March 29, 2007 — Vol. 42, No. 33
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Patrick hits Web, meetings looking for lost momentum

Dan Devine

After spending much of his first 75 days in office deflecting the backlash from a slew of missteps, Gov. Deval Patrick turned Saturday to some of his most ardent supporters for a political shot in the arm.

Patrick was joined by Mayor Thomas M. Menino before a crowd of hundreds at Boston Latin School in the first of eight town hall meetings the governor plans to hold in the coming weeks. The second took place Tuesday in Worcester, with more to come in Springfield, the South Coast, the Berkshires, Cape Cod, Lowell and Marlborough.

“Your vision got me elected,” Patrick told the crowd. “But here’s what I’m learning, and what you need to learn — that vision alone is not enough to govern. I need you to govern.”

The learning curve has proven to be steep for Patrick since his landslide election in November.

Reports of the governor spending nearly $30,000 of taxpayer money on office furnishings and $1,166 per month to lease a Cadillac DTS as his official vehicle could not have come at a worse time. Patrick was about to introduce his first budget, which called for belt-tightening in state agencies to combat an anticipated $1.3 billion spending gap in fiscal year 2008.

Patrick has since publicly apologized for those missteps and agreed to reimburse the Commonwealth for the cost of his new office décor and a share of the leased car.

But the troubles continued earlier this month. Patrick became embroiled in an even stickier situation resulting from a Feb. 20 telephone call he made to former U.S. Treasury secretary and current Citigroup executive Robert Rubin — whom Patrick knew from his days as assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration — on behalf of Ameriquest Mortgage, a company that has been accused of predatory lending practices. Ameriquest is owned by ACC Capital Holdings, on whose board Patrick formerly served.

The state’s Republican Party said that Patrick violated state ethics laws by using his influence as governor to vouch for Ameriquest. The governor initially said he made the call as a private citizen, not a public official, then backtracked as the furor increased, eventually saying, “I appreciate that I should not have made the call. I regret the mistake.”

Trying to move past those regrets and re-energize the loyal base that made him the first African American governor in the history of Massachusetts, Patrick aimed to strike a folksier note with the audience at Boston Latin on Saturday. Taking the podium to the strains of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” and wearing a suit with no tie, the governor repeatedly emphasized the connection between the Corner Office and his core constituents.

“You and I need the connection we built in the course of the campaign to govern,” Patrick said. “You and I believe that government has a role to play in helping people help themselves.”

His new instrument in playing that role — the retooled Web site, re-launched by the Deval Patrick Committee — went live Saturday morning. The site has two primary features: the “MyIssue” section, which allows citizens to create accounts that they can use to identify, discuss and vote for the issues important to them and that they believe should be important to the governor, and the “Policy” section, which presents elements of Patrick’s agenda, accepts user feedback, and according to the site’s description, “give[s] you ways to take action.”

Patrick made frequent calls for action at Boston Latin, issuing impassioned rejoinders for his supporters to get involved for their own interest.

“You want lower property taxes?  Come and get them!” Patrick exclaimed. “It means you have to engage your representatives and your senators … When there’s a hearing, show up!  Make your voice heard!  Nobody is giving us anything.”

There is some question, however, as to how much Patrick himself is giving.

During the question and answer portion of Saturday’s town meeting, Brookline resident Linda Jason told Patrick she was uncertain whom she should call to register her support for the governor’s plan to close tax loopholes for Massachusetts corporations. The plan, which Patrick claims will generate nearly $300 million in additional revenues next fiscal year and help pay for property tax relief, has come under fire by business advocates and has been opposed by House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, D-Boston, and new Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth.

“You need to tell us whom to lobby,” Jason said. “The corporations know how to call … If you don’t put that on your Web site, we can’t be of any help.”

As the Boston Latin crowd applauded, Patrick replied, “You are so right,” and indicated he would post the information.

But as of the Banner’s press deadline, no such information was posted.

Another intriguing aspect of the site, which asks its users to think of it “as an online town meeting,” is the ability for Massachusetts citizens to create virtual coalitions supporting or opposing particular stances on hot political issues. Some users appear to be taking full advantage of that opportunity. According to a list of the site’s 15 most voted-on issues, the second most popular issue page belongs to “Coalition: Vote on Marriage,” the goal of which is just what its name implies — taking control over the issue of same-sex marriage out of the hands of the state Supreme Judicial Court and putting it to a popular vote.

With nearly 1,800 users logged in, 300 issues identified and over 3,000 votes cast, the site appears to have achieved its goal of creating a new, centralized forum for discussion of Massachusetts political issues. But, as is the case with any new Web site, users have found some bugs — and one user, Secretary of State William F. Galvin, found a pretty massive one.

In a published report, Galvin explained that the site violated the privacy of Massachusetts voters by making their home addresses, complete with house and apartment numbers, easily available to visitors. When creating a log-in and password to register with the site, users have to enter their name or phone number, which the site then matches to a street address to verify that it is has identified the right person.

This could lead to problems, Galvin said, if a user entered someone else’s last name or phone number, bringing up the home addresses of anyone with that name, opening a Pandora’s box of potential privacy issues for persons whose address information is sensitive, such as police and public safety officers or victims of domestic violence.

The Deval Patrick Committee has since removed the house and apartment numbers, but individuals’ street names still appear for verification purposes.

In closing his official remarks on Saturday, Patrick highlighted what has been the prevailing theme of his administration to this point: the difficult transition from campaign victory to Commonwealth stewardship.

“It doesn’t matter that we won. It’s what we leave behind — what we pass on,” Patrick said. “Now, let’s go to work on that.”

Gov. Deval Patrick speaks to a crowd during a community meeting on Saturday, March 24, 2007, at the Boston Latin School. Patrick has been working to re-energize his supporters after being rocked with several controversies. (AP photo/Lisa Poole)

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