Milton senator claims victory even as clouds swirl

Embattled state Sen. Brian Joyce went before a television audience Wednesday night and stated at least one thing everyone can agree upon.

“The optics looked bad,” the Milton Democrat told Greater Boston‘s Jim Braude in his first lengthy defense of his myriad of alleged ethical and campaign finance missteps.

While Joyce, who also granted an interview to the Patriot Ledger, was referring specifically to paying for part of his son’s graduation party with campaign funds, the observation could extend to all his issues, including his interview with Braude. While he may have thought it would be easy doing a sit-down with the station that broadcasts the genteel Downton Abbey, Joyce probably left the interview feeling like he had just appeared on an episode of Shark Week on the Discovery channel.

Braude left no stone unturned and no defense unchallenged, repeatedly hammering Joyce with questions the senator studiously tried to avoid and deflect. Joyce consistently came across as defensive and evasive. The optics, indeed, looked bad.

Joyce took to the airwaves to proclaim victory after the Office of Campaign and Political Finance announced an agreement with the beleaguered lawmaker to allow him to make several charity payments using personal funds to end the probe of his campaign spending. Joyce also took the opportunity to release a letter he received from the Ethics Commission closing its investigation into whether he received an illegal steep discount in 2014 on sunglasses he bought from a manufacturer in his district to give as Christmas gifts to his Senate colleagues.

While Joyce proclaimed complete exoneration, the nuance was a bit different. Braude hammered away at the cumulative effect of the mounting allegations, noting Joyce was forced to step down as assistant majority leader as well as give up his post as chairman of Bills in Third Reading last year. Joyce insisted the repeated media pounding was taking its toll on him, his family, and his political fortunes, without noting the fact that using political contributions to pay for his son’s graduation and declaring it a campaign event made his family part of the public debate.

He also said he was coming out to defend himself after being the subject of “550-plus stories” over the last 13 months. That number is probably overstated, but it reveals the persecution Joyce feels he’s been subjected to.

While Joyce declared vindication, Braude spent the first half of the senator’s 12-minute appearance talking about two issues still unresolved. One was the Globe’s most recent story about Joyce’s receipt of free dry cleaning from a Randolph businessman. The other was a reported Ethics Commission investigation into whether Joyce violated conflict of interest laws by lobbying state officials and introducing legislation on behalf of the power company Energi, which was a client of the senator’s law firm.

Joyce said the dry cleaning services were in exchange for legal representation he gave to Gerald Richman, the store owner. Richman and his son, Harry, both denied to the Globe that dry cleaning was exchanged for legal advice and that Joyce was handsomely compensated for his legal work, including at least $140,000 from Richman’s insurance company during a battle with the EPA over environmental violations.

Joyce repeatedly declined to tell Braude if or how much he was paid. “The attorney-client privilege prevents me from being entirely forthcoming,” he said.

The optics looked bad.

–JACK SULLIVAN

The state Senate will take up the contentious issue of charter school expansion in an effort to find a compromise that will head off a costly ballot question campaign this fall. (CommonWealth)

The Senate on Thursday plans to vote on legislation that would ban cell phone use while driving. The Senate is also preparing to vote on legislation that would allow the processing

and sale of frozen, in-shell lobster parts in Massachusetts. (Gloucester  Times)

A day after Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called for more state aid to fund four-year-old kindergarten classes in Boston and other cities, Gov. Charlie Baker struck a noncommittal tone on the issue. (Boston Globe) 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The city of Boston and area companies and foundations are national laggards when it comes to funding arts programs, a new report shows. (Boston Globe)

Boston will consider giving tax breaks to landlords in exchange for maintaining rental units at reasonable rates. (Boston Globe)

Worcester officials deny a claim by a worker in the city’s elections office that she was fired because of her political activities. (Telegram & Gazette)

A Globe editorial urges the Boston City Council to reject an arbitrator’s award of a 28.7 percent raise over six years to the city’s police detectives’ union.

Holyoke Tax Collector David Guzman resigns in the wake of a dispute with Mayor Alex Morse. (Masslive) 

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Teacher sickouts in Detroit over working conditions close almost every public school. (Governing)

Syndicated conservative columnist Deroy Murdock says the movie “13 Hours” confirms that President Obama and Hillary Clinton lied about events in Benghazi, because Hollywood never makes things up, apparently. (National Review)

Nearly 300 pages of emails released by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder shows his administration ridiculed and dismissed complaints about toxic drinking water from residents and activists in the poverty-stricken, largely minority community of Flint. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

A third of undeclared voters in New Hampshire still haven’t made up their minds on who they will vote for in the state’s primary three weeks away. (WBUR)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Fasten your seatbelt: Falling oil prices are sending stock markets reeling. (Boston Globe)

Swansea officials said a planned FedEx facility in Seekonk at the town line will result in “tragedy” and fatal accidents from the increased traffic volume. (Herald News)

Brockton officials secured a $50,000 grant to develop a “restaurant incubator” in the city’s downtown to train and assist nascent restaurateurs in opening new eateries and attract businesses to the area. (The Enterprise)

Guidestar, an online nonprofit information source that aggregates charities’ filings, has revamped its site to give a clearer emphasis on programming and results of the 2.4 million nonprofits it profiles rather than just static data. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

EDUCATION

Racial tension has come into the open at Boston Latin School, where black students have taken to social media to call out what they say is a hostile environment toward them. (Boston Herald)

Methuen High School students were evacuated on Wednesday after the school received abomb threat. Massachusetts State Police say 21 schools around the state received bomb threats this week. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Lowell School Board, at the urging of state officials, flip-flops and votes 5-2 to replace the MCAS with PARCC this year. (The Sun)

Wareham officials are considering a plan that would make the 8th grade part of the high school. (Standard-Times)

A survey by American Student Assistance finds that 62 percent of respondents say student debt impacts their spending ability, including putting off buying cars or homes and, in some cases, even basic necessities. (U.S. News & World Report) 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The state’s Health Policy Commission says it will recommend ways to deal with the vast disparities in what hospitals charge for their services. Some might call it the Partners premium. (CommonWealth)

State doctors and dentists are worried about limits being put on their prescribing of opiates for pain management. (Boston Herald) Meanwhile, a law enforcement task force will begin work scrutinizing prescribing practices of doctors and pharmacists. (Boston Globe) The opioid crisis is hitting men particularly hard. (WBUR)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA reveals it has an unfunded $80 million liability for post-retirement payments to executives accrued as deferred compensation. (CommonWealth) The Green Line extension project will face “brutal” cuts if it is to go through, the head of the MBTA control board said. (Boston Globe)

The Southeast Regional Transit Authority is making plans for new purchases such as buses and software from the expected money coming from a secret stash of $2.7 million that federal officials discovered belonging to former Dartmouth selectman and state lawmaker John George. George was convicted of embezzling money from the transit authority while his company managed the bus contract. (Standard-Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The developer of a biomass plant in Springfield warns the city could face a $200 million lawsuit if the project is not approved. (Masslive)

Federal officials have drafted a plan to conserve the piping plover population on Massachusetts beaches while easing restrictions on recreational off-road vehicles in the habitat areas. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham says Middlesex DA Marian Ryan has been nothing but confusing in her statements on whether or not she wants to pursue state charges against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the killing of MIT police officer Sean Collier.

MEDIA

Richard Tofel says the sky is falling on print newspapers faster than you think. (Medium)

The Globe launches a new app for its e-editions on tablets and smartphones. (Media Nation)