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About 40 party stalwarts hear Deval Patrick’s rationale
for electing him first Democratic governor in 16 years;
he cites Berkshire connections in 20-minute talk
Posted by Bill Densmore at 3:30 p.m. on May 21, 2005
By Bill Densmore
NORTH ADAMS, Mass., May 21, 2005 -- Corporate and civil-rights attorney Deval Patrick, calling himself an embodiment of an American dream that many people fear is being lost, opened his Democratic primary campaign for Massachusetts governor in Berkshire County today with an hour-long stop at the Steeples Restaurant in North Adams. A room full of about 40 people -- mostly regional party stalwarts, greeted him.
"I am interested in doing this job because I see there is something that needs to be done," said Patrick. "Not because I want to launch a career in political office . . . this is not my stepping stone . . . what I am interested in offering is an attitude to citizens, an attitude of optimism and hopefulness."
Patrick, the top federal civil-rights enforcement officer in the Clinton administration and former chief counsel to The Coca-Cola Co., announced his candidacy April 14 in the Democratic gubernatorial primary next year to decided which Democrat will seek to replace Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican. Massachusetts, with an overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature, hasn't had a Democratic governor in 16 years. Patrick, already endorsed by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., faces Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly in the primary.
Patrick has at least two Berkshire County connections. First, after law school, he was a clerk to Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals in California. Reinhardt is the father of Mark Reinhardt, political-science professor at Williams College. Appeals-court clerkships are considered to be prestigious assignments for freshly minted attorneys. And second, Patrick said his family is building a second home in Richmond. Second, he said his family is building a second home in Richmond, next to Pittsfield.
Patrick, 48, was raised on Chicago's South Side, a couple of miles from the University of Chicago. His campaign-supplied biography notes that his family was on welfare for some of that period. He gained a scholarship to the prestigious prep school Milton Academy, outside Boston, at age 14, and went on to graduate from Harvard College and its law school. In private practice in Boston he initially did poverty law and civil-rights work, and was tapped by President Clinton in 1994 to be assistant attorney general for civil rights. Since leaving government, he worked at Texaco Corp. on civil-rights matters and a major merger with Chevron, and served several years as general counsel of The Coca-Cola Co. He is married with two daughters and now lives in Milton.
Mark Reinhardt introduced Patrick to the audience. He said a few months ago nobody he talked to knew who Deval Patrick was. "It's only a couple of months later and nobody is asking me that now," he said.
Patrick called judge Reinhardt "a wonderful, wonderful man . . . who had, and continues to have, a profound affect on my life and my thinking and my career."
Patrick said professional campaign advisors have been telling him to take a poll. He said he decided to tour the state and find out from people directly. "I want you to understand the respect that I have for the ideas, the good, common-sense ideas that are alive and at large everywhere in Massachusetts."
One of the biggest things he is hearing about, said Patrick, is "the whole breakdown in the sense of community." When he was a young boy, he recalls, he lived on a street west of the University of Chicago and Jackson Park where no one had much money. "But there was an old model of a community," he recalled. "It was also a time when every child was under the supervision of every adult on the block."
When Patrick arrived at Milton Academy at age 14 on a scholarship from the A Better Chance program, he said he learned about a different kind of community. In that "radically different community" populated by youths of power and privilege, he learned those kids could be just as frightened as he was. "But there were adults there who took an interest. There was that old model of a community."
Experiencing a lost American dream?
"What I have experienced in America, frankly, is the American dream," said Patrick. "[But] I am struck by how we are losing faith, a sense of willingness to believe, that there is a way to get a toehold and move up . . .I am talking about people from all kinds of places who are just not convinced there is a way forward in Massachusetts or anywhere anymore or that government has a role or responsibility for helping people to help themselves."
Patrick said the three issues which Massachusetts voters tell him they're concerned about are job creation (and the strength of the private economy), quality of education, and health care. Next-tier issues include environmental stewardship, transportation and affordable housing. On job creation, Patrick paid a compliment to Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, saying Romney has it right understanding the governor's office as the chief salesman for the state's business environment.” But he has been going all over America making fun of his office and the people he serves," asserted Patrick.
On education, Patrick ticked off more support for early childhood education, options for all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes and longer school days as priorities. School which ends at 2:30 p.m. or 3 p.m. is a vestige of an agrarian economy, when farm chores had to be done in the afternoon. "It doesn't make sense in a modern economy," he said. "We have to put that on the table." The tax-limiting Proposition 2-1/2 may be obsolete, he said, but he said he is not sure just eliminating it is the answer. He also said he was not sure the so-called MCAS tests, (standardized tests taken by all of the state's children at certain ages) "are all that it takes to measure educational quality."
On taxes, Patrick scored the property tax as regressive. He said he wouldn’t take a no-tax pledge, even though he said advisors call that position "political suicide." He said the public has to understand the relationship between taxes and services which government provides.
"I am not going to take a no take pledge," he said. "I think that is a silly game . . . but I am not looking to raise taxes. I am looking for an ambitious agenda and I think we owe it to the people of Massachusetts to do that within the resources that we have now."
He blamed cutbacks in state aid to education -- and a resulting rise in local property taxes -- on income-tax cuts promoted by Romney. He said property taxes put a disproportionate burden on people with fixed incomes because the tax does not scale to rises or decreases in income.
"So, our revenue sources are out of whack and that has to be fixed," Patrick said. "That is viewed by the political advisors that I talk to as political suicide. But it is the truth. And you know it is the truth."
He continued: "I'm all for a tax cut when we can afford one. And by the way, I can give you a tax cut. I have a way to give you a tax cut -- dig your own latrine. Put out your own fire. Build your own road. Build your own schools." .... There is a connection between what you pay and what you get . . . If we don't want the government to do anything, you can keep your money . . . because it will also be your broken road, and your broken school and your broken neighborhood and frankly your broken neighbor. And frankly what we have to start asking is who is responsible for that."
Public disgust with “screaming heads”
Aside from policy issues, Patrick said he hears something else from the state's voters -- many are disappointed and disgusted with politics. "They think of two heads screaming at each other, points scored and gamesmanship," he said. "People are giving up. They're checking out on politics and public life. And that is not just a threat to citizenship. It is a threat to democracy . . . If people are giving up, then small wonder that the cynics who govern us in Massachusetts and in Washington are in charge."
There is a lesson for partisan Democrats, Patrick says. "We have been checking out and saying it doesn't really matter, or that as Democrats we ought to put up someone enough like the Republications that nobody will be aroused," he said. "I am telling you that strategy has not worked, does not work and maybe we ought to learn a lesson."
In response to a question, Patrick acknowledged that one barrier to electing a Democratic governor will be a perception among some voters that it is good to have a counterweight in the corner office on Beacon Hill to a Democrat-controlled legislature. "It is a compelling argument to a lot of people. I think that is compelling," Patrick acknowledged. "I do think any Democrat will face a little bit of that this time around." But, he added: "I think and act independently and I have throughout my professional life." He said he had met with legislative leaders and, "I think we are convinced we can work well together. I think we are also convinced we are not going to agree on everything." He said lawmakers want a partner as governor who will credit them when things are going well and will "provide air cover when it doesn't."
Asked why he thinks the state is losing population, Patrick said it’s partly because of an acute shortage of affordable housing in eastern Massachusetts. But he said it's also a lack of jobs. Although the last eight months have seen increases in the number of Massachusetts jobs, he noted, many of the new jobs do not pay as well as the ones lost. And the state still has 100,000 fewer jobs than when Romney was elected, he added. "Now, there are two other reasons I have hard mentioned and they are January and February," he joked. "But we work with what we have."