I’ve been holding my fire on Gov. Deval Patrick’s personal spending spree (with our money) because I’m not sure exactly what to think. I thought the story about his helicopter rides to official events was genuinely stupid, but my ears perked up over his state-funded Cadillac. Since then, we’ve learned that he spent a fortune redecorating his office, and — most egregious, IMHO — has approved a $72,000-a-year chief of staff for his wife, a downtown lawyer.
And it’s not as though all this is obscuring the great news Patrick is making on other fronts. Indeed, as this was unfolding last week, he was quietly floating two ideas to raise taxes. This from a guy who said during his gubernatorial campaign that he had “no plans” for a tax increase. Well, not then, anyway.
I’m still not sure how big a deal any of this is. Faux-populist stories like these are a dime a dozen, and if Patrick’s tastes are more expensive than those of his predecessors, such is life. But his news conference yesterday is another matter. Patrick demonstrated such a just-doesn’t-get-it streak — and not for the first time — that it makes you wonder whether he has the basic political instincts needed to be an effective governor.
Essentially, Patrick apologized, even going so far to say he’d “screwed up”; announced that he would return some of the money; and then undid all the good he might have done by blaming it on the media. (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.) By all means, take a look at Jon Keller’s report on WBZ-TV (Channel 4). I also recommend Adrian Walker’s column in today’s Globe, which includes this:
I’m on record as not giving a hoot what the governor gets driven around in. I still think people place too much emphasis on symbols over substance. At the end of the day, a leased Cadillac is a ridiculous barometer to measure Patrick by.
What is troubling, though, is Patrick’s inability to think any problem of his has anything to do with him. If everyone could just be as high-minded, as substantive as he is, everything would be fine.
Over at Patrick headquarters, a.k.a. Blue Mass Group, Charley Blandy wags his finger at the media:
All of the local media geniuses who have smelled blood on the caddy stuff need to get a clue, and start focusing on things that matter. This is page B3 stuff at best. Media outlets aren’t struggling just because of their business model; they’re struggling because they’ve abdicated their vitality and relevance, and become just as focused on gossipy crap like the DeVille, or whether Scott Brown has a potty-mouth, or whatever. [Blandy’s emphasis.]
Blandy also denounces “the obvious racial subtext to all of this: Deval as Pimp.” Well, you know what? I’m not going to say there’s no racial subtext. There always is when you’re talking about an African-American in a position of power. But let’s not get carried away here.
Patrick needs to understand that, yes, he ran a mistake-free campaign for governor, but he also had plenty of luck, beating two extremely weak candidates in the Democratic primary and running virtually unopposed in the general election. For all his smarts and knowledge, he’s still got a lot to learn about politics.
Are the media pushing all this too hard? Probably. Yesterday, though, Patrick had a chance to put this string of stories behind him. He only partly succeeded — at best.
Elsewhere: The Massachusetts Liberal is more impressed with Patrick’s apology than I am. Jay Fitzgerald: “Individually, the various stories don’t push my outrage buttons. Collectively, well, they add up.” And the Herald’s Inside Track has a hilarious account of a dust-up between two reporters for WHDH-TV (Channel 7), Andy Hiller and Sean Hennessey, as they were jockeying for position at Patrick’s news conference.
More: Emily Rooney comes to Patrick’s defense.