A Bravura Performance At Today's Patrick Presser

By Adam Reilly

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Mar. 18, 2011

Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick speaks during a news conference outside his office at the Statehouse in Boston on Friday, March 18, 2011 after returning from a 10-day trade mission to Israel and the United Kingdom.

BOSTON — There was a big media crowd at Governor Patrick's press availability this morning, and it's safe to say that most of us thought things might get testy. After all, the conditions seemed perfect. Patrick had just returned from a lengthy, somewhat controversial overseas trip. While he was gone, Fidelity Investments announced that it was moving 1,000 jobs out of state — without giving Patrick a chance to make a counterargument. What's more, we just learned that Patrick's own transportation secretary kept the governor — and the public — in the dark about a spooky new problem with the fruits of the Big Dig. Bring on the fireworks!

Didn't happen. The governor gave a strong performance — and I felt my skepticism about his past week ebb a bit, despite myself.

Asked about Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan, Patrick said he was as frustrated as everybody else that Mullan kept quiet about that falling 100-pound light fixture for six weeks. But, he added, Mullan knows he screwed up. He's apologized. He has Patrick's full confidence. And it's time to move on.

As he's done in the past, Patrick also sounded a frustrated note on Fidelity's upcoming move, noting (again) that top Fidelity leadership failed to mention their plans during a recent meeting. I asked Patrick if his relationship with the company had frayed since founder Ned Johnson and his daughter Abigail backed Charlie Baker during last year's governor's race. Patrick responded that he had plenty of political supporters at Fidelity.

But he also noted that Fidelity was supposed to send someone on the just-completed Massachusetts trade mission--but backed out at the last minute. And a few minutes later — referring to an upcoming meeting with Fidelity brass — he hinted that his own relationship with the company has been strained since he took office in 2007. To paraphrase: I've told them since early in my tenure that businesses to work with the state to thrive. Evidently, he doesn't think Fidelity's listened. (Apologies for the lack of verbatim quotes; my audio of the presser vanished in an iPhone crash.)

Some members of the media were in full provocateur mode this morning. At one point, a female reporter — I didn't catch which one — asked the governor if his trip abroad had been worth everything he lost here at home. The governor looked quizzical and asked her to elaborate. Well, she explained, Fidelity is moving all those jobs elsewhere, and the public is losing trust in your judgment.The governor responded by telling the reporter, in the nicest possible way, that she had it wrong. The public trusts his judgment, but doesn't like the fact that Mullan kept quiet for so long. And now that's been dealt with. 

Actually, the public may not be as sanguine as Patrick says. As I tweeted this morning, the fact that Mullan waited so long to tell Patrick about this new post-Big Dig problem makes you wonder if the administration is working the way it should. Still, Patrick's performance this morning was strong enough that I found myself feeling less skeptical of the matter.

Couple more things. First, today's presser followed the cancellation of a media availability at Logan Airport last night. If the press had grilled Patrick right after he landed in the U.S., we might have seen a less masterful performance. So, good call by Patrick and his press team.

Finally, Patrick made a comment today about his managerial style that's worth pondering.

"I've told my team they can bring me any issue at any time, but I want a solution too. And fortunately when I was informed [Mullan] was able to tell me that an exhaustive review and inspection of all the light fixtures has taken place," Patrick said.

I've never been a manager. But I wonder: should the governor tell his subordinates not to come to him with problems unless they've got a solution? Or might that create a timidity and lack of candor that could, say, lead to top administration official keeping a serious problem quiet for weeks?

You can reach Adam at adam_reilly@wgbh.org.

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About the Author
Adam Reilly Adam Reilly
Adam Reilly is a political reporter and associate producer for WGBH's Greater Boston.

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