For Patrick, the heat is on

Gov. Deval Patrick’s breakfast cereal yesterday probably didn’t go down too smoothly if he ate it while reading the Sunday Globe.

The front of the paper’s Metro section featured a story on Patrick hopscotching the country on behalf of President Obama’s campaign while a crisis at the state drug lab threatens to spring thousands of criminals from jail cells to the streets and a different kind of Massachusetts drug lab scandal is spreading fungal meningitis across the country. The Globe’s Glen Johnson runs out a similar tale in his “Political Intelligence” column, and Joan Vennochi weighs in for good measure on the op-ed page, pointing out the irony of Patrick denouncing Mitt Romney in his Democratic National Convention speech for being a guy who won the governor’s office but was “more interested in having a job than doing it.”

The lab stories — plus the state parole board freeing a prisoner who then killed a Woburn police officer, which Johnson adds to the mix — are the sort of high-profile scandals that could put a permanent stain on Patrick’s record, not to mention trip up any potential future run for higher office or top appointment like a seat on the Supreme Court. In some ways, however, it was the lead Sunday Globe story, run out across the top of the front-page, that ought to be the focus of any consideration of the gap between the promise of Patrick’s tenure and its reality nearly six years after he took office.

The story, by Sean Murphy and Scott Allen, spotlights the lax oversight of the state’s 242 local housing authorities. Exhibit A in the case of rogue housing authorities had been Chelsea, where the former director, Michael McLaughlin, is suspected of funneling millions of dollars intended for public housing upkeep to fund his outsize $360,000 salary and other perks. McLaughlin had close ties to Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and hosted fundraisers for him and Patrick.

Yesterday’s story suggests “incompetence, indolence, and worse” is not an isolated occurrence and runs through a number of local housing authorities. The story reports on the former head of the Easton housing authority, who spent hours at work sending racy emails to men and then abruptly quit as an audit was getting underway. The head of the Winchester housing authority is paid $73,000 but also earns $82,000 a year as a full-time lawyer with a state-funded agency representing indigent defendants.  

State officials have claimed they have limited power over housing authorities, which are controlled by local boards. However, in a statement to the Globe, the state Department of Housing and Community Development said, “There is clearly a need to reform the public housing system” and “increase accountability” to protect residents and taxpayers. Only Texas — with four times the population of Massachusetts — has more housing authorities than the Bay State. In the wake of the McLaughlin scandal, Patrick tried to reduce the number of housing authorities but was rebuffed by a panel he appointed to look at reforms.  Any such move would lead to “a thousand commissioners calling their state reps and senators complaining bitterly,” one member of the panel told the Globe.

The paper reports that Patrick plans to take another stab at reform by filing in January legislation  to reform how housing authorities are governed.  A broken system of hundreds of unaccountable local housing authorities is not the stuff of national headlines like the meningitis scandal or the prospect of thousands of violent criminals being freed from prison. But it gets at the core of the dysfunction and cronyism larded into state and local government that breeds cynicism about the public sector and its use of tax dollars. Changing the current structure certainly won’t be easy. But whether Patrick musters the will and political skills to upend the status quo — or at least give such an effort his all — will be a good test of whether his talk of making government more open and accountable was more than “just words.” 

                                                                                                                                        –MICHAEL JONAS


Some wonder in the wake of the drug lab and tainted steroid scandals if the Department of Public Health’s oversight charges are too broad. The Associated Press (via WBUR) looks into the background of Annie Dookhan, the woman at the center of the drug lab scandal.

A Boston Herald editorial urges the state to reconsider its exclusive gambling deal with the Mashpee Wampanoag, saying “the unemployed people of southeastern Massachusetts can’t afford another interminable wait.”


The court-appointed receiver of a Lawrence boarding house begins evicting tenants, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Freetown Cemetery Commission is selling tombstone stickers for $1 as a way to raise money for signs to identify the town’s 30 or so unmarked historical burial sites.


Former Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is dead at 82, the New York Times reports.

Chrystia Freeland, writing in the New York Times, argues that the 1 percent are killing the country.


The New Bedford Standard Times endorsed Elizabeth Warren, touting her as a middle-class advocate while railing against Sen. Scott Brown as a throwback to supply-side conservativism.

Brown is raking in lots of campaign money from Wall Street interests, while Warren is scoring biggest with law firms, university professors, and left-leaning political groups, the Globe reports.

The Gloucester Times, in an editorial, criticizes US Rep. John Tierney and his Republican challenger, Richard Tisei, for running “sordid, negative campaigns.”

National Journal’s Michael Hirsch looks at the tricky challenge facing President Obama in tomorrow’s debate.  

In a Wall Street Journal interview, Rep. Paul Ryan says he and Mitt Romney aren’t naming the tax deductions they’d like to eliminate because “we shouldn’t be negotiating the details of tax reform in the middle of a campaign.” The Herald’s Kimberly Atkins argues that Romney’s depiction of himself as a bipartisan governor is a myth. New York magazine previews the likely outcomes of a Romney administration, or a second Obama term. Frank Rich argues that, regardless of who wins in November, the Tea Party is here to stay.

The Globe reports that Romney is continuing the GOP fealty to supply-side economics — despite the fact that there is not much evidence that it works.

GOP operatives maneuver to kick Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson off the ballot in key states.

Rep. Colleen Garry fails to identify most of her campaign contributors, but corrects the problem after the Lowell Sun brings it to her attention. The state GOP calls the breakdown an attempt to hide her association with a controversial attempt to oust the head of the Dracut Housing Authority. CommonWealth reports that most lawmakers are doing a good job of identifying their contributors.

A new study finds that negative ads may work better on women than men.

Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican candidate for US Senate in Missouri and the man who made the term “legitimate rape” notorious, could win, Newsweek reports.


The Philanthropy 400, a ranking of the top 400 charities by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, finds that many have gotten past the Great Recession but sluggish fundraising still remains an obstacle. The study also includes a 20-year searchable tracking that shows how the rankings of the top 100 have changed.


The ACLU will sue Morgan Stanley over allegedly discriminatory subprime mortgage lending.

The New York Times reports on growing worries over reverse mortgages.


The weekend’s killer frost signals the beginning of the end for the EEE and West Nile threats as mosquitoes began dropping like flies.

Two US economists, one at Harvard the other an emeritus professor at UCLA, will share the Nobel prize for economics for their work on matching medical residents with hospitals and patients with donor organs, among other areas.


Felix Baumgartner leaps into the record books.


California begins a grand experiment to rein in climate change, the New York Times reports.


A Suffolk County grand jury indicts a Revere man for subverting the bidding process for tree-trimming projects in Revere, the Item reports.

An employee of the Boston Transportation Department is facing child porn charges, NECN reports.