Three tough losses in Boston politics and media

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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.

What Jeff Perry saw

From the time the story re-surfaced last spring, the problem with trying to hold Republican congressional candidate Jeff Perry responsible for a rogue police officer’s illegal strip searches of two teenage girls was that the matter had already been thoroughly litigated.

Perry, a former Wareham police sergeant, was not directly charged in either of the two incidents. Nor has anyone been able to tie his subsequent resignation to his actions in those incidents. Perry’s Democratic opponent in the 10th Congressional District, Bill Keating, has been pounding away on the issue. But according to the polls, the race has remained close. No doubt to a lot of prospective voters, it sounded like typical campaign mudslinging.

That all changed yesterday. Now we have one of the victims declaring that Perry had to have known that then-police officer Scott Flanagan was sexually assaulting her one night in 1991 near a Wareham cranberry bog. “He had to hear me screaming and crying, said Lisa Allen in a statement, according to the Boston Globe. “Instead of helping me, Jeff Perry denied anything happened.”

The Cape Cod Times — which, along with the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, may be the most important local paper in the district — plays the story huge today beneath the headline “Strip-search victim blasts Perry.” As the Outraged Liberal notes, the Boston Herald relegates the story to Margery Eagan’s column — a questionable bit of news judgment, though Eagan, to her credit, is in high dudgeon. So is Globe columnist Joan Vennochi.

The online news site Cape Cod Today has pushed the Perry story relentlessly, and I take this as something of a victory lap.

If there is a congressional district in Massachusetts ripe for a Republican takeover, it is surely the 10th, a conservative part of the state that stretches from Quincy to Provincetown. The Republicans had a chance to pick nice guy Joe Malone, but instead went with Perry. No doubt many of them are regretting that decision today — but surely they knew something like this might happen.

What happened to Lisa Allen may have taken place a long time ago. But the questions she raises about Perry’s empathy and judgment are just as valid today as they were in 1991.

Drip, drip, drip, drip

Boston Globe reporter Donovan Slack ferrets out more details about how Cape Cod congressional candidate Jeff Perry handled a child-molesting police officer under his command two decades ago.

The key takeaway involves then-Wareham police officer Scott Flanagan’s strip-search of a 14-year-old girl near a cranberry bog in 1991. Perry, then a sergeant on the force, was on the scene. (Flanagan also strip-searched a 16-year-old girl on a different occasion. Perry was not present, but accompanied Flanagan on a controversial visit to the girl’s parents’ home later that night.)

Last month, Donovan notes, Perry said he saw nothing with respect to the 14-year-old: “It did not occur in my presence.” Yet that contradicts what Perry said at the time, according to Donovan, who writes:

But in sworn testimony in a deposition for civil suits filed by the two girls’ families, Perry said he was in a position to have seen and heard everything and that it did not happen, according to a law enforcement specialist, Lou Reiter, who reviewed Perry’s deposition, wrote a report, and testified for one of the plaintiffs.

Flanagan later confessed that he had strip-searched both girls, pleading guilty to criminal charges. The contradictory statements — Perry saying nothing happened, and Flanagan later admitting it did — led Reiter to conclude that Perry was “not being truthful.’’

Perry, a Republican state representative from Sandwich, is hoping to succeed Democratic congressman Bill Delahunt, who’s retiring. But who’s that knocking at the door? Why, it’s former state treasurer Joe Malone, who’s running against Perry in the Republican primary.

Earlier coverage.