Battlin’ Bill Galvin

Once known as the 'Prince of Darkness,' Secretary of State Galvin has turned populist crusader -- but to what end?

TO SEE JUST how good it’s gotten for Secretary of State William Galvin, consider the front-page Boston Globe headline one morning in early January, at the height of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s fiscal meltdown: GALVIN WANTS STATE CONTROL OF HMO AUDIT: DENUCCI ASKED TO OVERSEE PROBE. It was at once familiar and utterly remarkable.

By that time, Galvin had become a virtual fixture in the news. Making headlines on everything from cracking down on shady stock “day-trading” firms to unearthing policyholders that insurance giant John Hancock claimed it couldn’t find, Galvin seemed to be championing the little guy in one cause after another. And it was in health care that he was making his biggest splash. Even so, this one seemed over the top: a second-tier statewide officeholder, whose regulatory authority over health insurers was tenuous at best, making front-page news by calling for the intervention of another second-tier officeholder, Auditor Joseph DeNucci, who had no involvement in the state’s growing HMO crisis until then (or since). But so it goes for Galvin, whose pronouncements these days command attention other politicians can only dream of.

Admirers smile knowingly at Galvin’s rise to prominence in an office best known for counting ballots. “He was always five steps ahead of everybody,” says Boston state Rep. Angelo Scaccia, one of many veterans of the political scene who say Galvin has been consistently underestimated. And they say there’s always been something of a populist streak underneath his dark reputation and less than gregarious public manner. But to his detractors — and he’s acquired his share over a 25-year career in public life — all of Galvin’s crusading is nothing more than the latest move by a crafty pol who’s always on the make, keeping his own political fortunes foremost in mind.

An ethereal-looking Bill Galvin, whose “Prince of Darkness” nickname has shadowed a long career as a smart and wily pol.

Whether they admire his gumption or eye him warily, nearly everyone in the State House seems to be wondering about Galvin’s next move. Ten years ago, says one local wag, anyone who tossed around the idea of Billy Galvin running for governor would have been accused of spending too much time at the Green Briar, a popular watering hole in Galvin’s home neighborhood of Brighton. Though the idea still strikes many as a reach, it’s no longer dismissed as barroom blarney.


It’s hard to say exactly when Galvin’s star began to rise. Perhaps it was late December 1998. Gov. Paul Cellucci was out of state on vacation. With the lieutenant governor’s office vacant (Jane Swift had been elected the month before but would not take office until January), the state constitution made Galvin acting governor. Fresh off his re-election to a second four-year term as secretary of state, Galvin promptly announced that he was filing “emergency” legislation to force health maintenance organizations to divulge details of their costs for providing prescription drug coverage to senior citizens.

State law mandated unlimited prescription drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries in Massachusetts. But a federal judge had recently ruled that new national Medicare provisions, which do not require such coverage, trumped the state law, and Massachusetts HMOs moved to curtail the generous, and expensive, drug benefit. Galvin hoped that putting their prescription-drug finances under a microscope would stop them dead in their tracks. The bill didn’t budge in the Legislature. But that takes nothing away from Galvin’s dramatic use of his temporary powers.

Galvin says he was simply responding to a groundswell of citizen outrage. His office had put out an informational brochure explaining the coverage change and the transitional programs available to seniors, only to be buried by an avalanche of phone calls. “I have been politically involved now for a long time. I’ve never had such a response on any single issue–ever,” says the veteran Democrat.

As with many other issues, Galvin’s foray into health care began with his role as the state’s chief information officer — a role he takes very seriously. “State government makes decisions affecting people’s daily lives all the time, but usually they don’t know about them,” he says. Galvin has done his best to change that. He has issued brochures and other public notices on everything from voter registration to new rules governing private mortgage insurance. The HMO controversy, he insists, is “one we more or less backed into.”

But having backed into it, he stepped on the gas. In March 1999, Galvin charged that HMOs were operating more like businesses than charities and threatened to strip them of their nonprofit status, a move that would leave the insurers subject to millions of dollars in new tax charges. He later backpedaled on the threat, saying his objective was to prompt a broader discussion of state regulations governing the managed-care companies.

It was clear, however, that Galvin was riding an issue of huge concern to the public, and that he was starting to ruffle the feathers of lots of players. A spokeswoman for Tufts Health Plan called Galvin’s threat “outrageous and bordering on irresponsible.” The attorney general’s office suggested that Galvin was overstepping his modest file-management mandate. “His responsibility involves collecting annual reports,” sniffed Freda Fishman, acting chief of the office’s public protection bureau, to The Boston Globe. “I believe he can suspend a charter for failing to file, but I’m not aware there’s anything in state statutes that allows him to review the nonprofit status, once the original certificate is filed.”

The State’s Secretary

Responsibilities of the Secretary of the Commonwealth include:


  • Maintenance of public records
  • Oversight of elections
  • Administration and enforcement of the Massachusetts Uniform Securities Act
  • Filing and distribution of public documents
  • Storage of historical archives
  • Preservation of historic sites


Sources: Constitution of the Commonwealth, Chapter II, Section IV, Article II, and Secretary of the Commonwealth, Citizens Information Service, A Review of the History, Government, and Symbols of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In late 1999, with Harvard Pilgrim Health Care struggling against mounting losses, Galvin weighed in again, ripping into a state authority for approving a $150 million bond sale to bail out the teetering HMO without giving proper notice of its public hearings. Newspaper editorials pummeled Galvin for opposing the bond sale which, by all accounts, is precisely the role the Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority is intended to play. Galvin insists he only wanted to make sure Harvard Pilgrim’s financial situation received the proper level of scrutiny — a position he says was vindicated when the HMO was forced into state receivership the next month after revealing losses for 1999 nearly $60 million higher than previously reported. “I think I may have been on to something,” Galvin says with a sly grin.

His next attack quickly followed. GALVIN VOWS TO FIGHT FOR-PROFIT TAKEOVER OF HMO, blared a front-page Boston Herald headline in late January. Siding with advocates who argue that patients receive better care in nonprofit HMOs, Galvin said he would fight the sale of Harvard Pilgrim to a for-profit insurer. (In March, The Wall Street Journal let the air out of that balloon by reporting that Galvin, as well as Senate Ways and Means Chairman Mark Montigny, another foe of for-profits, are themselves covered by a for-profit managed-care company.) Galvin also said he was “troubled” that Attorney General Thomas Reilly and state Insurance Commissioner Linda Ruthardt, the HMO’s court-appointed receiver, were opposed to the advocacy group Health Care for All becoming an officially recognized party to the receivership case. (The group ultimately decided not to seek “intervenor” status, which would have made it a full party to the case, opting instead to ask for a lesser “friend-of-the-court” designation, which state officials did not contest. This allowed the advocacy organization to share information with the receiver, but not to make actual legal motions in the matter.)

In between health-care gambits, Galvin’s office tracked down 5,000 policyholders that John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. claimed it could not locate on the eve of its transition to a publicly held company. The policyholders, who mainly bought small burial policies in the 1940s and ‘50s, were eligible for compensation for membership rights lost when the company went public (about $300 in most cases), not to mention the benefits themselves (generally $300 to $1,000) of policies long forgotten or lost in attic shoeboxes. He also engaged in–and won–a stare-down with state Board of Higher Education Chairman Stephen Tocco, who Galvin insisted must register with his office as a lobbyist because he heads ML Strategies, a high-powered Boston consulting and lobbying firm, despite Tocco’s claim that he did little lobbying himself.

Galvin seemed to be hitting “more home runs than Mark McGwire,” says one Boston political operative. Others, however, suggest that a few of his eye-catching shots were more like long foul balls–exciting when they took off, but not counting for much in the end.

“He’s a very smart, savvy guy. The question is, to what end, to what purpose?” says former state representative John McDonough, who was co-chairman of the Legislature’s Health Care Committee in the early 1990s and is now associate professor of health policy at Brandeis University. McDonough notes that continuing unlimited prescription drug coverage for seniors would have compounded Harvard Pilgrim’s fiscal problems. And he says Galvin’s threats to strip Massachusetts HMOs of their nonprofit status when “we have had indisputably the highest-quality set of HMOs in the nation for a very, very long time, left people sort of scratching their heads.”

Even Speaker Thomas Finneran, one of a handful of legislators Galvin remains close to from his days in the House, offers a less than ringing endorsement of Galvin’s HMO assault. “I give every elected official the benefit of the doubt, and I’ll ascribe noble motives to it,” says Finneran. Without naming names, Finneran adds, however, that throughout the HMO crisis he has cautioned against “political demagoguery or piling on just to score political points.”

But some in the battle welcome Galvin’s crusading, even when it seems quixotic. “Is he right on the mark, is his prescription right?” Michael Miller, policy director at Health Care for All, asks rhetorically. “I feel like he’s stirring the pot, and it’s a pot that needs to stir.”


“I am a lawyer. I do read the statute, and if you give me authority, I will use it,” Galvin says of his position as secretary of state which, among other things, puts him in charge of state elections, securities regulation, and oversight of corporations. “I have used it, and I think I’ve used it well.” If Galvin’s soapbox pronouncements have a certain mad-as-hell populist arc, he tends to defend his forays in a dry, lawyerly manner.

That’s just one of Galvin’s many contrasts, if not contradictions. He’s a man who came to be known derisively in the State House as the “Prince of Darkness,” but who regularly thwarts adversaries by shining a light into matters they hoped would go unnoticed. He’s one of the state’s top election lawyers and a respected steward of the state election system, yet he shows less appetite for the flesh-pressing aspects of campaigning than for hard-nosed tactics. Though one of the State House’s most enduring insiders, he is largely a loner, more of a gloomy gadfly than a genial go-along. The only common denominator is a love of politics.

“I know him pretty well — to the extent that you can know Billy,” says former Boston city councilor Michael McCormack, who grew up in Brighton alongside Galvin, now 49. “Some people like the Red Sox. Some people like the Patriots. I like to play golf. Billy likes politics.”

Galvin arrived on Beacon Hill in 1968 when he was just 18, working part time as an aide to the Governor’s Council. A reserved, bookish graduate of parochial schools, Galvin was an undergraduate at Boston College at the time. During the height of 1960s student activism, he carried a briefcase on campus. Galvin, says Scaccia, was “the kid in school that you smacked, the smart kid.”

In 1975, at age 25 and fresh out of Suffolk Law School, Galvin was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served for 16 years, eventually becoming House chairman of the Committee on Government Regulations. In the Legislature, he earned a reputation as a master of parliamentary maneuvering. Some of the edge he enjoyed came simply from hard work and paying attention. Not long ago, Galvin ran into Royall Switzler, a former Republican representative from Wellesley. Though Switzler was “frequently my adversary,” Galvin says, the ex-lawmakers shared a laugh about the “one thing we had in common — we both would read the bills. We were a dreaded sight to a multitude of Speakers, because there would be elastics popping off as we were pulling the papers apart,” harvesting bills and amendments from the bin near the Speaker’s rostrum.

Galvin played a key role in the charter change that brought district city councilors to Boston in the early 1980s. He also sponsored the state’s 1982 Civil Rights Act and a fair housing law in 1985. He fought to hold the line against increases in the 10-cent pay-phone charge and insisted that residential customers be allotted a handful of free directory-assistance calls each month.

Any legislative accomplishments, however, tend to be overshadowed by Galvin’s reputation for reading political tea leaves with astonishing clarity, a function of a sharp mind and shrewd intelligence-gathering. “He has an uncanny sense of detecting stuff earlier than most people, and that’s because he’s talking to everybody,” says Scaccia. “He doesn’t leave any stone unturned.”

Galvin had few close allies in the Legislature. He did, however, often gather after hours with a troika of fellow Democrats that today makes up the inner circle of power in the House: Scaccia, a 26-year veteran from Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood who chairs the gatekeeping Rules Committee, Sal DiMasi of Boston’s North End, and Speaker Tom Finneran. The four lawmakers would regularly head out together at the end of the week, often to DiMasi’s stomping grounds. Over plates of pasta and bottles of wine, Galvin would offer details that made sense of the week’s events. “I’d always call that the news of the past,” says Scaccia. Galvin’s radar peered ahead, too. “Just before we’d leave, he’d give us what I called [a] preview of coming attractions. Then a week later I’d read it in the paper — bang,” says Scaccia. “Politics is a giant jigsaw puzzle, and you have to know how to fit all the pieces. He does.”

Though reserved by nature, Galvin possesses a dry sense of humor that he reveals occasionally in public and in fuller form among friends. “He’s just funny as hell at times,” says Scaccia. “You know, he grows on you.”

Galvin may grow on those who know him, but on others he wears thin. Always accessible to reporters, Galvin is suspected by many a Beacon Hill pol of being the source of damaging information that finds its way into a news story. In the late 1980s, when details of an ethics investigation of his office leaked into the press, then-Speaker George Keverian put the blame on Galvin.

It was at that time, Galvin says, that the “Prince of Darkness” tag became fully tethered to him. One day when Keverian was being pursued by a crush of reporters dogging him about the ethics matter, the Speaker, desperate for an escape route, made for a nearby elevator. “The elevator doors open and there I am, I’m on the elevator, alone,” says Galvin, recalling the made-for-the-movies moment. “Keverian said, ‘There he is!’ And there’s this uproarious laughter. That was where it really took off–[my] diabolically appearing in the midst of his travails.”

“At this point, I don’t care,” Galvin says of the unflattering moniker that has stuck with him through the years. “This building is capable of many conspiracy theories that go around every day, all day. Most of them aren’t true. Keverian was into this whole conspiracy: It was all me, I was doing these things to him. Well, I wasn’t.”

Before their falling out, Galvin and Keverian had been allies, Galvin supporting the Everett lawmaker in his 1985 ouster of Thomas McGee from the Speaker’s post. But even in that revolt, Galvin’s wily ways were in evidence. “The joke in the McGee-Keverian fight,” says one former legislator, “was, ‘Well, I’m on the same side as Bill Galvin.” Because everyone knew he would be on the side that was going to win.”


Galvin’s political nadir came in 1990, when he gave up his House seat to run for state treasurer. After defeating his one-time ally Keverian and a third candidate in the Democratic primary, Galvin was trounced in the general election by rising Republican star Joe Malone. It was a bruising battle that featured nasty mudslinging on both sides. But at the height of the state’s fiscal crisis, Malone was the fresh face on the scene, while Galvin found himself tagged a Dukakis Democrat and, even worse, a crony of retiring treasurer Robert Crane, an old-school pol Galvin had helped in his final re-election campaign four years earlier.

If Galvin went into the campaign already saddled with a reputation as something of a schemer, those who had felt some of his sharp elbows in the past were only too willing to help flesh out the image for voters. In a Boston Globe profile of him during the campaign, former state senator George Bachrach, whose district included Galvin’s, said, “There are a lot of lawmakers who have questioned just what Bill Galvin’s moral or political anchor is. On the one hand, he’s always been there. But it’s never clear what he’s there for.”

Galvin has no quick comeback. He shies away from most political labels, though he describes himself as a “moderate Democrat,” and is not strongly identified with any particular issue. Even a close confidant thinks “it was the game of politics for itself” that once largely accounted for Galvin’s zeal for public office, though that friend adds, “I think that’s changed.” Asked what makes him tick, Galvin says, “I enjoy the administration of public affairs. I enjoy problem-solving. I enjoy being able to effect results.” It’s a serious reply, even refreshing in this era of lip-pursing poses and feel-your-pain platitudes. But it explains very little.

Certainly the company Galvin keeps defies any type-casting. His friendship with Finneran and other House leaders points to his centrist impulses and city-kid roots. But two of his closest political allies over the years have been former suburban state senators William Keating and Lois Pines. By any reckoning, the pair figure as leaders of the reform-minded strain of Massachusetts Democratic politics. Indeed, Keating, now Norfolk County district attorney, once qualified as its poster boy, having led an ill-fated effort in 1994 to topple then-Senate President William Bulger from power. Pines was one of just five Democratic senators to support Keating’s bid.

Keating says that, on consumer matters, Galvin was always “bringing light to issues.” Pines says Galvin “is very committed to integrity in government, and fairness and equity, protecting consumers and the individual who had little representation vis-à-vis special interests.” Pines and Galvin parted company on abortion — she is pro-choice, while he is pro-life. It may be this issue more than any other that gives Galvin’s profile a conservative cast. Apart from that, says the Newton liberal, “there were not very many things on which we disagreed.” Yet in the course of a two-hour interview, Galvin never mentions the two civil rights laws he authored.

At one point, though, he does get a bit animated and turns his dreaded nickname to populist use. “I am sure to some of the corporate interests who I have found problems with in the past — perhaps to them I am the prince of darkness,” says Galvin. “I am sure to some of the people who wanted to put some special-interest bill through that I objected to when I was in the Legislature, I’m sure they probably don’t think too very much of me either.”


Galvin may rub elbows with reformers, but on the campaign trail he’s known more for elbowing opponents out of the way. Hardball campaign tactics are hardly unique to Galvin, but his use of them can be puzzling. In 1988, when he was seeking re-election to what would be his last term in the House, Galvin faced a challenge from a young Republican neophyte named Paul Durr. “It was almost crazy to do it,” says Durr. “I think the district was 12-to-1 Democratic. There was never any doubt he’d be re-elected.”

That didn’t stop Galvin from waging a pitched battle to trip Durr up at the starting line. Durr had arrived in Boston from upstate New York just two years earlier, and Galvin challenged his residency qualifications, producing photographs of Durr’s car bearing New York license plates at a hearing before the state’s Ballot Law Commission. Galvin’s challenge was thrown out, but Durr promptly found himself in a contested Republican primary. Durr, who mustered all of 47 votes on his way to losing the primary, says neither he nor the local paper could ever track down his GOP rival (who won in a landslide with 133 votes). He remains convinced that Galvin’s campaign put up the Republican challenger as a straw candidate. A manager in the state Department of Public Health, Durr says he holds no animosity toward Galvin today. Still, he says, “The amount of energy he put into not even having me participate — I always thought it was a little bit strange.”

But there may be a less hard-boiled explanation for such hard-core maneuvers. For a man who has spent most of his adult life in public office, Galvin is remarkably ill at ease on the hustings. He has no talent, and no affinity, for the world of spontaneous chatter and glad-handing that comes with political life.

“I think people sense that Billy is not a prototypical elected official who likes social settings, enjoys a crowd of people,” says Finneran. “In many situations like that he’s more or less a wallflower. That’s not based on pomposity or ego. That’s who he is.”

“He’ll make the circuit and say hello to everyone, but he doesn’t enjoy it,” says someone else who has known Galvin for years. “If he had his way, he would sit in the corner with some sort of antennae and hear all the conversations without being in them.”

Galvin makes no bones about his less than convivial personality. “I’m a stiff,” he says, momentarily making himself seem less of one. “I won’t deny who I am. I mean, the camera doesn’t blink.”

Galvin is not given to reveal much about his private life. A bachelor into his 40s, Galvin got married during the out-of-office interregnum after the treasurer’s race, and he now has a 4-year-old daughter. But he offers little of the parental gushing that a question about one’s family can often unleash. He does, however, call the 1990 loss “a defining moment” for him. “I think it gave me a chance to stand back and realize this is not what life’s all about. It’s nice [holding political office], but it comes to an end at some point,” he says.

But apart from the family that he’s started, Galvin claims no consuming passions outside of politics. “I putter around in my backyard,” he says, “walk or take a little run, in the morning usually.”

“I think he’s intrinsically quite shy,” says Pines, “and thereby a bit of an enigma to some who felt uncomfortable with the lack of the normal, hail-fellow-well-met, slap-on-the-shoulder [routine].” It turns out, though, that when you’re not bogged down with all that backslapping and “Hi-how-ah-ya,” you can learn quite a bit about what’s on people’s minds. Long before Hillary Clinton started sorting out Flatbush from Flushing, Bill Galvin had become a master of the political listening tour.

“The idea of running out to every little event that’s out there and trying to glad-hand everybody — that’s not easy to do,” he says. “I’d rather achieve something if I can. But I enjoy finding out about things, and by going out you do find out about things. That aspect, of listening, of hearing things, of being out there, that I do enjoy.”


If Galvin’s awkward movements in a crowd mark him as a man in the wrong line of work, he has trumped that shortcoming with perfect pitch when it comes to the public zeitgeist, and with a talent for getting his message into the media — one way or another.

Though it’s big issues, such as the HMO crisis, that have landed Galvin the biggest headlines, equally impressive is his ability to generate coverage of topics that would normally fall well below the media radar screen. In January, for example, when new federal regulations went into effect requiring lenders to make it easier for homeowners to rid themselves of private-mortgage insurance fees, Galvin’s press release on the subject got radio coverage the day he put it out, and a modest, but not insignificant, story in the next day’s Globe. It clearly didn’t hurt his effort to have issued the release on a Monday holiday, Martin Luther King Day, when media organizations are hungry for news. “I understand that part of what I do,” Galvin says of his media moxie.

He also knows that the issues that grab the biggest headlines aren’t always the ones that matter the most to people. “This is not earth-breaking news,” he says. “But if you’re paying PMI it’s earth-breaking to you.” Anyone who has been saddled with private-mortgage insurance payments — an absurd arrangement whereby homeowners underwrite the costs of protecting the lender against default — would confirm Galvin’s assessment and no doubt be grateful for his efforts.

Political analyst Lou DiNatale, of the McCormack Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston, calls Galvin the “best practitioner of free media” in the state. And what Galvin hasn’t been able to garner in the way of free coverage, he’s been able to buy — courtesy of the Commonwealth.

Galvin has become a regular presence in Massachusetts living rooms, thanks to a string of public service announcement television commercials he has commissioned — and starred in. From ads warning of the dangers of fast-buck investment offers to others urging residents to register to vote, Galvin has more than fulfilled his duties as the state’s chief information officer. All told, he’s spent more than $200,000 on public-service ads since taking office. And they aren’t half bad. A 1996 voter registration ad, in which Galvin pops up from behind a “talking” mailbox to give a plug for mail-in registration, won a Hatch Award from the Advertising Club of Greater Boston. For a man who admits to his own awkward manner by saying “the camera doesn’t blink,” Galvin is giving it plenty of chances to do so.

Earlier this year, he began hosting a monthly talk show on real-estate matters that is seen on cable television systems in five Massachusetts towns. The rationale for the Galvin real-estate hour is this: On the heels of the 1997 collapse of Middlesex County government, and amidst mounting political pressure to dismantle county government altogether, Galvin’s office was put in charge of Registry of Deeds offices in eight of the state’s 14 counties. The Legislature approved the move based on the recommendation of a three-member panel, which included Galvin. The move put 800 new state employees under Galvin’s ultimate authority, on top of the 1,100 who already worked in the various divisions of his office. “The empire is growing and growing and growing,” quips Galvin’s old friend Scaccia.

While Galvin’s media buys surely rankle his critics — and his potential rivals — it’s hard to argue with their substance. Protecting consumers from unscrupulous investment hucksters and encouraging people to register to vote are hardly issues to rail against. “Can good policy meld with good politics?” asks Finneran. “Absolutely yes, and Billy is probably as good a study at that as there is.”


On the night he was first elected secretary of state in 1994, Galvin attributed his victory to an aggressive campaign that convinced people he would make “this office relevant to average people.” Not the Gettysburg Address to be sure, but just how much eloquence do you expect from a man who has just been elected, in many people’s minds, the state’s chief file clerk? At the same time, taking a lead on issues “relevant to average people” isn’t a bad game plan for political office. But who would have predicted that Galvin would turn a sleepy constitutional post into a high-profile soapbox, a pedestal from which he’s emerged as perhaps the state’s most ardent advocate for the Everyman?

Now that he has, a lot of people are wondering why. Many speculate that he’s priming himself for a run for governor in 2002. “He’s doing everything you need to do to be considered and to consider a run,” says Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic political consultant. “Whether he makes a run is a whole other matter.”

One of many hurdles Galvin would face is money. He’s never been a prodigious fund raiser. As of the first of the year, his campaign account held just over $232,000, slim pickings compared to the $1.1 million that Senate president and likely gubernatorial candidate Tom Birmingham had already stockpiled. Galvin has, however, established a separate campaign account that is abiding by the terms of the Clean Elections Law approved by voters in 1998. In fact, Galvin is the only statewide officeholder to signal his intention to abide by the law’s stringent fund-raising and spending limits that entitle candidates to public campaign financing. (See “Five-dollar Bill,” p. 66.)

But money is hardly the only obstacle Galvin would face in seeking higher office. Though he now has a small army of state workers under his command, Galvin has never been a favorite of Democratic Party insiders. Nor has he particularly cultivated the loyalties of organized labor or other traditional Democratic constituent groups. “The question people ask about Galvin is, could he attract enough people to put together the framework of a gubernatorial campaign on the ground?” says DiNatale. “And the answer usually is no, he’s such an anti-personality.”

What’s more, Galvin’s string of jabs at lobbyists, insurance companies, and HMOs would have to give way to an actual political agenda. “Nobody likes a cop,” says one Galvin confidant who has urged him to “move away from solely pointing fingers, to trying to figure out solutions.”

The talk of a possible run for governor is said to be an open secret within the secretary of state’s office. For his part, though, Galvin says only,”I’m flattered,” when asked about his name increasingly being raised in connection with the governor’s race. He insists that it’s nowhere near the top of his radar screen and offers the standard lines about not ruling anything in or out, about how two or three years can be “an eternity in politics.”

And what about Galvin’s inglorious reputation in some circles? “I’m very uneasy about the new image he has put forth — as the good guy,” says one Boston political veteran who has crossed paths with Galvin for decades. “Because I’m afraid that lurking in the background is the old Galvin.”

“The state has to be filled with people who dislike him and don’t trust him,” says another seasoned politico — one who does like him.

Of course, Galvin may well decide just to stay put. Most observers say he won’t make a run for governor without a clear opening. And despite what some might see as its mundane trappings, Galvin’s current position is one he has, by most accounts, excelled at — and he enjoys it to boot.

Still, it’s not hard to imagine him spending his spare time poring over voting trends, figuring the odds that he could emerge from a crowded field with the Democratic nomination to face a Republican incumbent who’s looking weaker by the day. “While he may have been around politics for a long time, to a lot of people in Massachusetts, he’s a fresh new face,” Marsh says of Galvin. “They see him out there prominently on a lot of issues they care deeply about.”

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Adds Susan Tracy, who held the Brighton House seat after Galvin: “When you’re starting to put together the ads and campaign literature, he’s got a hell of a lot to work with.” Not to mention lots of practice in front of the camera.

Michael Jonas is a contributing writer for CommonWealth.