Baker’s had seven years to fix the T. It’s worse than ever.

Photo (cc) 2022 by Dan Kennedy

A Twitter thread on the decline and fall of the MBTA under Gov. Charlie Baker:

More than seven years ago, after Snowmaggedon brought the #MBTA to its knees, Gov. Baker was given unprecedented authority to fix it. We now know he didn’t use that opportunity wisely or well. (1/x)

If there was an assessment made of what work needed to be done, it was obviously inadequate. We’ve seen one issue after another come up during the past year, and especially the past few months. (2/x)

With proper planning, much of the work could have been done during the pandemic shutdown. Instead, we’re now dealing with Orange and Green Line closures just as employers are trying to entice their workers into returning to the office. (3/x)

It’s not all Baker’s fault. The last governor to take issues involving the T seriously was Michael Dukakis. There’s no political gain in fixing the T because the benefits are invisible. (4/x)

Baker does deserve credit for saving the GLX after Deval Patrick nearly gold-plated it into oblivion. Overall, though, Baker failed, and his term is ending with the T in a state of collapse. (5/x)

Notably silent: Maura Healey, who’s as sure a bet to be elected governor as you get in politics. This is not a time for caution. What is her vision for the T? If she remains silent, then she won’t have a mandate to carry it out. (6/x)

Like many, I depend on the MBTA to get to work and elsewhere. I use commuter rail, subways and buses. I really have no good alternatives, so I’m being patient. What choice do I have? But all of this is incredibly dispiriting. (7/7)

Healey’s ascension coincides with the dispiriting collapse of politics in Mass.

Maura Healey. Photo (cc) 2015 by Charlie Baker. Yes, that’s what the photo credit says. Yes, I realize that’s Baker on the left-hand side of the frame.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz’s withdrawal from the gubernatorial race on Thursday underscores the astonishing collapse of politics in Massachusetts. This is a state where politics has traditionally been a year-round sport. In the past, an open governor’s seat would have attracted multiple candidates. Instead, Attorney General Maura Healey will run uncontested for the Democratic nomination and will probably beat either of the two Republicans who are running.

The Axios Boston headline this morning puts it this way: “AG Healey on track to be Massachusetts’ first elected female governor.” In June. Nearly five months before Election Day.

Contrast what’s happening today with 1990, when Gov. Michael Dukakis retired. Three prominent Democrats sought the nomination — Boston University president John Silber, Attorney General Frank Bellotti and Lieutenant Gov. Evelyn Murphy. Although Murphy ended up withdrawing, Silber beat Bellotti in a closely fought race. Silber, in turn, was defeated by former federal prosecutor Bill Weld, who won the Republican nomination by beating House Republican leader Steve Pierce.

More recently, in 2006, a relatively unknown former Justice Department official, Deval Patrick, won the Democratic primary for governor with less than 50% of the vote against businessman Chris Gabrieli and Attorney General Tom Reilly. That November, Patrick defeated Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey and several independent candidates, the most prominent of whom was the late businessman Christy Mihos.

So how did Healey end up running unopposed for the Democratic nomination? There are some unique factors at play. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker took his time in announcing he wouldn’t seek another term, which gave a significant advantage to the well-known, well-funded Healey. Former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh decided he’d rather stay in Washington than run for governor.

I worry, though, that we’re all losing interest in politics. Healey is first-rate, smart, personable and progressive. After her, though, who? U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley? Boston Mayor Michelle Wu? Maybe. Both are at a relatively early stage of their political careers — especially Wu — so perhaps we just have to give it time.

As for the Republicans, who have produced a slew of governors over the years to act as a moderating force against the dominant Democrats, the situation is sad indeed. Two Republicans are running for governor this year. One, state Rep. Geoff Diehl, is a full-blown Trumper. The other, businessman Chris Doughty, is trying to position himself as a Baker-style moderate — but he opposes abortion rights and has taken stands that suggest he supporters deeper tax cuts than Baker would support.

For those of us who’ve been following Massachusetts politics for years, it’s a dispiriting time. I hope it’s just temporary.

False rumors about Wu’s mental health recall attacks on Michael Dukakis in 1988

Then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1987. Photo (cc) City of Boston Archives.

Today’s Boston Globe story about the right-wing whispering campaign suggesting that Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has suffered from serious panic attacks while in office (there is no evidence) calls to mind the rumors about Michael Dukakis’ mental health that circulated during his 1988 presidential campaign.

Dukakis’ Republican opponent, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, helmed one of the dirtiest campaigns in the modern era. Everyone remembers the racist Willie Horton ad, but there were also rumors — grounded in nothing — that Dukakis suffered from depression.

As recalled in this retrospective by Dylan Scott in Stat News, President Ronald Reagan got in on the act, pushing into the mainstream a conspiracy theory that emanated from LaRouchie right:

In early August, in those pre-Twitter days, Reagan made the gossip front-page news. The president said at a White House press conference, in response to a question about Dukakis, that he didn’t want to “pick on an invalid.”

Reagan quickly apologized, but the story was off and running. The New York Times and Washington Post wrote editorials denouncing the attacks. The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Miami Herald published lengthy stories about the rumors and their source.

Dukakis’ 17-point polling lead over Bush collapsed, and, of course, Bush went on to win that November. As Dukakis said, “you don’t drop eight points in a week for nothing.”

The claim may have resonated because there was just enough there for the conspiracists to dig into. Dukakis’ wife, Kitty Dukakis, had long suffered from depression, and, as the Stat piece noted, biographies of Dukakis said that “he had been unhappy after his brother died in 1973 and, again in 1978, after he lost his reelection for governor.” Nothing unusual about that, of course.

So, too, with Wu. Her mother has struggled with mental illness. And in January the Globe published a story that included this line: “A decade ago, when Wu first mentioned to someone outside her close circle that she was considering a run for office, she had a panic attack; she had to walk across the room and crouch down to calm herself.” In other words, years ago and hardly unusual behavior — and also a long way from landing in the hospital, as the current rumors claim.

The false rumors about Wu have almost but not quite broken into the mainstream, according to the Globe’s Emma Platoff. Greg Hill of WEEI Radio (93.7 FM) mentioned them sympathetically, perhaps unaware that there was nothing to them. Platoff also cites a column in late January by the Boston Herald’s Joe Battenfeld, who wrote: “Unfortunately for the Harvard-educated Wu, there isn’t an Ivy League seminar or class to learn how to grapple with these anxiety-inducing problems.” But having read Battenfeld’s column in its entirety, I don’t agree that he was making any reference to the rumors.

One unanswerable question about all this is whether a major media outlet like the Globe should amplify the rumors. Platoff addresses that:

There are those who believe this Globe story will worsen the problem. Experts say it can be a mistake to mention this kind of misinformation in a reputable newspaper; that even debunking a rumor grants it oxygen. But as this false claim spreads through the city’s power centers, it has already leaked into public discourse. And the mayor, who has been open about her mother’s struggle with schizophrenia, was glad to correct the record, saying it was important to call out both mental health stigma and misinformation.

She also quotes Wu herself, who says it’s better to address the rumors head-on than to let them fester. “I want to be transparent about the presence of these tactics, even today, because we need to acknowledge it to be able to change it,” Wu told Platoff. “It does feel connected to larger trends in politics and international politics: If you just repeat something that’s false enough times, at least you can sow a little doubt in the broader public’s mind. And that’s a really dangerous place to be.”

I don’t know whether putting it out there is a good idea or not. As Wu herself acknowledges, it’s already partly out there, so perhaps it’s better to address it head-on. Still, people are going to believe what they want to believe. We are long past the time when facts made any difference. We weren’t even there in 1988.

George Bush Sr.’s no-class putdown of Michael Dukakis

Michael Dukakis. Via Northeastern.edu
Michael Dukakis. Via northeastern.edu.

While you are enjoying George H.W. Bush’s putdowns of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and, yes, George W., pause for a moment and consider his vicious characterization of Northeastern’s Michael Dukakis, one of our great public citizens, as a “midget nerd.”

No, I don’t necessarily expect a 91-year-old to know that “the M-word” is considered offensive to people in the dwarfism community. But one of the reasons it’s offensive is that it’s nearly always used to demean and degrade someone. (Dukakis, obviously, is not a dwarf; he is merely on the short side of average.)

The elder Bush has his good qualities, but he could be a nasty piece of work. You may recall that his late henchman, Lee Atwater, issued a deathbed apology for the “naked cruelty” and racism of Bush’s campaign against Dukakis in 1988, in which Atwater said he “would strip the bark off the little bastard.” Somehow I doubt Bush is going to say he’s sorry.

Looking at the Globe’s previous Republican endorsements

Despite The Boston Globe’s reputation as a Democratic paper, its editorial pages have endorsed Republican candidates for governor more often than you might think. Still, today’s editorial endorsing Charlie Baker over Martha Coakley is notable because it is only the second time in recent history that the paper has gone with a Republican over a more liberal Democrat.

Let’s look at the history of Republicans the Globe has endorsed starting in 1970.

  • 1970: The Globe did not endorse in the race between Gov. Frank Sargent, a Republican, and his Democratic opponent, Boston Mayor Kevin White. Winner: Sargent.
  • 1974: Sargent got the nod over a former state representative named Michael Dukakis. Sargent may have been the state’s most liberal governor until Deval Patrick; Dukakis campaigned as that year’s no-new-taxes candidate. Winner: Dukakis, who turned around and imposed a huge tax increase to cover the deficit left behind by the free-spending Sargent.
  • 1978: Dukakis lost the Democratic primary to a conservative, Ed King, whom he had removed as head of Massport. The Globe endorsed Republican Frank Hatch, a moderate who was the minority leader in the Massachusetts House. Winner: King.
  • 1990: The Globe endorsed moderate Republican Bill Weld, a former U.S. attorney, over conservative Democrat John Silber, the president of Boston University. Winner: Weld.
  • 1994: For the only time until now, the Globe chose the more conservative candidate — Weld, a moderate running for re-election, over then-state representative Mark Roosevelt, a liberal Democrat. Winner: Weld.
  • 2014: The Globe endorses Republican Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican, over state Attorney General Martha Coakley, a liberal. Winner: TBD.

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.

Rupert Murdoch, Peter Lucas and the politics of hate

Peter Lucas

Former Boston Herald columnist Peter Lucas has a scorcher of a piece about his old boss Rupert Murdoch online at the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise and the Lowell Sun. Lucas’ job was one of many that were saved when Murdoch took the dying Herald American off Hearst’s hands in 1981. But he says he discovered the dark side of that deal in December 1982, when he was personally asked by Rupe: “Is the governor on the take?”

Lucas doesn’t say which governor. In late 1982, Ed King was the outgoing governor and Michael Dukakis, coming back after his defeat at the end of his first term in 1978, was governor-elect. It seems likely Murdoch was more interested in Dukakis than King. In any event, Murdoch soon developed a deep and abiding hatred for Dukakis, which came to a full flowering during the Duke’s ill-fated presidential campaign in 1988. Lucas writes of Murdoch’s Herald:

The paper, under Murdoch’s orders, turned on Dukakis with such hate that it was difficult to comprehend. Murdoch, who supported Vice President George Bush, simply used the paper — Dukakis’ “hometown” paper — to savage Dukakis. The more serious Dukakis’ candidacy became, the more he was mocked, smeared and ridiculed, as was his poor wife, while Murdoch secretly met with Bush.

In Des Moines just days before the important Iowa Democratic presidential primary, a Murdoch executive from the Herald told his reporters, “My job is to make sure Dukakis doesn’t become president.”

It was during that period I met with a key Murdoch editor of the paper from London. I asked him, “Where did all this hate come from? We never had this hate before.”

He turned red in the face and looked down at his shoes. When he did not answer, I said: “You guys brought it in.” Needless to say, I was soon gone.

Lucas writes that the Murdoch he knew had “a darkly cynical, nasty and negative attitude toward politics, government and humanity in general.” Certainly nothing has changed over the years. Fortunately, Murdoch sold the Herald in 1994.

Back in his Herald days, Lucas was one of the most visible and respected political columnists in Boston. It was Lucas who was victimized by then-Boston mayor Kevin White in 1983, which led to the Herald’s classic “White Will Run” headline. (White wouldn’t run.) And he’s no liberal — his reincarnated political column consists largely of conservative criticisms of Gov. Deval Patrick and the local political culture.

Lucas’ observations about Murdoch should be taken for what they are: the first-hand account of a good newsman, appalled at the lack of ethics and standards epitomized by Murdoch and his wrecking crew. Keep that in mind as we try to figure out whether Murdoch’s son James was lying or simply didn’t know what he was talking about when he and Dad appeared before a parliamentary committee earlier this week.

A missed opportunity

I don’t want to make it look like I’m in the tank for fellow Northeastern professor Michael Dukakis. So I’ll leave it at this: Paul Kirk will probably do a fine job as interim senator. But Gov. Deval Patrick could have made a better pick by choosing former governor Dukakis.

Joan Vennochi and Margery Eagan have more to say. And the Herald’s Jessica Van Sack and Hillary Chabot note some conflicts Kirk will need to avoid.

Patrick should announce his interim choice

Not that Gov. Deval Patrick is looking to Media Nation for advice. But if there’s one way to break the impasse over an interim senator to replace the late Ted Kennedy until the Jan. 19 special election, it’s this: Patrick should announce his choice now.

It seems pretty clear that the state Legislature in 2004 did the right thing in taking away the governor’s right to name a successor and the wrong thing in not allowing for an interim. Once you get past the partisan squabbling over who’s the bigger hypocrite, the only real issue is whether Patrick might appoint someone who’d then have a leg up in the special election.

Kennedy, in his letter to Patrick, released shortly before his death, asked that the interim be someone who would promise not to run. Patrick has said that would be his goal. All that’s missing is a name. As I and others have said, former governor Michael Dukakis would be a fine choice, but I’m sure he’s not the only possibility.

With the health-care debate reaching a critical moment in Washington, Massachusetts deserves to have full representation.

Michael Dukakis on Ted Kennedy

Dukakis_20090902The public-relations office at Northeastern just sent out a Q&A it conducted with Michael Dukakis on the life and legacy of Ted Kennedy. Dukakis, a Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Northeastern, is a former governor of Massachusetts and a former presidential candidate, and has been mentioned as a possible interim senator. It’s a pretty interesting interview, and I’m presenting it here in full.

Q: How would you sum up Ted Kennedy as a politician?

A: He was the whole package for me, a remarkable combination of personal commitment and passion for the job, and skills, legislative ability. He never would start a policy initiative without getting a Republican cosponsor.

You know, after Bill Clinton went down to defeat on his 1993 health care plan, he and Ted got together to see what could be done, and decided, OK we’ll start with the kids, so they came up with this children’s health plan. And Kennedy, as you might guess, was the principal cosponsor in the Senate.

[Republican Senate Majority Leader] Trent Lott knew that Kennedy was looking for a Republican cosponsor. Kennedy had this long-standing personal friendship with [Utah Republican] Orrin Hatch, and when Lott found out that Hatch had agreed to cosponsor the bill, he was just furious. But they put it through-raised the federal cigarette tax from 24 cents to 67 cents and put it through. That was Kennedy.

Q: Do you remember the first time you worked with him politically?

A: I’m sure we probably did some things together in the Sixties. But people ask me, “What are your favorite Kennedy stories?” and I’ve got two.

I was first elected governor in ’74, I was defeated by Ed King in ’78, so there was the great rematch in 1982, in the Democratic primary. King was the incumbent Democratic governor, albeit a conservative one; he later switched parties. Still, there was no reason for Teddy to come out 10 days before that election and endorse my candidacy, but he did.

Q: Did you ever ask him about it?

A: He just thought it was the right thing to do, very similar to when he endorsed Obama in 2008. He was close to the Clintons, and I know they were very hurt and disappointed, but he did it anyway. And I know his endorsement was just as crucial for Obama then as it was for me in 1982.

My other favorite memory came about when I signed the universal health care bill in 1988. I’ll never forget when Teddy called me, he was just so proud-of me, of Secretary of Health and Human Services Phil Johnston, of the state.  He was incredibly proud that his state was the first in the nation to enact universal health care.

Q: You served as governor for 12 years while Ted was in the Senate, so the two of you must have worked together a lot. Does anything in particular come to mind?

A: On public transportation, which I’m slightly obsessive about, he was absolutely terrific. This was in my first term, and at the time, you could not bust the highway trust fund, the gasoline tax, you could not use it for public transportation.

I was one of the leaders to fight the so-called Master Highway Plan, which would have … created a California-style freeway system, eight lanes of elevated highway going right through Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace, down Ruggles Street and three feet from the Museum of Fine Arts.

And meanwhile, the “T” was just a basket case, it was awful, it would break down three days out of five when I took it to work.

So after a 10-year debate, we had killed the Master Highway Plan, and we had given up hundreds of million of dollars in federal highway money, but we thought, why can’t we use that for public transportation?

And Ted and [former House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr.] were largely responsible for making it possible for Massachusetts to become the first state in the nation to be able to use federal highway money for public transportation.

We ended up with $3 billion to invest in the “T.” We acquired the entire commuter rail system in eastern Massachusetts for $35 million, stations, parking lots, tracks, … and we could not have done it without Kennedy and Tip’s leadership.

Q: What will Ted Kennedy’s legacy be — what do you think he’ll stand out for above all?

A: In a general way, that he was somebody who knew where he stood, and he lived it, practiced it, did it. He had a very strong philosophy, which at times was not in vogue. And yet he never wavered at all. I think subsequent events demonstrated clearly that his values and his approach to public service made a lot more sense than some of the folks who were critical of him.

The one piece he wasn’t able to achieve was his goal of health care for everyone, and I hope we’re going to do that.

Q: You see people at [health care] rallies holding signs, saying “Do It 4 Teddy.” How do you think his passing will change the health care debate?

A: No question we’d be on our way to a health care bill if Ted Kennedy had been healthy, engaged, and involved. If, for example, there had to be some compromising on a pure public option, because it was Kennedy, the liberal community would accept it because his credentials there were so strong.
I’m not saying we can’t get a health care bill, but there is no one with the unique set of skills and the respect that he had.

My own view is that the Democrats will have 60 votes for cloture, assuming Massachusetts changes the law and gets someone down there to vote. So what the Democrats have to do-not that you don’t keep reaching out to Republicans-is to put together a bill that has solid Democratic support, and then you use the 60 votes to close out debate.

But there is going to be some very hard work to do among Senate Democrats. Kennedy certainly would have been the glue to hold them together and get this thing passed. Now, other people will have to step up to try to do it.