GOP cyberkibitzer

INTRO TEXT

Last fall, lots of Bay State Republicans were quietly fretting over acting Gov. Jane Swift’s sinking poll numbers, but only one posted his impolitic assessment of his party’s presumptive standard-bearer on the World Wide Web for all to see: Todd Sharek, GOP loyalist and Internet provocateur. WHO’S KIDDING WHOM? read the headline, posted last October on the one-man Web site he runs out of his Newton apartment. “I implore all of you to stop whistling in the dark,” Sharek begged his GOP compatriots. “Stop telling reporters that she’s a Governor we’re all proud of. The audition is over. ‘NEXT!'”

Webman Sharek: Zings and arrows
aim to boost GOP fortunes.

Welcome to NewtonGOP.com, yet another example of the soapbox that can be had–and mischief that can be made–by anyone with a point of view and a URL.

A mild-mannered state revenue department employee by day, Sharek has in his off hours taken a passion for politics, a way with sharp words, and a Gateway PC in the corner of his dining room and turned them into a running commentary on Republican doings that has party activists both reeling and raving. And while plenty of Sharek’s dispatches, like the Swift kick, come with a razor’s edge, it’s often because his pixeled prose has laid bare an uncomfortable truth.

Sharek’s frequent pummeling of Bay State Republicans has led some to say the 39-year-old Dartmouth native should change his Web address to NewtonDemocrat.com. But Sharek is a proud, second-generation Republican who says his GOP bearings were anchored as a 17-year-old high school student enthralled by the bold optimism of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign. If he ruffles a few Republican feathers, Sharek figures a state party that barely registers in the Legislature and whose only claim on statewide office is its tenuous hold on the governor’s seat could use all the candid critiques it can get.

“There is always a time for muckraking,” says Sharek. “And the party has given incredible ammunition for a muckraker.”

The Republican State Committee has been a favorite Sharek target. He posts the names of members who regularly miss state committee meetings, and he railed against former party chairman Brian Cresta and executive director John Brockelman over the GOP’s failure to contest more legislative seats. Under the headline THE CELLUCCI ADMINISTRATION: THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING, he lit into former Cellucci aide Rob Gray over a lucrative consulting contract he secured with the state party after Cellucci left office.

Sharek has also skewered GOP political consultant Holly Robichaud, wondering in one posting–or “column,” as he calls them–how her client, former Yarmouth state representative Edward Teague, lost a race two years ago for an open state senate seat on Cape Cod that had been in Republican hands for years. Sharek also offered up the tale of another Robichaud client, Massachusetts millionaire Jack McMullen, who moved to Vermont to take on Democratic US Sen. Patrick Leahy in 1998. Despite pouring tens of thousands of dollars into the race, McMullen lost the Republican primary to Fred Tuttle, the 79-year-old Everyman who had gained kitschy fame by playing himself in Man With a Plan, a quirky 1996 movie about a retired dairy farmer who wins election to Congress.

“I don’t want to deprive anyone of their livelihood, but this lady’s in the wrong line of work, folks,” wrote Sharek. “We don’t need any help losing.”

Not surprisingly, those he has teed up online find little to recommend in Sharek’s acid observations. Robichaud bristles at the very mention of Sharek. “Put it this way, I operate in the real political world and I don’t bump into him,” she says. “I don’t know him to be a player.”

Says Gray, “The Internet seems to be a popular place for people who don’t really know how to participate in the mainstream.”

If he strikes a raw nerve with some Republicans, Sharek also has his share of admirers. “He’s a gadfly,” says Republican state Rep. Reed Hillman of Sturbridge. “The world ought to be populated with more people who aren’t afraid to tell the truth the way they see it.”

On occasion, however, Sharek lets his version of the truth get out of hand. When Kerry Healey, now a candidate for lieutenant governor, was vying last fall to become chairman of the state party, Sharek wrote dismissively of her credentials, referring to her as “eye candy.” He was barraged with angry e-mails over the comment. “They were right,” says the usually unapologetic Sharek, who conveyed regrets to Healey and removed the offending reference from the posting.

Sharek also came to amend his initial views on Healey’s party-leading skills, writing glowingly of her brief tenure at the GOP helm. For her part, Healey even agreed to an interview with him (his site features a section of e-mail interviews with Republican newsmakers), though the memory of her Todd encounter still seems to give her pain.

“I think he’s a brilliant satirist,” says Healey. “I’m not sure it’s exactly constructive criticism. On the other hand, there is at least a grain of truth in what he writes.”

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.

Sharek does wade into more mundane matters, revealing a wonkish streak. His postings on state budget issues have been “invaluable,” says Hillman. “I don’t think anybody who’s read everything he puts out can dismiss the guy.”

But it’s his irreverent observations on the GOP that keep readers–Republican and otherwise–coming back for more. Take his dispatch on the May 1 state committee meeting where former chairman Jean Inman was elected to succeed Healey, defeating committeeman Bill Sawyer: “As Healey did prior to her election, Inman splurged on an open bar prior to the vote to woo Committee members. Sawyer, who obviously didn’t see it coming, was left to campaign solely on his integrity, honesty, and character. He didn’t have a chance.”