to give voice to the left-outs. If the rest of us take their anger, their bitterness, their disparagement of everything that “Boston” means to them — huge taxpayer dollars spent; public transit; enormous state government programs; social inclusion — indeed, celebration — of many lifestyles, languages, and immigrants of all conditions; bicycles and night life; rejection of gun culture; the Unions and high wages; devotion to quality of life issues — as seriously as they hate us, perhaps we can find a way to bring these voters back into the community we call “Massachusetts.” And perhaps not. We will probably never see Don Berwick’s single-payer health insurance adopted in Massachusetts, or his graduated income tax. Never might also be the timeline for Mark Fisher’s voters. And maybe that’s OK. After all, what’s an idealism good for if the realists can absorb it ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Still leading the pack, thus reason to smile : Charlie Baker in Leominster

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Massachusetts people are moving to pick a new Governor. The Democratic caucuses begin in a few days. The GOP meetings have already started. As I see it today, February 2nd, Charlie Baker leads the pack. His bold move, last week, to support raising the minimum wage by way of Speaker DeLeo’s legislation, ensures its passage; none of the five Democrats has yet made the same pact. Baker also supports expanding the earned income credit for lower-wage workers. None of the Democrats has even, to my knowledge, mentioned this initiative. Big advantage for Baker.

So is the $ 1,014,906.36 that Baker reported raising last year, with more to come, much more.

In charge finally, Baker stumbled a bit when the question of seeking the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was put to the candidates. All of the Democtrats said that no, the death penalty is not OK for any defendant in Massachusetts; we have abolished it. This is true and principled. Baker’s response ? That he has long advocated the death penalty in very heinous crime situations. His statement seems a step backward for our boldly progressive state. And where do the Feds get their sudden death penalty willingness ? Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Robert Kennedy ; he didn’t get a death peanlty. Is Tsarnaev more heinous ? Or do we simply live in miore barbarous times ? Certainly a great deal of outright barbarism unfolded here in Boston after the Marathon bombing. Who can forget the Antigone situation that arose over the burial of Tamerlan Tsarnaev ? It is not good, not at all, to see Baker play to the Creon mindset.

Advantage then to the five Democrats, as their party’s caucuses begin.


^ heartfelt dedication to social justice : Dr. Don Berwick at a packed house party in West Roxbury yesterday

If yesterday’s Don Berwick houseparty on Chesbrough Road in West Roxbury was any indication of interest, the caucuses should be full-house. 75 locals crowded into every nook of the Chesbrough Road dwelling to hear the gentle, classy Dr. Berwick deliver his social justice speech and answer questions — most of them well informed. And Berwick isn’t even one of the two “majors.” Imagine how many are likely to caucus for Steve Grossman, our State Treasurer, or for Martha Coakley, now the Attorney General. Juliette Kayyem, too, with her personal charisma — 9,749 twitter followers as I write this — is sure to draw many to the hundreds of Democratic town and ward (each ward of a city holds its own) caucuses taking place between next weekend and March 2nd, the last day on which they can occur. So yes, for the five Democrats — Joe Avellone is the one not mentioned above — it’s now crunch time. Any candidate who can’t secure 900 pledged delegates — 15 percent of the total who will vote at the Democratic convention — won’t get his or her name printed on the Democratic Primary ballot.

We won’t know who has done that and who hasn’t until probably mid-March, when the Democratic State Committee tallies the results. But we can assess the five with reasonable objectivity by looking at their fund-raising. (Charlie Baker has yet to report January numbers.) Since January 15th, the day on which I last looked, this is how the five’s fund-raising tallies up :

Martha Coakley 168,951.23
Steve Grossman 153,695.00
Juliette Kayyem 84,679.20
Donald Berwick 50,260.00
Joe Avellone        36,365.64
Total Funds raised by the five —- 493,950.87
Per cent of total :
Coakley —– approx 34 %
Grossman — approx 31 %
Kayyem —– approx 17 %
Berwick —– approx 11 %
Avellone —- approx 7 %

Fund-raising isn’t everything, of course. But in MA, each donor is limited to $ 500 per candidate per year. Thus the list above represents a lot of people. The caucus-goers choices aren’t likely to differ radically from the donors’ picks. In any rate, it’s my working hypothesis as to who — as of today — will make the “15 % cut” and who won’t.


^ charisma and a progressive smile gets Juliette kayyem lots of attention — and probably a spot on the Primary ballot…..


^ or maybe it gets Kayyem second place on a Steve Grossman ticket ? we will see.

For Donald Berwick, who by my analysis falls short, it’s a good thing that the caucus process lasts for a month. He can step up his game in that time — probably needs to. Juliette Kayyem can’t rest calm, either, sitting at 17 % of the total. But then what ? Coakley and Grossman clearly dominate — no surprise there — which means that Kayyem may want to think about taking the Lieutenant Governor position on a Steve Grossman ticket — if offered.

It would be a very strong Democratic pairing. It represents about 50 % of the Democratic convention. The stars are beginning to align.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



two strongest, but opposites in every way : Don Berwick and Steve Grossman at Lexington’s Governor Forum

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Close to 500 people took seats in Lexington’s Cary Hall to hear the five Democrats running for Governor respond to questions put by the town’s State Representative, Jay Kaufman. The Forum lasted almost two hours, sufficient time for the five to leave clear and very different impressions of what they are about.

Don Berwick, a doctor, sees almost everything as a health care or moral issue ; and as health care and government’s handling of it has roiled the whole nation, the Lexington audience saw it too. Applause galore graced his most fervent flights of pediatric concern. Curiously, he also arrives via the health issue route at favoring repeal of the State’s casino law. All four of his rivals took the opposite position: Grossman pointedly, for both the revenue and the jobs — as he said, ‘how will we replace the casino revenue ?” Coakley opposed Berwick definitively, noting that she has sued to prevent the casino repeal referendum entirely, as an unconstitutional interference with settled contract rights). Even the casual Kayyem said that no, we need casino revenue and jobs.

Many in the Lexington audience applauded Berwick’s anti-casino moralism. To this observer, however, Berwick the anti-casino repealer seemed a Democratic version of Ted Cruz repealing Obamacare. Not exactly the impression he might want to leave.

State Treasurer Steve Grossman addressed many issues on their own two feet, and spoke of immigrant rights, renewable energy, the Governor’s transportation bill, and mental health work, with detail confidently; but he too had his mantras : “I’m the only candidate on this stage who has actually created jobs” and “if we need to raise new revenue, I will do it.” Still, because he often spoke directly after Berwick, Grossman’s intense focus and decisive “this is what I will do as governor’ moments contrasted all to his advantage : Berwick, the moral conscience; Grossman, the man of authority. Berwick drew the loudest applause, and often; but as the Forum continued, Grossman began to draw applause as well — more and more. And if this Forum was about electing a Governor — which hopefully it was — Grossman deserved every kudo accorded him.

That said, was I the only observer who heard a strong likeness to Charlie Baker in Grossman’s “business and job creation” theme ?


^ activists attentive : Cary Hall was full to the loges and balconies

Attorney General Martha Coakley spoke quietly, with a welcoming smile that belied the sarcasm in her many responses, in which she was trying to say, “as Attorney General, I’ve already been working all of these issues, of fairness, budgeting, immigrant concerns, and the big banks.”

Juliette Kayyem, a policy expert and former Obama Administration NSA official, looked gorgeous and spoke casually, almost intimately, as if at a houseparty among friends — a tactic that, to this observer at least, doesn’t work in a setting as structured as the Jay Kaufman Forum. Her informality dissipated her issues statements to the point that I found it hard to grasp what her positions actually are. On the issues that she did address directly her answers seemed tautologous. Berwick and Grossman — even Coakley — stated positions that one might disagree with. Thery took risks. Kayyem appeared to take none and to rely on her charm and personality — pleasant surprise to see in a bureacrat — as a kind of policy statement itself.


^ personality as policy : Juliette Kayyem

Then there was Joe Avellone, a doctor and the CEO of a medical software firm, Parexel. I do not like to speak critically of a man whose candidacy lags so badly, but I have to : on the Lexington stage, Avellone spoke a soft voice that was hard to hear, talked without focus, and, as a doctor on the same stage with the eloquent Doctor Berwick, found himself beaten to the prize almost every time.

Distinctions were thus made, for all to see and appreciate. yet on the night’s most important question — “what will you do if the Speaker won’t sign off on legislation that you propose ?” — all five candidates ducked or evaded. Grossman noted that he has built up solid relationships with members of the legislature. OK, but that wasn’t the question. The question was about just one legislator, the Speaker. Doctor Berwick said, “I’ve met many of our legislators. They seem normal to me.” Laughter — but again, he did not say what he would do about the Speaker, who is not normal but THE Norm. And so it went. Granted that the question was somewhat unfair. In our state the Speaker of the house controls his membership entirely, to the point that no legislation can pass without his OK, and there is nothing that even the Governor can do about it. time and time again, under Speaker after Speaker, we see this happen. What could any of Representative Kaufman’s five guests really say, that would not embarrass them and show them, ultimately, as weak ? The office itself is weak.

Fortunately for the five, this moment of truth came early in the Forum. by the time the Forum ended, the candidates looked important again, their office worthy of activist attention in the party caucuses that begin less than a month hence.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

below : the obligatory Forum photo, complete with white band in the middle annoying every eye.