‘Teflon Charlie’ facing some real heat

Baker facing backlash after website crash, other decisions

For most of the past six years, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has been ranked as the most popular governor – or close to it – in America. One Boston Globe headline referred to him as “Teflon Charlie,” and CNN’s Chris Cillizza marveled at Baker’s strong poll numbers – among Democrats.

Could the COVID-19 vaccine rollout end Baker’s popularity?

Criticism of Baker mounted as national metrics showed Massachusetts lagging in vaccine distribution, but then the numbers began to turn more positive earlier this week. All that positive momentum was wiped out on Thursday when the state’s website for making vaccination appointments crashed and sputtered all day long. Baker acknowledged that the crash was “awful” and said he “is pissed off.” But for many, it was the last straw.

The Globe reported how unusual it was that Baker was facing backlash from all corners of government. A February 16 letter to Baker from the state’s entire congressional delegation minus US Rep. Richard Neal, who wrote his own letter, expressed “serious concerns” about vaccine distribution and urged Baker to create a centralized pre-registration system to help people make vaccine appointments.

Hospitals have expressed frustration that Baker diverted vaccine doses away from them and to mass vaccination sites, a step Baker said he took to ensure speedier distribution.

Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, said that decision will increase racial disparities. She wrote on Twitter that hospitals have been actively reaching out to communities of color. “Turning off the supply to our hospitals isn’t fair to the people disproportionately hurt by COVID, stuck at home, without computers, or someone to navigate websites or a ride to Foxborough,” Healey wrote.

Baker also took criticism for taking doses from municipal vaccine sites to send them to regional collaboratives and mass vaccination sites. Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux called that decision “an absolute disaster,” a sentiment echoed by other municipal leaders, including Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone.

The Democratic-led Legislature – which has worked closely with Baker for years – took the unusual step of announcing that it will hold an oversight hearing related to vaccine distribution.

Even before Thursday, people were poking fun at the fact that a software engineer on maternity leave built a more user-friendly vaccine appointment website than the Baker administration –  after which the administration improved its site.

On Thursday, after 1 million more people became eligible for vaccines and the state’s website crashed, Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano said they were “disappointed.” Democratic US Sen. Ed Markey called it “unacceptable.”

Social media critics expressed extreme frustration. Some reported spending hours trying to get an appointment.

Mental health expert John Grohol tweeted a photo of the non-working web site with the tagline, “Massachusetts. Home to MIT, Harvard, and world-class internet startups. This is our vaccine appointment website at one point this morning.”

Tiffany Dowd, a social media influencer who advises the luxury travel industry, got to the stage of selecting an appointment time, with many appointments listed, but got a message that none were available. “To say I am angry is an understatement,” Dowd tweeted at the governor.

One person posted a gif of a dumpster fire.

Baker has pointed to the Berkshires as a model where a regional vaccine collaborative has been effective. The county has the state’s highest vaccination rate.

But Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, who represents the region, said even there the rollout is hampered by a lack of communication. He has no idea how many vaccines were distributed in the Berkshires because the regional collaborative was not told how many shots were distributed at pharmacies or nursing homes – information the state has.

Pignatelli said the state should empower local communities, noting that when the state website crashed, appointments were available through the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative’s website. Pignatelli said Baker should not have launched the website until it was foolproof. “I want him to be more than pissed, I want him to hold people accountable,” Pignatelli said.

Baker had a response ready when asked on GBH about the criticism, saying the agony felt by many residents amid the pandemic “makes any of the rockiness those of us in public life had to deal with feel like nothing by comparison.” 

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

FROM COMMONWEALTH

The state’s Vaxfinder website crashed early and often, turning away thousands of people eager to get inoculated. The website vendor, Prep Mod, took responsibility for the problem, but the Baker administration also had difficulty getting the word out about what was going on. Gov. Charlie Baker at noon provided some information, and later the state said some 50,000 to 70,000 appointments did get made.

There was also confusion about a delay in vaccine deliveries, caused partly by weather and partly by staffing issues at vaccine manufacturing facilities. Baker said at one point he might send the National Guard to retrieve the doses, but later his administration said that wasn’t happening.

Opinion: Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone offers a devastating critique of the vaccine rollout.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

A legislative oversight panel that will hold a hearing next week on the state’s shaky vaccine rollout wants Gov. Charlie Baker and his COVID point person, Marylou Sudders, to testify. (Boston Globe)  

Rep. Bill Driscoll of Milton offers a bill to fund $10 billion in initiatives related to climate change over the next decade. (Berkshire Eagle)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Mayor Marty Walsh calls for 25 percent of Boston municipal contracts to go to women- and minority-owned firms after a city report showed dismal performance on those measures. (Boston Herald) The move comes after a $1 million city commissioned study revealed minority-owned businesses received only 2.5% of contract dollars awarded during the five-year study period. (GBH)

An editorial in the Daily Hampshire Gazette praises Northampton Mayor David Narcewicz for doing away with community impact fees for marijuana businesses. CommonWealth reported on the mayor’s decision last month.

A Brockton native who spent half a year making videos about investing was sued Wednesday in federal district court in Massachusetts by a GameStop investor for his alleged role in manipulating the stock prices of the retailer (The Enterprise) 

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer criticizes Banecare’s Springside Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center for being uncooperative during a COVID-19 outbreak. (Berkshire Eagle)

Fall River launches a pilot program to help the homeless with direct outreach. (Herald News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

An Ipswich CVS accidentally gave people a lower dose of the COVID-19 vaccine than is recommended. (Salem News)

US Sen. Ed Markey joins nurses on their picket line at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, where the nurses are asking for more staffing. (Telegram & Gazette)

Deval Patrick will lead a virtual panel discussion Tuesday attempting to build trust in the COVID-19 vaccine among people of color. (Berkshire Eagle)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

In case you hadn’t heard, millions of Texans are freezing and without power or water after a brutal ice storm and persistent cold weather — and the state’s junior US senator, Ted Cruz, jetted off to Cancun, Mexico, with his family. (New York Times)

President Biden is pledging $4 billion over several years to a program promoting vaccine distribution in 92 low- and middle-income countries. (NPR)

Massachusetts resident Keith Gill, aka “Roaring Kitty,” testifies before a congressional committee on the GameStop phenomenon, telling lawmakers he was not involved in any concerted effort to boost the stock’s price. (Boston Globe

IMMIGRATION

The Biden administration announces new guidelines reining in arrests by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. (NPR)

ELECTIONS

Scot Lehigh takes the measure of would-be Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl, and finds he doesn’t need a very long ruler. (Boston Globe

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Gov. Charlie Baker says the state will commission a report on how the remote work world of the pandemic will reshape the way people work after the crisis abates. (Boston Globe)  

A new report finds that unpaid utility bills are mounting as consumers struggle during the pandemic. (Gloucester Daily Times)

EDUCATION

The state’s new pooled testing program for public schools is modeled after a program started in Salem. (Salem News)

An MTA-backed bill would give older teachers financial incentives to retire early. (MassLive)

Harvard professor Cornel West, who bolted from the university in 2002 after a spat with then-president Larry Summers, threatens to leave again after being denied tenure. The university says it offered the 67-year-old scholar a 10-year contract and pay raise. (Boston Globe

ARTS/CULTURE

Gail Samuel, the head of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was named the new president and CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, becoming the first woman to ever fill the orchestra’s leading administrator position. (Boston Globe)

The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst is planning a $2 million facelift. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

TRANSPORTATION

The RMV says 548,000 vehicles have expired inspection stickers, and it is urging residents to get their cars inspected. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Worcester Regional Transit Authority extends its fare-free buses until July 1. (Telegram & Gazette)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Barnstable town officials call allegations in a Conservation Law Foundation lawsuit over the town’s permitting for its municipal wastewater plan “baseless.” (Cape Cod Times)

Sen. Ed Markey visits Springfield to protest a project to a proposed wood-burning power generating station that refuses to die. (Western Mass Politics & Insight)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Former Olympian and long-time track coach Conrad Mainwaring is charged with sexually assaulting children when he was a counselor at Camp Greylock in Becket in the 1970s. (MassLive)

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announces new state guidelines for law enforcement in responding to human trafficking cases. (MassLive)

MEDIA

Margaret Sullivan reports Alden Global Capital, as it prepares to take over Tribune Publishing, is lying about its plans. Here’s how the Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania, one of the papers the hedge fund is acquiring, put it: “Alden has a history of aggressive cost cuts to boost profits at the newspapers it owns through MediaNews Group, which counts The Denver Post, The Boston Herald and The Mercury News in San Jose, California.” (Washington Post)

PASSINGS

Former Worcester judge and attorney Robert Mulkern, Sr. dies at 98. (Telegram & Gazette)