Then and now

All is well in the Commonwealth–or so the state’s political leaders would have everyone believe. Certainly there is a lot to crow about compared to five years ago, when CommonWealth published its first issue: Incomes are up, unemployment is down, the real estate market is booming, and the citizenry is, for the most part, content, if not complacent. “People take politics more seriously in bad times,” says pollster Lou DiNatale. “Weld won [his first governor’s race] on real voter dicontent. The anger, literally, has drained out of the system from 1990 on.” But all is not rosy. Many pockets of Massachusetts have still not felt the economic good times. And how healthy is our civic life when the politician with the highest popularity ratings is Boston Mayor Tom “Pothole” Menino, and the least popular politician statewide has just ascended to the governor’s office? So take a look at a few not-entirely-random comparisons between then and now. Decide for yourself: Are we better off today than five years ago?

WHAT THEN NOW
Most popular politician

Tie(within margin of error):

US Sen. John Kerry
(Favorability rating 61 percent
Unfavorability rating 23 percent)

Gov. William Weld
(Favorability rating 59 percent
Unfavorability rating 29 percent)

Mayor Thomas Menino
(Favorability rating 76 percent
Unfavorability rating 11 percent)
Least popular politician Former Mayor Ray Flynn
(Favorability rating 34 percent
Unfavorability rating 41 percent)
Lt. Gov. Jane Swift
(Favorability rating 21 percent
Unfavorability rating 63 percent)
Republicans in the Legislature 35 in House (22 percent)
10 in Senate (25 percent)
23 in House (14 percent)
6 in Senate (15 percent)
Governor’s salary $90,000 $135,000
Newton school superintendent’s salary $100,000 $155,000
Average salary of human service workers who care for the elderly, mentally ill, mentally retarded, and disabled $17, 260 $19,607
Unemployment statewide 4.3 percent 2.6 percent
Unemployment in New Bedford 10.5 percent 6.5 percent
AFDC caseload in Massachusetts

87,945 families
(241,371 people total)

42,929 families
(99,157 people total)
Annual state spending $16.85 billion $22.2 billion
Total state debt $10.1 billion $12.3 billion
State rainy-day fund $425.4 million $1.6 billion
Big Dig price tag $7.8 billion $14.1 billion
Median home sale price
Middlesex County
Hampden County
$172,500
$90,000
$240,384
$96,000
Comments on the public image of the House of Representatives

“I would ask the members to reflect on our public image, and the need to bring about the diligent rehabilitation of that image.”

–House Speaker Thomas Finneran

Meet the Author
“We’re heading toward this rule–whatever Tommy wants, whenever Tommy wants it.”

–House Minority Leader Francis Marini

Sources: Media reports, the University of Massachusetts Poll, Newton school department, Massachusetts Council of Human Service Providers, state Division of Employment and Training, state Department of Transitional Assistance, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, Warren Information Services.