Romney's not Weld. That's bad -- but maybe good, too. Bill Weld exemplified the kind of Republican who can thrive in Massachusetts: he was fiscally conservative, tough on crime, but libertarian on personal-freedom issues such as reproductive choice and lesbian and gay rights. I suspect Governor-elect Mitt Romney would have doubled his margin over his Democratic opponent, Shannon O'Brien, if he had done a better job of assuring voters that he's not a social conservative. Certainly Romney's retrograde stand against civil unions -- never mind same-sex marriage -- didn't help.
But there was one gaping hole in Weld's administration, as well as those of his successors, Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift. And if Romney is willing to fill that hole, he can improve considerably over the records of his Republican predecessors. Weld campaigned against the Democratic machine in 1990, targeting then-Senate president Bill Bulger with the same tenacity with which Romney went after the "Gang of Three" -- House Speaker Tom Finneran, incoming Senate president Bob Travaglini, and O'Brien. But to say that Weld didn't mean it would be quite an understatement. Weld ended up presiding over an administration as laden with patronage as any in the state's history. He even made common cause with Bulger, who, in his day, was as unpopular with the public as Finneran is in 2002.
Perhaps nothing symbolized Weld's indulgence of the machine politics that he'd campaigned against as much as his elevation of David Balfour, a Republican hack whom the then-governor elevated to be the head of the MDC. On November 4, the Globe's Stephanie Ebbert quoted an unnamed Democratic consultant as saying that Balfour exemplified the difference between Weld and Romney:
"Bill Weld would embrace the David Balfours of the world and get a kick out of them," the consultant said, referring to the Republican advance man and Metropolitan District Commission chief who has been nominated for a clerk-magistrate job. "Mitt Romney doesn't get a kick out of them. This is a very political world, so it's hard to know how it will play."
This morning it all comes together on the front page of the Boston Herald. David Wedge and Jack Sullivan report that Balfour's MDC recently paid $675,000 in public (i.e., our) money to buy a tiny slice of land that is now being used as a parking lot by a Stoneham restaurant where Balfour likes to eat, and which is sometimes the venue for MDC meetings. Outraged Stoneham officials, 30 percent of whose town is already owned by the MDC and is thus exempt from local taxes, are demanding an investigation. "We feel very, very strongly they are doing something illegal. I just feel it's wrong to acquire this land with public money," selectman Cosmo Ciccarello told the Herald.
Balfour is now up for a cushy clerk-magistrate's job in Suffolk Juvenile Court, a post to which he was nominated by Governor Swift. The Governor's Council will vote on November 27.
Romney doesn't become governor until January. But if he's serious about eliminating patronage abuses, he should send a loud, public signal that the parking-lot fiasco will be the subject of a vigorous investigation once he's in office -- and that the Governor's Council ought to think twice before handing a lifetime job to someone who will be the principal subject of that investigation.