Category Archives: Politics

Muzzle winner gets its final comeuppance

How sleazy do you have to be before you’re found to lack the morals necessary to operate a slots parlor? Very sleazy indeed. Mark Arsenault of The Boston Globe reports that former Plainridge Racecourse president Gary Piontkowski’s habit of stuffing cash into his pockets — $1.4 million in total — was just too much for state regulators to overlook.

Last month, we bestowed a 2013 WGBH News/Portland Phoenix/Providence Phoenix Muzzle Award upon the racetrack for its unsuccessful attempt to abuse the libel laws in order to silence a local blogger who opposed a slots license for the Plainville facility.

And today, in his Boston magazine blog, David Bernstein lays out Piontkowski’s relationship with former senator Scott Brown.

None of this should surprise anyone. It’s simply what you get with large-scale organized gambling. No casinos. No slots.

How George Kariotis aided a Republican revival

George Kariotis

George Kariotis

In 1986, when I was working for the Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn, I had a chance to interview business executive George Kariotis after he was drafted by the Republican State Committee for the mission impossible of running against Gov. Michael Dukakis.

Kariotis has died at the age of 90, according to this obituary by Bryan Marquard of The Boston Globe.

I remember very little about the interview except that Kariotis seemed like a good, sincere guy, and that he was far more conservative than most Massachusetts Republicans of his era. I’m not sure I knew until reading Marquard’s obit that Kariotis was a fellow alumnus of Northeastern University. (Here is an interview with Kariotis published on the Northeastern website.)

What I do remember vividly, and which Marquard only alludes to, were the circumstances that led to Kariotis’ candidacy. The Republicans had lost their two leading gubernatorial contenders. Royall Switzler dropped out after it was revealed that his claim to have fought in Vietnam was false. Greg Hyatt quit the race amid bizarre stories about his working in his office pants-free.

The Republican meltdown gave Dukakis’ then-nascent presidential candidacy a boost. But Kariotis’ decency and relentless focus on the issues may well have paved the way for 1990, when Republican Bill Weld was elected governor and the party made major gains in the state Legislature.

Photo via Northeastern University.

Gomez-mania and its limits

Gabriel Gomez working the crowd

Gabriel Gomez meeting and greeting

Watching TV and following Twitter last night, I saw a lot of praise for Gabriel Gomez’s running a credible campaign and doing better than expected.

Really? Gomez lost by 10 points. Scott Brown lost by eight last November. Although Gomez didn’t have to contend with President Obama being on the ballot, as Brown did, a low turnout was supposed to help Gomez — and he certainly got that.

My guess is that Gomez got the bare minimum of votes available to virtually any Republican and failed to build on it at all. The fact is that he lost by a substantial margin to Ed Markey, an uninspiring Democratic candidate. (A fading Brown did better against Elizabeth Warren, a rock star compared to Markey.) The extent of Gomez’s defeat was right in line with most of the polls, so he most definitely did not do better than expected.

I doubt any Republican can win federal office in Massachusetts right now because congressional Republicans are so unpopular here. But Gomez didn’t help himself by claiming to be a moderate, taking clear stands against abortion rights and gun control, and then ludicrously trying to convince voters that he’d done no such thing.

Sorry, folks. A star wasn’t born last night.

Photo (cc) by Mark Sardella and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Debunking the “partisan shifts” on surveillance

The most important (and chilling) finding from the latest Pew Research Center/Washington Post survey is that 56 percent of Americans say they support the National Security Agency’s surveillance of phone records, email and other electronic traffic.

A few, though, have pointed to a chart showing supposed hypocrisy on the part of Democrats. In January 2006, self-identified Democrats opposed the NSA’s surveillance programs by a margin of two to one. Today they support those programs by an almost identical margin.

The chart is helpfully labeled “Partisan Shifts in Views of NSA Surveillance Programs.” But what really matters is a parenthetical: “See previous table for differences in question wording.”

So I did, and you can, too. The 2006 survey, by ABC News and The Washington Post, was based on the following proposition: “NSA has been investigating people suspected of terrorist involvement by secretly listening in on phone calls & reading emails without court approval…”

This time around, Pew and the Post put it this way: “NSA has been getting secret court orders to track calls of millions of Americans to investigate terrorism…”

I added the emphasis in both instances to highlight the differences. Under George W. Bush, without court approval; under Barack Obama, with court approval. And: “listening in on phone calls” in 2006 versus “track[ing] calls” in 2013. A considerable difference, regardless of what you think of the NSA’s activities (and, for the record, I’m glad they’ve been exposed).

Three tough losses in Boston politics and media

220px-Cellucci_paul

Paul Cellucci

The Boston political and media worlds have suffered three tough losses recently. The most prominent was former governor Paul Cellucci, who died on Saturday after a courageous battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Cellucci was a dedicated public servant and a class act. The first time I met him was in 1988, when he and Dick Kraus — both of them were state senators — debated as stand-ins for George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis at the Arlington cable studios.

I got to know Cellucci better when I was working on a profile of him for The Boston Phoenix in 1997. The then-lieutenant governor’s career was at a low ebb — The Boston Globe had revealed that he’d run up $750,000 in personal debt, and state Treasurer Joe Malone was thought by many observers to be the frontrunner for the 1998 Republican nomination for governor.

But Cellucci came across as polite, philosophical, even funny, responding “Are you talkin’ to me?” when someone told him he resembed Robert De Niro.

“This is a very cyclical business,” Cellucci told me at the time. “You’ve got to be ready, you’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to catch some breaks. And some years you catch the breaks, some years you don’t.”

He steady demeanor served him well both in his political career and in his illness. The following year Cellucci was elected governor; he later served as ambassador to Canada. Since announcing in 2011 that he had ALS, he had been a visible and effective advocate for research into the disease. He will be missed.

• Richard Gaines was a legendary longtime editor of the Phoenix. Yet even though I worked there for nearly 15 years, our paths never crossed. (We met once at a party.) Today many former Phoenicians and others who knew him are mourning his death at the age of 69.

Gaines led a “tumultuous life,” to borrow a description from a friend of mine who worked with him. He was widely praised for his intelligence and his skill as a reporter and editor. In the latter part of his career he worked for the Gloucester Times, where he became a respected expert on that city’s troubled fishing industry.

I got to know Gaines’ wife, Nancy Gaines, when she worked at the Phoenix in the late 1990s. My thoughts go out to her at this sad and difficult time.

• Christopher Cox was someone whose byline I remember seeing in the Boston Herald, but I had no idea about how many lives he had touched until he died recently, and his friends began paying tribute to him on Facebook.

I also had no idea what an accomplished journalist he was until I read this tribute by David Perry in The Sun of Lowell, where Cox had also worked. A remarkable life and career. Read it.

Photo via Wikipedia.

Another side to a judge’s free legal assistance

I don’t want to defend a possible conflict of interest on the part of a judge. But I do want to offer a different perspective on today’s lead story in The Boston Globe, in which we learn that a judge accused of misconduct received $550,000 in free legal assistance.

The Globe’s Andrea Estes reports that Boston Municipal Court Judge Raymond Dougan received the free legal help in order to fight charges brought by Suffolk County District Attorney (and current mayoral candidate) Dan Conley that Dougan was biased in favor of defendants and against prosecutors. The Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct dismissed Conley’s complaint in late 2012.

In today’s story, Estes writes:

For more than two decades, the Judicial Conduct Commission had required judges to pay for their own legal representation during misconduct investigations. Free legal services could violate the state’s conflict-of-interest law and the code of conduct for judges, both of which prohibit giving gifts to public officials.

But consider. When Conley filed his complaint, he was in a no-lose situation. Even if Dougan ultimately prevailed, Conley knew that the judge would be ruined financially, and be held up as an object lesson for other judges wary of incurring the wrath of prosecutors. That’s outrageous, and tilts the balance in favor of the prosecution even more than it already is.

Dougan found a way around that. And keep in mind that Conley’s complaint was ultimately found to be bogus.

Pamela Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause, tells the Globe, “This is a very large sum of money, and only ­increases the need for a second look at the issue of legal representation of judges.”

Yes. And one way to do that is for the state to pay for legal services when judges  face allegations that don’t involve corruption or personal wrongdoing.

The missing context in the IRS scandal

Here’s an assignment for some enterprising journalist: Try to find out how many conservative 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) groups were formed in, say, 2009 through 2011 and compare that to the number of liberal groups formed during the same time period.

Only then can we judge how outrageous it was for some IRS employees to be searching for terms like “tea party” and “patriot” in attempting to crack down on tax-code abuse.

You drop your line where the fish are, you know?

Dan Winslow brings his campaign to Danvers

Winslow in Danvers

U.S. Senate candidate Dan Winslow calls himself “the Dan with a plan.” I am the Dan without a plan. But I do follow Winslow on Twitter. So when I saw that he was heading for Danvers Square, I walked the block and a half from my house to see if we could connect.

Winslow, one of three Republicans running in the primary on Tuesday, was greeting voters and meeting supporters at New Brothers. We’ve conversed so much on Twitter that it was hard to remember that this was actually our first meeting.

Winslow is as ebullient in person as he is on social media, touting his endorsement by the Springfield Republican as representing a “clean sweep” of Massachusetts newspapers. (Most notably, Winslow has been endorsed by both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.)

Still, the polls suggest that Winslow — a state representative, former judge and a top adviser to Mitt Romney when he was governor — is running third, behind former U.S. attorney Michael Sullivan and venture capitalist Gabriel Gomez. The winner will square off against one of two Democratic congressmen, Ed Markey or Stephen Lynch, in a special election to be held in June.

Winslow’s hopes would appear to rest on low turnout (likely to be especially low given how little attention the campaign has received following the Boston Marathon bombing) and his get-out-the-vote effort. His profile as a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican is one that has traditionally appealed to independent voters in Massachusetts. But he’s not well known, and there are only a few days to go.

Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy. Some rights reserved.

The Russian government’s literally incredible behavior

News Dissector Danny Schechter retweeted this blog post by former British diplomat Craig Murray, who questions the notion that the Russian government warned the United States of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s radicalism in 2010.

I will confess that I know nothing about Murray. But what he writes is the simple truth about the official story: After raising a warning flag about Tsarnaev, Russia allowed him into the country in 2012 and let him stay for six months, then leave again. Murray’s gloss on those facts also seems worth thinking about:

In 2012 Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who is of such concern to Russian security, is able to fly to Russia and pass through the airport security checks of the world’s most thoroughly and brutally efficient security services without being picked up. He is then able to proceed to Dagestan — right at the heart of the world’s heaviest military occupation and the world’s most far reaching secret police surveillance — again without being intercepted, and he is able there to go through some form of terror training or further Islamist indoctrination. He then flies out again without any intervention by the Russian security services.

Murray adds: “That is the official story and I have no doubt it did not happen.”

The New York Times today reports on Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s time in Dagestan. This passage pretty much sums up the paper’s findings:

During his six months in Makhachkala [the Dagestan capital], according to relatives, neighbors and friends, he did not seem like a man on a mission, or training for one. Rather, they said, he was more like a recent graduate who could not quite decide what to do with himself. He slept late, hung around at home, visited family and helped his father renovate a storefront.

We are at the very beginning of what is likely to be a long investigation. But these reports are relevant at a moment when — as the Boston Globe reports — Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham are despicably calling for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be treated as an “enemy combatant,” and when Republicans are already describing the Boston Marathon bombings as a breakdown in intelligence.

Not only do we not know that, but early indications are that such irresponsible speculation is not in accord with the facts.

Michael Sullivan’s tired, uninspired debate performance

Dan Winslow and Gabriel Gomez at least seemed interesting in tonight’s Republican Senate debate, sponsored by WBZ and the Boston Globe. But Michael Sullivan, who’s way ahead in some polls, came across as old and cranky, a garden-variety right-winger who couldn’t even bring himself to support the gun-control compromise announced in Washington today.

It seems to me that either Winslow or Gomez could at least make the Democratic nominee — Steve Lynch or, more likely, Ed Markey — break a sweat. If either of them gets a chance, that is.

And, oh, the Massachusetts Republican Party has come to this: both Sullivan and Gomez attacked Winslow for being part of a governor’s team that raised taxes and passed Romneycare. If Willard Mitt Romney is now too liberal for Republican primary voters, then their candidate is headed off an electoral cliff.