Deval Patrick leaves a complex legacy

John Tlumacki/globe staff/file
Thousands of people crowded Boston Common on Jan. 4, 2007, to hear Deval Patrick deliver a speech outlining his goals as he took the office of governor for his first term.

Deval Patrick looked out on Boston Common, presiding not only as the incoming governor but as the leader of a movement that had upended politics. Thousands from across the state cheered and held up cellphone cameras — people of every kind and color, young and old, jubilant multitudes never before seen at the State House.

At his first inauguration under uncommonly fair skies in January 2007, the man who a year earlier had been dismissed as a hopeless romantic with no chance of victory carried with him limitless hope for the future — for better schools, fairer housing, racial healing.

“It’s time for a change,” Patrick declared, “and we are that change.”


Over the next eight years, Patrick delivered on some of those hopes: securing reforms in transportation, education, and ethics, and launching initiatives that stimulated the clean energy and biotechnology industries. He legalized casinos, surprising and disappointing supporters, and was besieged by management problems in health care, child welfare, and unemployment benefits that bruised the faith in government he was determined to restore.

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As he prepares to leave office, Patrick leaves behind a deep imprint on the judiciary, where he has appointed more than 40 percent of the state’s judges, including five of the seven justices of the Supreme Judicial Court. His influence can also be felt in the halls of power, where a loyal network of former aides now hold high positions in the corporate, lobbying, and nonprofit worlds. But he has also alienated many of his allies in the Legislature, who say Patrick frustrated them with a style that was sometimes highhanded and tone deaf.

“He was absolutely phenomenal in terms of the broad themes,” said Representative David Linsky, a Natick Democrat who worked with Patrick on criminal justice issues. “When I think about where the Commonwealth was eight years ago and where it is now, we’re in great shape in a lot of ways. The failings were in the nitty-gritty of running the state. The problem has been in the basic administration of government.”

The hopes for a new era in state politics — never higher than on inauguration day — were challenged right from the start of his first term when Patrick made good on his promise to bring outsiders into the insiders’ club that is the Massachusetts State House.

The new governor and his politically inexperienced team spent their first three months lurching from crisis to crisis — over the costly new drapes in his office, the upgrading of his official car to a Cadillac, his phone call to vouch for a controversial subprime mortgage lender.


After overhauling his staff, bringing in the kind of seasoned hands he had initially shunned, Patrick regained his footing, scoring a series of legislative victories at the end of his first term. Among those was a bill he championed that expanded the number of charter schools in exchange for $250 million in federal funding from the Obama administration. Rebounding from low poll numbers, he won reelection in 2010, after a campaign that reintroduced voters to his soaring oratory. Days later, he declared he would not seek a third term, making himself a lame duck with more than four years left in office.

Now, as he nears the end of his turbulent turn in office, Patrick says he is eager to take a “long, warm-weather nap” and rejoin the private sector. He remains a historic figure, the first African-American governor in a state with a painful history of racial conflict.

Yet many of his accomplishments have been overshadowed by the management problems that flared in his final years in office, when he also looked overseas for traction, traveling on trade missions.

He has openly contemplated a presidential campaign — maybe after 2016, he says. If he were to run on a national stage, each action he has taken over the past years would be analyzed and scrutinized, and the inevitable tension between his lyrical rhetoric and concrete actions measured and debated. The picture of Patrick’s legacy that emerged would probably be much more complex than he envisioned that first day overlooking the Common, with some promises fulfilled but others slashed or reshaped by the recession and his rocky relationship with legislators.

“He never got comfortable with those relationships,” said Daniel O’Connell, who was Patrick’s housing and economic development secretary from 2007 to 2009. “The manual wasn’t there in the governor’s office for how you navigate the Legislature, and that was frustrating, and got more frustrating over time.”


Patrick said he is proud of his record — on the economy, education, and infrastructure — but surprised by how difficult it was to persuade legislators to agree with him.

“I thought substance would be as important — maybe more important — than the performance art part of it,” he said in an interview. “The job really is a blend of the two. And if you get the substance right, but the performance art wrong, or off-key in some way, it’s really hard to get to the substance. And that’s a tough, tough lesson for me.”

Even though he now knows the players at the State House and considers some of them friends after eight years, he said, “I still get treated like an outsider.”

First impressions, first victory

Starting on a light note: Vermont’s Howard Dean joined Deval and Diane Patrick at a City Year event in 2007.
Starting on a light note: Vermont’s Howard Dean joined Deval and Diane Patrick at a City Year event in 2007.

As a candidate, Patrick centered his campaign around grand themes of civic engagement and ambitious pledges that appealed to the broad political middle: putting 1,000 new police officers on the street, lowering property taxes.

But in his first three months, the bold vision gave way to a series of miniscandals. The drapes, Cadillac, and phone call to vouch for Ameriquest — as well as his defiant response to criticism — contributed to a sense that Patrick didn’t understand how small controversies could undercut his larger agenda.

For all his experience in the Clinton administration and at Coca-Cola and other corporations, “Beacon Hill was a shocking cultural revelation to him,” O’Connell said.

But that period also saw one of Patrick’s most successful encounters with the Legislature, when the governor, a former civil rights lawyer, delved personally into one of the signal civil rights issues of the era: the battle for same-sex marriage.

The outgoing governor, Mitt Romney, was pushing the Legislature to vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Massachusetts on Jan. 2, two days before Patrick was to be sworn in.

Gay rights activists thought there was a real chance they would lose the vote, three years after the Supreme Judicial Court made Massachusetts the first state to allow gays and lesbians to wed.

Marc Solomon, who was executive director of MassEquality at the time, remembers sitting in his office on New Year’s Day 2007 when Patrick called from Logan Airport, as he returned from a postelection vacation in South Africa. “Tell me how I can help,” the governor-elect said.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Governor Deval Patrick applauded after the results of the gay marriage votes were announced in 2007.

Patrick drafted a statement supporting same-sex marriage and called legislators at 9 the next morning, according to Solomon’s book, “Winning Marriage.”

Despite Patrick’s opposition, the amendment received preliminary approval.

But over the next few months, Patrick continued to call and cajole lawmakers in a way he has seldom done on other issues.

“He was putting a lot of pressure” on legislators and sending a message that, as he started his term, “this was going to be something he would remember, the people who were on the right side of the issue,” said former representative Carl Sciortino, a same-sex marriage supporter.

In June 2007, six months after Patrick took office, the Legislature had to vote on the amendment again to secure a spot for it on the ballot. This time, however, lawmakers narrowly defeated the measure, ending a nearly four-year fight.

“In Massachusetts today, the freedom to marry is secure,” Patrick told cheering gay rights advocates after the final tally was announced. “Today’s vote is not just a vote for marriage equality. It was a vote for equality itself.”

Sciortino keeps the front page of that day’s Globe displayed in his office. “I don’t think we would have marriage today . . . if he hadn’t been as hands-on as he was,” he said.

That was one of the last times Patrick worked so closely and seamlessly with legislators. Yet he said the rifts in their relationship did not hurt their productivity.

“I’ve heard people say, ‘Well, the relationship should be better. You guys should be breaking bread more often,’ ” he said. “It would be great if we did. But if you look at what we produced, I’d put that up against anybody.”

Back to business

 Governor Patrick spoke with a distraught man at an antiviolence rally in 2008.
Governor Patrick spoke with a distraught man at an antiviolence rally in 2008.

From the dramatic high of the fight over same-sex marriage, with its lofty rhetoric and sense of history, Patrick delved into economic challenges, unaware a recession was about to thwart his boldest plans.

To lower auto insurance costs, he deregulated the market in April 2008 and allowed insurers to compete and set rates. Two months later, he signed a bill to funnel $1 billion over 10 years into grants and tax credits for the biotech industry — a major point of pride for Patrick. Later that summer, the governor, a part-time resident of the Berkshires, traveled to the tiny town of Goshen to sign a bill expanding broadband access to Western Massachusetts.

Then the recession hit, causing a historic collapse in revenue for the state. Patrick was forced to abandon his ambitions to build roads and rails and switched into cost-cutting mode.

He increased health insurance copays and deductibles for public employees, instituted furloughs for managers, and persuaded state workers to give up wage increases.

“He needed to get others to agree to things they would not have otherwise done,” said Jay Gonzalez, Patrick’s budget chief at the time. “It worked because people trusted him.”

Then, under pressure to help cities and towns control health care costs, Patrick challenged his allies in the labor movement.

City and town officials wanted Patrick to curb the power of police, fire, and other local unions to negotiate every change in their health plans, allowing managers, for example, to unilaterally raise copays. But that year, Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, had sparked a national firestorm by slashing public employee unions’ bargaining rights.

Patrick tried to find a middle ground. He ordered one aide to talk to labor leaders and another to negotiate with local officials. But they could not reach a consensus. The Legislature passed a bill that local officials supported, but unions said was unfair.

Patrick, determined to remain labor-friendly, decided to negotiate four last-minute changes to appease the unions. The final bill gave unions and managers 30 days to agree to changes in health plans. If they failed, a three-person panel would settle the dispute.

When he signed the bill in July 2011, union leaders and municipal officials stood by his side.

“There wasn’t that acrimony,” Gonzalez said. “That is the kind of management you need in government. It’s management with leadership to build consensus.”

The push for casinos

Lawmakers who helped craft the casino bill clapped after Governor Deval Patrick signed the legislation in November 2011.
Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff
Lawmakers who helped craft the casino bill clapped after Governor Deval Patrick signed the legislation in November 2011.

The most highly scrutinized and, to many, confounding, initiative of Patrick’s tenure was his drive to legalize casinos shortly after taking office in 2007. Here was a liberal who had swept into office aiming for the loftiest goals in civic life moving quickly to embrace an industry that many supporters believed preyed on the vulnerable and ruined livelihoods.

In his interview with the Globe, Patrick did not list the law among his proudest achievements. “It was never a centerpiece of our economic-growth strategy,” he said.

But former aides said casinos, like it or not, will persist as one of Patrick’s most recognizable achievements and, moreover, that he was the driving force behind the bill, effectively overruling his Cabinet members’ concerns.

O’Connell, then housing and economic development secretary, recalled a meeting in Patrick’s office in 2007 when the governor first broached the idea of bringing casinos to Massachusetts and asked his Cabinet secretaries, “so what do you all think?”

The response was not encouraging.

Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby warned that the mental health system could not handle an increase in gambling addicts, O’Connell recalled. Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke said petty crime would increase around casinos. And O’Connell told the governor that a casino debate would devour so much attention “we’re not going to be able to get anything else done.”

“And so we had our vote,” O’Connell said. “No one said yea or nay, but he heard three people express reservations. And the governor said, ‘We’re going to proceed with this and, Dan, you’re in charge.’ ”

Patrick argued casinos would generate 20,000 jobs and $2 billion in economic activity. He also told aides he had loved playing the slots at Foxwoods with his late mother, Emily.

“She was enjoying it, and he loved the fact that was she was enjoying it, and personal experiences do color that kind of thing,” O’Connell said.

Patrick’s first attempt to legalize casinos was swiftly rejected by the House speaker, Salvatore F. DiMasi, a staunch gambling opponent, in March 2008.

Less than a year later, DiMasi resigned amid a developing corruption scandal and was replaced by Robert A. DeLeo, the son of a horse-track worker. Still, a casino deal bogged down amid Patrick’s refusal to let the tracks open slot machine parlors. After DeLeo relented on that point, Patrick signed the bill in November 2011.

Some supporters remain chagrined.

“There are many who are progressives like myself who would say they are disappointed that we have casino gaming in Massachusetts, and that’s part of his legacy, for better or worse,” said James Aloisi, who was Patrick’s transportation secretary in 2010. “It’s just another way to tax people who can least afford to pay.”

In the interview, Patrick compared casinos to shopping malls, saying the market will decide whether they thrive or fail.

“I think it’s going to be good,” he said. “We have a very modest entry into the expansion of gaming and the human costs are real but, I think, limited.”

Rocky relations

Governor Deval Patrick delivered his annual State of the Commonwealth address in January 2013.
Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Governor Deval Patrick delivered his annual State of the Commonwealth address in January 2013.

It wasn’t until 2013, in the penultimate year of his tenure, that Patrick was able to finally propose something approaching the ambitions he had embraced on the campaign trail in 2006.

His efforts showcased both the strength of his vision and the struggles in his execution.

The timing, at first, looked ripe for a bold move. The recession was over, and Patrick was freed from the political constraints of running for office again.

He set his sights on a $1.9 billion tax increase to fund rail lines from the Berkshires to Cape Cod, stabilize the MBTA, and expand prekindergarten programs.

But legislative leaders said Patrick failed to inform them of his plan before he unveiled it at his State of the Commonwealth address in January 2013.

It is a moment legislators point to again and again to explain Patrick’s troubles navigating the Legislature.

Senate President Therese Murray remembered Janet Wu, a WCVB reporter, stopping her as she walked into the House chamber for Patrick’s speech. “What do you think about it?” Wu asked.

“About what?” Murray recalled saying.

The governor, Murray and DeLeo said, never asked them what kind of tax increase might be viable in a legislative election year.

That mistake, Murray said, reflected how Patrick, coming from the corporate world, sometimes treated the Legislature more like a board of directors than as a coequal branch of government.

“That’s not the way this place works,” Murray said in an interview. “There’s no top down.”

Patrick said the notion that he blindsided lawmakers “has become urban legend.”

“There was a lot of heads-up, a lot of preparation, most especially with the leadership,” he said. “I’m going to leave it at that.”

Some lawmakers were also incensed that Patrick urged them to show “political courage” by raising taxes. “It’s easy to say that when he’s not running for reelection,” said Linsky, the Natick Democrat.

After his speech, Patrick enlisted unions and liberal groups to push for his plan. Then he summoned legislators to his office to make his case.

“He got mad, really mad,” said Linsky, recalling one such meeting. “He couldn’t believe we weren’t going to support these massive tax increases.”

Lawmakers discarded Patrick’s plan — a sweeping proposal that would have raised the income tax, lowered the sales tax, and made more than 40 other changes to the tax code — and approved a 3 cent increase in the gas tax, to raise about $350 million annually.

That would fill budget gaps, but not finance the glittering array of rail and road projects that Patrick had envisioned as a lasting legacy.

After that, relations between the governor and the Legislature “were definitely bruised for a while, no question about it,” said Representative Stephen Kulik, a Worthington Democrat.

DeLeo said he usually worked well with the governor and is proud of the bills they fashioned, from toughening gun and domestic violence laws to legalizing casinos. “He had a fantastic record of accomplishment, quite frankly,” DeLeo said.

Patrick’s toughest critics are often his natural allies — fellow liberals who say he was nearly impossible to work with.

Representative Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat, met Patrick in 2005, during the governor’s first campaign, and became one of his earliest supporters.

He participated in conference calls with Patrick every Saturday at 9 a.m. and socialized a few times with him. Kaufman said he anticipated both a friendship and a partnership.

But Kaufman said Patrick stopped reaching out to him after the final conference call of the 2006 campaign.

“There was an abrupt end, and contact has been rare and difficult since then,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Globe.

Kaufman said he remembered how Patrick, after his first meeting in the speaker’s office as governor-elect in 2006, declared that legislators would receive no special consideration if they wanted to work in the administration, but could submit resumes through his transition website, along with everyone else.

Kaufman said that was not a bad policy, but “a little tone deaf” for an incoming governor hoping to build a relationship with lawmakers.

“Our system of government is designed to work best in a partnership between the Executive and the Legislature, but I’ve sadly come to appreciate that Governor Patrick, unlike candidate Patrick, apparently had a hard time embracing that reality,” Kaufman said. “I now think of him as so much more gifted and comfortable speaking TO us, rather than speaking WITH us, and this is enormously disappointing.”

Patrick disputed Kaufman’s account. He said he spoke to Kaufman several times about tax policy. The governor said Kaufman even wanted to support his $1.9 billion tax increase. But like other members of DeLeo’s leadership team, Kaufman ultimately opposed the tax increase because, Patrick said, that’s “what the leadership tells them to do.”

Management problems

In his final years in office, as the next governor’s race began to take shape, Patrick focused less on the Legislature and more on signing executive orders and traveling to promote his agenda.

He made more than 14 trips to other states to campaign for President Obama in 2012 and took six international trade missions in his final two years in office, visiting 12 countries, from Colombia to Japan. He helped lure international airlines to Boston, but his voyages added to the perception on Beacon Hill that he was increasingly disengaged with work closer to home.

“There were times when he was just never here,” said Linsky, motioning out of the window of his office, which overlooks Patrick’s parking spot at the State House.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Governor Deval Patrick honored the Boston Marathon bombing victims with Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, in May 2013.

Over time, some of Patrick’s senior aides left, part of a natural exodus near the end of a governor’s tenure. At the same time, management problems piled up.

The state’s health care website failed, frustrating consumers and costing hundreds of millions of dollars. The Department of Children and Families bungled cases, most prominently by losing track of Jeremiah Oliver, a Fitchburg boy whose body was found on the side of a highway months after he was last seen.

A new unemployment insurance system was plagued with errors, delaying benefits for thousands of unemployed workers. The licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries was hobbled by incomplete background checks and bureaucratic delays.

O’Connell said Patrick struggled to manage the government himself while also fulfilling his promise to hold events every week all across the state.

“Government is awfully hard to run with one guy and he didn’t want to delegate authority,” O’Connell said. “He tried to continue to run the entire government and didn’t surround himself with strong people because he didn’t want strong people around because he was the governor. He was the one who would determine the priorities and the direction of the administration and you just can’t do it all.”

O’Connell also said Patrick was surrounded by aides who worked hard on his campaigns but were poorly suited to government.

“If you don’t pick really strong talent and delegate authority to them, you build up around you a group of individuals who really are there to protect you, as they perceive it, and fulfill your directives, as they hear them, and you get conflict and confusion,” he said.

Linsky pointed out that Patrick had six chiefs of staff in eight years. “And the staff kept getting younger and more inexperienced for a long period of time,” he said.

Patrick dismissed those explanations, but expressed shame at the problems that happened on his watch.

“I’m disappointed by those things and I’m embarrassed by those things,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s right to say there’s a pattern, not when there has been so much good produced by this administration for so many people.”

At DCF, he pointed out, a social worker skipped mandatory visits with Jeremiah Oliver, and two supervisors failed to notice. The health care website and the unemployment benefit system both failed, he said, because private vendors did not deliver results.

“In every case, we have been willing to find, and face, and fix what was wrong, and not brush it under the rug,” he said.

Still popular

For a passionate group of Deval Patrick faithful, the promises of his first day overlooking the Common never faded.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
For a passionate group of Deval Patrick faithful, the promises of his first day overlooking the Common never faded.

In the waning months of his governorship, a majority of voters polled by the Globe found Patrick “about average” compared with other recent governors.

But for a passionate group of Patrick faithful, the promises of his first day overlooking the Common never faded.

Marianne Rutter, 62, a marketing director from Boxborough, first heard Patrick speak at a Democratic town committee meeting in 2005, when he was a political unknown. She “just thought, ‘Wow,’ ” she recalled.

She organized volunteers in her town, and launched a blog with other supporters called “The Deval Experience.”

Looking back on his tenure, she applauds the governor for upholding liberal ideals, by declaring that he would welcome young migrants who had crossed the border illegally from Central America, and by urging Democrats at the party’s 2012 national convention to “grow a backbone.”

“Deval Patrick was, and still is, my original political hero,” she said. “His moral compass was so sound throughout his administration.”

And what about the 1,000 new police officers and the cut in property taxes that he promised during those heady days of his first campaign? They never came to pass. Patrick called his failure to deliver property tax relief one of his biggest disappointments. But he said he achieved almost every other objective he had.

And he notes that, despite all the rumors to the contrary, he held true to his commitment to serve out two full terms, something none of his recent predecessors had done.

“I said I was going to do this job and do it until I was done with it after two terms and, though no one believed me, I have stayed and kept that promise,” he said. “I said what it is we wanted to accomplish, and I would say nine out of 10 things we said we would accomplish, we have.”

Michael Levenson can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.