Updating his resume
Deval Patrick looks back as he prepares for life after Beacon Hill
DESPITE EIGHT YEARS as governor and rampant speculation that he some day will run for president, Deval Patrick still thinks of himself as a kid from the South Side of Chicago. That self-image, in many ways, is the connecting thread that runs through the core of Patrick’s being. It has shaped his personal and political styles, his public and private relationships, his drive to succeed, his defensiveness over failure, his personality, and his will. He came virtually out of nowhere eight years ago; his name recognition was in single digits when he jumped into the Democratic race for governor against better-known and better-financed candidates such as then-Attorney General Tom Reilly. On January 8, Patrick, now one of the state’s most popular political figures, will walk down the Grand Staircase in front of the State House, departing as the first full two-term governor in a quarter century.
For Patrick, who is at once gregarious but very private, it’s hard to separate the personal from the political, though he rarely talks about the former. He came from a broken family, sometimes living on welfare, led by a single mother after his father abandoned him and his sister when they were young. Patrick and his sister slept in the same bedroom as their mother in a two-bedroom apartment they shared with his maternal grandparents. It may help explain why Patrick is so vocal and strident in his support for welfare benefits and a fierce proponent of letting families get and use their benefits with dignity.
As a 13-year-old, Patrick came to Milton Academy on a full scholarship, a chance to lift himself up from poverty and become the first in his family to go to college. Does it come as a surprise that he touts education as a central theme to economic advancement and that there’s not a second to waste?
Unlike his friend and fellow South Sider, President Obama, Patrick is rarely pressed to wade into race-related topics, but he acknowledges his skin color is too obvious to ignore. Patrick recalls his early “ugly days” in Massachusetts during busing, when he was a teenager, first at Milton and then at Harvard. He remembers trips into the city where he was called “all kinds of things in all kinds of neighborhoods.” And he says he had to weigh that when he decided to run for governor in 2006.
His protectiveness of his wife and daughters is also a reflection of his upbringing, the need to rely on each other against outside forces. The pain is obvious when he talks about what his wife, Diane, went through in her fight with depression and the surprise when his chief of staff told him his daughter’s sexual orientation was news, months after she came out to her parents.
Patrick remains close-lipped about his future plans, quite possibly because he doesn’t know himself. He’s proud of his accomplishments as governor, says the right things about unfinished agendas, but doesn’t always agree with what some perceive as his or his administration’s failures.
On a sun-splashed last day of summer, we sat out on the third-floor balcony of the State House just outside his office, overlooking the staircase down which Patrick will take his final walk as governor. We sat outside because the weather was nice, but also because his office’s recently installed bullet-proof glass prevented the windows from being opened and the air conditioning was not working.
The following is an edited transcript of my conversation with the kid from the South Side of Chicago.
COMMONWEALTH: In eight years what’s changed more — you or Massachusetts?
I think my own skin is thicker — because it better be or else. I mean my wife, who’s a very private person, and has been a reluctant First Lady — she’s been a fantastic first lady — but you know she struggled some with the experience at the beginning and has sorted out how to balance her own professional life and her privacy with the things she wants to do and can do to help. She is a news junkie and used to take everything so personally. I finally told her stop reading, just put it down (laughs), but she’s continued to read and it doesn’t quite get to her in the same way, and that’s good for both of us.
CW: She had some very private and challenging mental health issues in a very public manner. Your daughter’s sexual orientation became the basis for some news stories. But they never ran for office, you did.
PATRICK: Yeah, you know what, I have said to many, many candidates or would-be candidates and their spouses and families to think hard because your family gets dragged along for the ride whether you like it or not. You know my sister and brother-in-law had their lives nearly destroyed in the first campaign over a really vicious and completely groundless attack. And I still love them and they still love me, all of us are stronger for it, but frankly you don’t think it’s news. When Catherine came out, she told us one weekend in the summer and we had a family hug and went off and had a family picnic. And I didn’t think about it again until I happened to mention it to my chief of staff and he said — and I’m talking about months later — and he said “Governor, that’s news.” And I said that’s a private family matter. She’s not a candidate, she’s not a public person. And he said “No, no this is news and we need to manage it like news.” So live and learn.
I think my own skin is thicker — because it better be or else. My wife… has been a reluctant First Lady.
CW: Is that going to weigh on any decision for you to re-enter into politics after you leave office?
PATRICK: Oh yeah, sure, you know we’re all seasoned and tested and what’s that term, vetted? Making politics personal is a part of the political experience today and, sure, it’s a factor. It’s not the central factor, but it’s a factor.
CW: You’ve already gotten over one milestone, in that you’re the first black governor of Massachusetts…
PATRICK: I am?
CW: You are. You know the history of Massachusetts, you know the perception nationally of Massachusetts. What made you think back in 2006 that a black man from Chicago could be elected governor of Massachusetts?
PATRICK: Well, first of all, I thought about whether race would be a factor, but I also thought that the change we were offering, which is this notion of governing with a sense of generational responsibility, was something that a lot more people than me were hungry for. I knew I wasn’t going to get to be governor by waiting for the establishment to say it was okay or for the pundits to say there was a path and all that sort of thing. We don’t have a large enough African-American population in the Commonwealth for that to be its own sort of voting bloc, even presuming that the community was monolithic. I had folks both in the chattering classes and just regular old people saying it’s a long shot — you know you add to the lift by being black — but my experience in the Commonwealth, you know, I’ve experienced the ugly side. When I came, busing was hot and we were in the midst of all that. I’ve been called all kinds of things in all kinds of neighborhoods around the Commonwealth, and I’m sure I’ve been called things since I’ve been governor, too. But, overwhelmingly, I’ve been moved by how willing people are to listen to me or listen frankly to any candidate if the candidate is willing to listen to them.
CW: What do you think that your election and President Obama’s election, and re-election, frankly, for the both of you, say about the state of race relations both in Massachusetts and nationally?
PATRICK: Well, I don’t think it means we’re in a post-racial society. I think that there are still people who vote, and they say they vote, I’ve seen interviews of people saying they voted against the president because there shouldn’t be a black president and so forth, but we’ve seen the majority doesn’t agree with that and that’s a good thing. We are a better country, you know, and one big, big issue I have with the whole dialogue on race in America is that we don’t seem to be able to strike the balance in the same voice between acknowledging the extraordinary progress we have made, much of it in our lifetimes, and at the same time acknowledging how much work remains. Yet there are people who are in the one camp or the other and not willing to acknowledge both truths.
CW: Being governor, I would assume, is about on-the-job training. There’s not a course that you go to — How to be Governor 101. On top of that, you pretty much came out of nowhere eight years ago. Clearly you were pretty high up with the Justice Department, and you have some business background, but political and governance just weren’t on your resume. Was the job what you expected?
PATRICK: The job is full of surprises, some of it I expected and some of it actually was quite familiar. When you think about life in a big company, like Coca Cola or Texaco, there is very little that happens by edict. If you actually want to make stuff happen, you have to kind of persuade the middle management to, first of all, understand it and that takes time. I think governing, particularly the legislative part of the work, is slower than I’d like. I’m an impatient governor and impatient person and I have had to learn how to slow down and, you know, not to take my foot off of the gas but not to overwhelm the partners you need with stuff in order to get stuff done. That wasn’t obvious to me when I first came in. I think I’m a better governor today than I was yesterday, and I think I’ll be a better governor tomorrow than I was today. I continue to learn.
CW: What about your predecessors? You had the benefit when you first came in of having five living governors. Did you ever call any of them and ask for advice?
PATRICK: Yeah, actually they’ve been great. You don’t even have to pick up the phone for Mike Dukakis, because he’s calling all the time. He’s great, he’s so interested in good government and policy. We haven’t agreed on everything, but he’s been very involved. Less so Governor Romney because, of course, he was running for president, but in the transition and before the transition, he was always a gentlemen to me. Governor Swift told me something that was probably the most poignant insight, when she said it’s the loneliest job she’d ever had, and I get that now. And Governor Cellucci, God bless him, we played golf, just us, once a year in the summer for two or three years, and he suggested it the first summer, and it was marvelous, and we just let our hair down. He was a great, great guy, just a lovely person.
CW: There’s a perception that your relationship with the Leg-islature has been somewhat cool over the eight years. Do you agree with that and, if so, how would you have changed that?
PATRICK: No, I don’t agree with that. I’m not much of a back slapper and all that stuff, but if you look at the results, I think we’ve had a couple of the most productive legislative sessions in decades. We don’t agree on everything and sometimes the disagreements bubble out into public view. I will say that one thing that I observe about the experience as a relative newcomer is that much, much more emphasis is placed on the personal dynamics among the legislative leadership, between them and between the governor, than is probably pertinent. It makes for good print, maybe, but it’s not necessarily real. I mean, their job is difficult, too. And so when I say I’ve been learning to slow down, it’s not that our agenda has been any less ambitious, but I do know you have to give them the time to arrive at a decision that works for their body. And so I proposed a lot of things. They’ve given me, you know, 95 percent of what I’ve asked for. Rarely in the form I asked for it — do you know what I mean? — but they’ve given it to me.
CW: Such as the transportation bond bill?
PATRICK: Yeah, and that’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about in my own learning curve here, is to understand when you’ve won. And not feel like it’s got to be just the way you proposed it.
CW: Have you learned to take yes for an answer?
PATRICK: Yeah, I suppose so. I push hard.
CW: Governing is about long-term, but it’s also about short-term, it’s about what’s happening now. Do you think that you were able to meet those immediate needs?
PATRICK: I don’t think we got everything done as fast as either I wanted or, in some cases, the public wanted. But there are very immediate things, like responding to the Marathon attacks, a tornado in western Massachusetts, a water main break here in eastern Massachusetts that was supposed to deprive 2 million people of drinkable water for three or four months and we got it fixed in three days. I have begun to appreciate that the job is a combination of substance and performance art and, you know, I think I’m probably better at one than the other…
CW: Which one?
PATRICK: The substance, I think. I’ve been trying not to be so carried away by the pressure you get on the performance art side that I lose focus on the substance side.
CW: Polls show people think you haven’t handled recent problems as well as you could. Is there anything about any of the high-profile problems you wish you could have handled differently?
PATRICK: Well, what are you thinking of?
CW: Well, things such as the breakdown of the Health Connector, the Annie Dookhan scandal at the Massachusetts crime lab, and the IT problems at various agencies. Are those management issues or are they things that could pop up in any administration?
PATRICK: I wish for the next governor, whomever it is, they won’t have any unexpected mishaps, but I wouldn’t put money on it. And I don’t think there’s a single problem that gets solved by outrage. You know, you’ve got to put your head down and fix them. And we are fixing problems. In the case of the Connector, for example, it was interesting. We did what you often hear the business community say to do, which is privatize. We gave a private, well-respected, large company a contract to do the job and they did it terribly. The problem that had surfaced last year has been fixed, and we’re on a course to meet next year’s milestone a year ahead of time, in time for the open enrollment season. But that took a lot of work and focus and a great team and a lot more of my personal involvement than an IT project ought to take, but I think that’s how you solve problems. Annie Dookhan, we were the ones who found that problem. We haven’t gone around saying, by the way she was hired in the previous administration. We’re the ones who surfaced that and set about the hard work of fixing that problem. I thought you were going to ask about [Department of Children and Families.] That’s another, you know, big challenge. Interestingly, the issues at DCF have to do with insufficient staffing and out-of-date electronics, but that is not the thing that started the focus on DCF. It was losing that poor child, and that child was lost because individuals lied about what they were doing. And not only did that individual lie about it, but so did her supervisor and her supervisor’s supervisor. And all those people were fired right away. I didn’t have a public execution of the DCF commissioner at a time when our outside expert, and independent reviewer, was saying that it would further destabilize the agency. It didn’t make for good drama, but it made for better leadership. I told you earlier I’m impatient. I like for stuff to happen really quickly, but sometimes the issues are much more complicated and there is execution risk if you go in the direction that the mob is asking you to go in, and you’ve got to do it right, not just do it for show.
CW: One of the interesting things you just said about the IT problems at the Connector is that you got involved. And then you talked about both Annie Dookhan and DCF, how you got involved. Do you think you’ve been engaged as much as you needed to be?
PATRICK: Well, it’s a big state and there are 30,000 people who work in state government. It’s not possible for a governor to be personally involved in everything. We’ve had really, really good cabinet leadership and really good agency leadership, but things come up, they happen. It’s horrible that a child was lost at DCF but I’ll tell you what, it helped the Legislature to step up and give us the resources that we need to fix the underlying problem. That’s a really, really good thing. It’s horrible that the Connector website failed us, but the fact is not a single person lost their health insurance and we had workarounds so that people who needed health insurance thanks to the ACA [Affordable Care Act] got it. So we increased our already nation-leading level of insurance while we were fixing the inconvenience of a broken website. So yeah, I hope it matters when a governor is personally involved, but a governor can’t be personally involved in everything all the time in the same way that a CEO can’t be personally involved in every dimension of a $34 billion enterprise.
CW: Are you going to campaign against the casino repeal effort in November?
PATRICK: I mean every time I’ve been asked, I’ve said repealing it is a bad idea and unnecessary. This is hardly central to our growth strategy or economic strategy, but my view has been that if we’re going to expand gaming, there’s a right way and wrong way to do it, and the right way was in limited fashion with destination resort facilities rather than just a gambling hall. I think the bill itself is good. I think it’s worth preserving. I think we’re far enough along now so that with a very thoughtful implementation by the Gaming Commission, that it’d be a mistake to turn back. Every time I’m asked that, that’s what I say.
CW: You have been a major proponent of green initiatives in Massachusetts. Do you think that being the champion of it for the state has caused you to make mistakes in the implementation? Take Evergreen Solar for instance, or the controversy over whether or not there was too much pressure applied to NSTAR and National Grid as far as convincing them to buy power from Cape Wind.
PATRICK: Well, first of all, Evergreen Solar, what can you say, they don’t all work. But if you’re going to take a leadership role in a burgeoning industry, you can’t have a 100 percent success rate as the only acceptable success rate. We’re cleaner, our emissions are down, we’re No. 1 in the nation in energy efficiency, this is really, really, good stuff. And we have great partners now, not just around the country but around the world. You asked me about NSTAR and National Grid — they should take more! And they will. Forget about Cape Wind. The potential for the offshore blocks, the auctions for the offshore blocks south of Martha’s Vineyard are supposed to be in December, I think, and the projection from the US Department of Energy is that there’s enough wind energy there to supply the energy needs of half the households in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. That’s huge. That’s huge. So we’ll be looking back at National Grid and NSTAR purchases of portions of Cape Wind in a few years and be thinking what was all the fuss about?
CW: You had said that you’re frustrated at times because things have not happened always the way that you’ve wanted them to, that there are some things that you didn’t get accomplished. What didn’t you get accomplished that you wish you had?
PATRICK: For all the talk about cutting taxes, the tax that needs to be cut is the property tax because it’s so fundamentally regressive. It’s really tough. You know the term house rich, cash poor? You know seniors may be sitting on a valuable piece of property, but their earning potential or earning reality may be different because they’re retired. Having to pay that property tax bill is pretty difficult. So cracking that code is not something that we’ve been able to do and that’s frustrating to me. There are others, but that’s one thing.
I knew I wasn’t going to get to be governor by waiting for the establishment to say it was okay.
CW: On the other side of the ledger, what singular thing have you accomplished in spite of opposition that’s now a part of either state law or policy that, even though there’s opposition, down the line you know it’s a good thing for the state. What would you stand by that you’ve done?
PATRICK: It’s interesting, the things that I feel that have been the highest impact accomplishments are ones where we arrived at the decision through collaboration, so I’m hesitating a little bit when you say in spite of opposition. I mean, when we started with the Achievement Gap Act, which I think is enormously important, we had the charter folks out in one field and we had the unions out in a different field, and we had the business community in a different place, and the educational establishment in still another place. Getting them all in the same place by doing more than simply saying everybody gets a little bit of what they want, but actually getting them to understand, agree on the nature of the problem we were trying to solve, and to have the focus be on the children instead of what was good for the adults, was huge. And we’ve seen the degree of innovation in our classrooms, all sorts of classrooms, really explode in the Commonwealth, by no means as much as I wish it could. But I’m really pleased with that and I’m pleased with the results. So I feel good about that.
Everybody is tired of the Big Dig because the tunnel works and we have a pretty park in downtown Boston, but the funding scheme for it was devastating for the long-term interests of the Commonwealth. You ask people outside of Greater Boston about the impact on their roads and bridges and so forth and they can point you to examples of neglect. So the support of the Legislature in the bonding we’ve been able to do and now with the indexed increase in the gas tax as a way to deal with that funding gap, and then maintenance and the upkeep gap, is huge. And of course now it’s being challenged on the ballot, and I hope that folks vote no on the question, because I think this is another example of how we serve our long-term interests.
CW: Speaking of the Big Dig and votes, who’d you vote for in the primary?
PATRICK: I voted for the Democrat.
CW: What are you going to do in January?
PATRICK: I’m going to find a job, something in the private sector. I’m not being cute with you when I say I don’t know what it is because the rules are such that you can’t really have many conversations while you’re in this job for fear of crossing some line.
CW: Do you have a resume?
PATRICK: I have a resume, yes. I have to update it.
CW: When’s the last time you updated it?
PATRICK: Oh man… Long time ago now… Long time ago.
CW: Will you add lieutenant governor to that seeing as you’ve been doing the job for about a year now?
PATRICK: I miss Tim [Murray], I really do. He was a great partner. It’s a funny job. In a way it’s the job whose substance depends entirely on the governor, in terms of how much you’re willing to share. And what I’ve found with Tim Murray was that we could so leverage the agenda by having him take real substance and run with it and he was incredible. The stuff that he did to repair relationships between state government and local government. The stuff he did around veterans services and military facilities, where we are now No. 1 in the nation. The stuff he did around the negotiation, vital negotiations, with CSX to acquire the rights of way for the rails, that’s what’s making possible not just the more frequent runs out to Worcester, but South Coast Rail, which is critical.
CW: Think that will stay on track?
PATRICK: It’s going to. It better. I mean, we’ve got a contract out now to finish the design now that we have a route that’s been approved, and we’ve done a lot of work already on bridges and rights of way, so we’re ahead of it. I hope, to close on moving the post office at South Station, because that has to happen in order to get more capacity there. But whether it stays on track is a lot up to the people of the South Coast and whether the next governor listens to the people of the South Coast. Previous governors have not. I have. Martha Coakley will.
CW: Do you think Charlie Baker will?
PATRICK: No, frankly, I don’t. And I don’t have any reason to believe, based on his record, that he will.
CW: You’ve gone from no, never when people have asked you about running for president to recently, with [WCVB’s] Janet Wu, saying it’s a maybe. What’s changed?
PATRICK: Actually, I’ve been saying the same thing all along. First of all, the amazing thing for me is, you know, I’m still a kid from the south side of Chicago. The notion that people put that kind of question to me and speculate about that sort of thing is mind-blowing, and humbling.CW: There was another kid from the south side of Chicago who went into the White House…
PATRICK: I know that, I know that. But it’s not something I’ve always wanted to be. I just wanted to be governor, and I just wanted to be governor recently because I didn’t think we were meeting our generational responsibility and I’ve wanted to focus on that and this job until the very end. I didn’t run for governor in order to be something else. I like and I respect public life, although we were talking about some of the costs, personally and on the family and so on, and so I’m really careful about saying yeah, I’m in, it’s definitely happening. But then again, I’m really careful about saying no, I’m not, because I really respect the work and I think I’m not alone in wanting people who are in it for the right reasons. And that’s what reduces it to a maybe. But I have zero plans. I’m not going to be a candidate in 2016. I don’t see how that’s possible. The future is the future.