Downing, Vennochi voice concerns on Baker

Massachusetts voters give Gov. Charlie Baker very high marks in general and for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, but two guests on the CommonWealth Codcast criticized him for failing to think bigger, to take responsibility when things go wrong, and to use his political capital to address some of the more difficult challenges facing the state.

Former state senator Ben Downing and Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi both said that Baker has done a lot of things well, but they nevertheless criticized him on a number of fronts.

Vennochi said she was troubled with the administration’s response to the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes and the governor’s refusal to take any personal responsibility for giving final approval to a political appointee to run the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. That hire, according to a report commissioned by Baker, contributed to a breakdown in leadership during the COVID-19 crisis that cost 76 veterans their lives.

“He’s never really owned the process that put that in place,” Vennochi said, adding that the governor has acted similarly when scandals erupted at the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the State Police.

“To me that’s the frustrating thing about him because he has so much political capital,” Vennochi said. “With that much political capital, he could just step up and say, ‘You know what, that one’s on me.’ That’s what I’m waiting for.”

Downing criticized the governor for failing to use his political capital to push through plans to address climate change, the state’s transportation infrastructure, and even major elements of the COVID-19 crisis. “If not for that, then for what?” he asked.

“Gov. Baker has clearly done better than many other leaders, many other governors, certainly better than our current president,” Downing said. “But better than bad is not good enough when it comes to this crisis.”

On COVID-19, Downing said, “the governor has been too slow to move in response to many of the troubling trends that we saw at the earlier stages of the crisis and I think he’s making similar mistakes now.”

The former senator also faulted Baker for failing to more quickly address the economic and racial disparities of the COVID-19 crisis. “It’s easy with 20-20 vision, but it’s also important to have leadership that is making decisions with those communities and their historical context front of mind,” he said.

Vennochi said the governor’s approach to COVID has been good. “I think he did show a steady hand and steady the ship in doing all the right things,” she said. “If there was a lack of leadership, aside from the nursing home situation, I think the administration showed kind of a lack of leadership on the school issue. Like where’s the voice of the administration on what cities and towns should do about returning to school? I feel like there’s been a real void there.”

Downing agreed that schools seem to be heading in all sorts of directions with little guidance from the state.

Just after the recording of the Codcast on Friday, Baker, in response to a reporter’s question, weighed in strongly on the school issue, insisting most can reopen this fall with some sort of in-person learning. He said it was crucial for students in lower grades who need in-person learning to read.

Downing said he wouldn’t go along with others who try to tie Baker to President Trump, either for failing to criticize the president or not criticizing him enough. “Charlie Baker couldn’t be further from the president and we’re all lucky for that,” Downing said. “He’s a good man who I disagree with on policy issues. I think where the focus ought to be is less on what party Gov. Baker falls into and more on his actual record.”

Transportation was one issue highlighted by Downing. “No governor has had the united control of the transportation agencies that Gov. Baker has had for north of five years and we can see little positive progress,” he said.

Downing said many in the public are nervous now about returning to public transit. “The work that needs to be done right now is, quite frankly, rebuilding the public’s confidence, faith, and trust in the system,” he said. “And I think that is no small task given what is not just a failure by Gov. Baker but what is a 30- to 40-year failure across Massachusetts and of both parties to invest in that system.”

Vennochi agreed. “2020 obviously was supposed to be the year of transportation and the T,” she said. “COVID-19 has completely knocked the wind out of that and made people think about a reset.”

Vennochi said Baker came around to investing in the T after the snowmaggeddon of 2015, but she was frustrated by his refusal to get on the T and ride it. She said Baker has another opportunity now to restore confidence in the T.

“Why not get on the T with your mask or the commuter rail and say, ‘Folks, it’s safe, this is what they’re doing,’” Vennochi said. “He calls that virtue signaling. I call that leadership.”

BRUCE MOHL


FROM COMMONWEALTH

Parents, concerned about the quality of their children’s education with remote learning, are finding alternatives, including pods, microschooling, and home schooling. The trend raises concerns about equity.

Gov. Charlie Baker says the COVID-19 numbers in most municipalities justify at least some in-person learning this fall.

Starting tomorrow, new state rules and enforcement measures kick in in an attempt to rein in the uptick in COVID-19 cases.

On Friday, frustrated Boston Globe employees announced plans to picket yesterday outside Fenway Park — the other local landmark of Globe owner John Henry — to protest 19 months without a new contract.

Opinion: Michael Curry of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and David Martin of the Massachusetts Health Council say we need to start now to address black and brown mistrust of a COVID-19 vaccine. …Former state senator Richard Moore says we need to do far more to support the elderly….Katherine Costello says grit alone is no longer enough, groups like YouthBuild need more federal support….Mary Skelton Roberts of the Barr Foundation and Aaron Bernstein of Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health lay out how to avoid a transportation relapse…. Rep. Andy Vargas says schools need to sign up now to take advantage of a federal food benefit that will provide students breakfast and lunch.


FROM AROUND THE WEB             

BEACON HILL

A legislative committee is considering written testimony today on a bill that would impose a four-year moratorium on the state MCAS exam. (Boston Herald)

The COVID-19 complaints submitted to the state’s hotline included profane tirades, fake complaints, and even a pornographic picture. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Some Cape towns are modifying the capacity limits they imposed at beach parking lots in the spring or restricting certain beaches to residents only. (Cape Cod Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

An Enterprise review of current testing turnaround times at the three major health organizations conducting testing in Brockton revealed it will take anywhere from 15 minutes to 10 days for those tested in the city to receive their results. (The Enterprise) 

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump’s move to bypass Congress and extend pandemic relief by executive order is creating confusion and uncertainty over whether he has the authority to unilaterally make the moves. (New York Times)

The US Senate passes a bill inspired by the Merrimack Valley gas explosions that would require monitors to supervise natural gas work. (Gloucester Daily Times)

ELECTIONS

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who has lectured at UMass Amherst, will stay in the race for Congress despite revelations that he had sexual relationships with university students. Morse says the relationships were consensual. UMass officials are investigating. (MassLive) The allegations were first reported on Friday by the Daily Collegian at UMass Amherst.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette profiles the three Democrats running in the primary to replace Rep. Aaron Vega.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump endorses Jesse Mermell, with whom she served in the Deval Patrick administration, in the crowded Fourth Congressional District Democratic primary. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A neighbor is suing to block Pine Street Inn’s proposed 200-unit housing development for formerly homeless people in Jamaica Plain, saying it lacks sufficient parking. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Kate Manning Kennedy and Liam Kerr say pandemic pods make a lot of sense, and public officials should do everything they can to make sure all parents have access to them for their children, (WBUR)

Districts are trying to figure out ways to accommodate the most disadvantaged students for in-person learning, which all agree would be better for them. (Boston Globe)

WGBH takes a look at how discussions over school reopening between teachers’ unions and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh have created a political minefield.

The pandemic is accelerating the trend of Catholic school closures in the Boston archdiocese. (Boston Herald)

ARTS/CULTURE

The Peabody Chamber of Commerce and the North Shore Mall team up to hold a pop-up drive-in at the mall. (Daily Item)

The Mayflower II is headed home to Plymouth Harbor soon to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s arrival in Plymouth. (Patriot Ledger)

TRANSPORTATION

While many MBTA bus lines continue to draw fewer riders, those that lots of lower-income workers depend on are getting increasingly crowded, with social distancing impossible to maintain. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

MassLive’s Patrick Johnson profiles the environmental police unit patrolling the busy Connecticut River in Western Massachusetts.

MEDIA

Blackbaud, a company that provides fundraising technology, was hacked by a cybercriminal who the company paid to destroy the information. WBUR, one of Blackbaud’s clients, said only contact information was taken, not financial data. (WBUR)

News Corp. posts a $1.5 billion loss, with the one bright spot being its Dow Jones operation, the Wall Street Journal, which reported a profit of 13 percent. (The Guardian)

Boston Globe workers picketed outside Fenway Park on Sunday demanding a fair contract from Red Sox principal owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe. (Boston Globe)