SOME PEOPLE care nothing for luxury, money, or the trappings of power. Others crave them. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, it is becoming clear, falls squarely in the second category.
Patrick's inaugural festivities in January were the most lavish in Bay State history, a four-day, $1.3 million affair. Soon after taking office, he began using State Police helicopters -- which are intended for searches and safety-related missions -- as a personal shuttle service. Closer to earth, he replaced the staid Crown Victoria in which former governor Mitt Romney had been driven with something more flashy: a $46,000 Cadillac DTS, the largest luxury sedan in the
He broke with his Republican predecessor in another way, becoming the first governor since Michael Dukakis to put a "chief of staff" for his spouse on the public payroll. Amy Gorin, who co-chaired Patrick's campaign finance committee, will be paid $72,000 a year to schedule interviews and public appearances for Diane Patrick, a partner at one of Boston's largest law firms.
Now, it does not exactly come as news that Patrick likes the finer things in life. He and his wife own a home in Milton's posh Columbine neighborhood. Estimated value: $1.8 million. They are building a 24-room mansion on 77 acres they own in the Berkshires. As Patrick acknowledged during the campaign, he and his family have "been very blessed."
But those blessings don't seem to have dispelled a certain grasping, gotta-get-mine streak in Patrick's approach to perks and privilege. No one faults him for not forgoing the salary that comes with his office, as Romney and former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey did. But did he really have to help himself to $200,000 from his campaign account -- partial repayment of a loan Patrick made to his campaign committee -- before other creditors were repaid? (Campaign manager John Walsh claims the payment was made in error.) With the state budget a billion dollars short and Patrick himself calling for higher taxes , was this really the right time for pricey helicopter jaunts and a sumptuous new limousine?
To his credit, yesterday Patrick agreed to reimburse the state for the added expense of the car, citing the "tough choices" cash-strapped agencies are being asked to make. Still, should it really have taken so long?
"What Kerry Healey doesn't understand is that leaders set the tone," Patrick scolded during the campaign. "Organizations take their lead from the person at the top." For one moment, the person at the top of the current administration seemed interested in setting a tone of accessibility and inclusiveness. Moving the inaugural ceremony outdoors sent a nice populist message. So did the symbolism of removing the red velvet rope from the entrance to the governor's office and re opening to tourists an elevator that had previously been reserved for Romney.
"This is a conscious decision to have an administration that is open, inclusive, and cooperative," said Patrick's press secretary. Alas, the rope and the elevator were as far as the new openness went.
In fairness, Patrick is hardly the first politician with a taste for the good life. Kevin White's "Mayor Deluxe" reputation didn't prevent him from winning four terms as Boston's chief executive; it will take more than chopper rides and a Cadillac to derail Deval.
But his tone! That brittle, self-righteous petulance with which Patrick has dismissed all questions about his gold-plated governing style is not the best way to win public approval. "When I consider the balance and the range of decisions I have to make," he sniffed when asked about the opulent new car, "this is not one I would spend too much time on."
Worse was Patrick's scornful answer to questions about the helicopter trips, one of which was to the funeral of a soldier from Cape Cod. "You should call that family from Hyannis that lost their son in Iraq and see if they have a problem with me using the helicopter," Patrick snapped, apparently seeing nothing wrong with exploiting the grief of a fallen soldier's family for his own political needs. And why didn't he just drive to the Cape? "I have a really crowded calendar and a very ambitious agenda so I'm going to use every resource available."
That's pretty much the excuse Lieutenant Governor Jane Swift used in 2000 -- "It's not always easy and convenient for me to just pop in and out of errands like it is for everyone else." Voters didn't like that attitude when it came from Lady Jane. They're not likely to appreciate it much more if they keep hearing it from Cadillac Deval.
(Correction: Jeff Jacoby's column yesterday misstated the number of rooms in Governor Deval Patrick's vacation home in the Berkshires. The house and a connected carriage house will have 13 rooms and seven bathrooms.)