Even as governor, getting your own way can be tough

Mar 18, 2008 6:00 PM

Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein | Being a governor is no fun.

Well, that’s not quite true, of course. Obviously Eliot Spitzer had fun, but his successor will be sorely tried, and in Massachusetts, Kentucky, Florida and New Jersey the garbagemen have a better time.

The new governor in New York, David Paterson, is out of the old Harlem political circle, street smart and a compromiser. He had better be, with wily Joe Bruno looking over his shoulder as lieutenant governor and Sheldon Silver still having a headlock on the House. Paterson showed he’s up to the job, when in his first interview last Thursday, before even becoming governor this week, a reporter asked if he had ever had dealings with a prostitute. Paterson paused, flashed a half-smile, and said, "Only the lobbyists."

You have to like a guy who’s that fast on his feet.

Speaking of one-liners that you wish you could have come up with, there was a flurry of them in staid old Boston, the land of the bean and the cod, where the Cabots speak only to Cabots, and the Lodges speak only to God.

The pols – particularly the governor and the house speaker – are fighting bare knuckles. With hearings this week, it should get really mean. The Boston Globe called it "a political brawl."

Gov. Deval Patrick wants a bill passed that will allow three casinos to be built in Massachusetts Speaker Sal DiMasi is determined to stop Patrick, preferring to have slots at Suffolk Downs and Plainridge Racecourse. He has been accused of some severe arm-twisting, calling legislators who back the governor’s plan into his office and trying the rites of conversion.

Rep. Daniel Bosley, a powerful gambling foe who chairs the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, sniffed at that suggestion, saying, "Quite frankly I don’t think we need to twist arms. The votes just aren’t there for this thing. It seems like every time people lose a vote here, they blame someone for twisting arms."

That brought a salvo of one-liners from the Globe.

A reporter asked the Rev. Raymond Helmick, a prominent theologian at Boston College who is an internationally known mediator, what he thought Gov. Patrick should do about DiMasi, and Helmick said, "Cry," adding that "if DiMasi is determined to stop this, Patrick already has lost."

Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh, asked the same question, said Patrick should "just wind back the clock, walk back out the door, and start over."

A public relations expert, George Regan, noted that "Sal’s a sensitive guy. If Patrick were smart, he’d apologize over pasta at Tecce’s (a Boston eatery) and move on."

The best line and thought of the day came from Tobe Berkovitz, the interim dean of Boston University’s College of Communications, who said Patrick should appoint DiMasi to the Supreme Court – where justices hold office until they are 70 – and "get him the hell out of there," meaning the House.

In Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear, who campaigned on a platform to bring slots through racinos at Kentucky tracks, watched helplessly as his legislature said no. They opted for straight out casinos, with no set asides for the tracks, and the Louisville Courier-Journal noted that this year’s legislative session is drawing to a close and the governor faces "a last gasp effort" to get his way on a vote for a constitutional amendment needed to bring green chips to the Bluegrass.

In Illinois the governor, Rod Blagojevich, also has been fighting with his legislature over the issue of more slots, including racinos. A spokeswoman, Abby Ottenhoff, conceded defeat, saying, "At the conclusion of last year, it seemed clear that we’d all be spinning our wheels to stay focused on gaming expansion."

In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine’s casino-track support idea could get snagged on the permanent tax break on comps that is contained in the very large small type.

All of the above is subject, of course, to the last minute peregrinations and shenanigans of political maneuvering, which render all bets null and void.

Back in Boston, Gov. Patrick and Speaker DiMasi met at a St. Patrick’s Day (no relation) breakfast for 800, and they did have a little fun. The governor sang, "Let’s vote and build them nice and tall, Sal, just think about the wonder of it all."

DiMasi, getting in the spirit of things, responded with five reasons the governor’s plan will never become law, and wound up with a one-liner of his own: "Gambling bills are just like casinos. The House always wins."

Still like to be a governor? Better learn how to avoid spinning your wheels before you try.