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Deval Patrick: The Audacity of Hype

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April 1, 2008

Editor’s note: With news last week of a $1.35 million advance for Governor Deval Patrick’s autobiography, we present excerpts from an imaginary work in progress. By Alex Beam and Mark Feeney of the Globe staff.

THE CLINTON YEARS

It was well past midnight as he and I sat together in the Oval Office, ties loosened, feet up on the desk, smoking cigars. As I had come in, the intern who had delivered our Montecristo No. 2’s (pre-embargo, of course!) almost knocked me over. Apparently, knowing how "tight" the president and I were, she’d hurried to leave the room, not wanting to intrude on one of our heart-to-hearts.

I cleared my throat. "Mr. President," I said -- this despite the fact Clinton always urged me to call him "Bill." (We’d known each other, after all, since the early ‘80s, when he and I had worked out the settlement of a voting-rights case filed against the state of Arkansas.) "I know that this whole silly, unfounded Paula Jones business lies outside my area as assistant attorney general for civil rights. But, speaking as a friend, I’d urge you to just settle the suit. It’s a distraction, an annoyance."

"What’s she going to do if I don’t," he asked, a characteristically merry glint in his eye, "impeach me?" As we shared a hearty laugh, Hillary walked in and the telephone rang. I don’t know which surprised me more: how late it had gotten (3 a.m.) or the fact she was the one reaching for the phone.

THE AMERIQUEST CHALLENGE

It’s not as if I don’t know what it’s like to have steep mortgage payments! Seriously, though, one thing my long struggle for justice and equal rights has taught me is that there’s profit in every loss, a lesson to be learned from every setback, rare though setbacks have been for me. And my service on the board of Ameriquest Mortgage provided me with a unique, and uniquely useful education in what would come to be known as the subprime "crisis." It’s an education I would not otherwise have had. I do not agree with Michael Douglas’s character, Gordon Gekko, in the movie "Wall Street," that "Greed is good." Still, I’m worldly enough to have learned that "Greed is instructive."

Furthermore, I understand that, from a strictly business-as-usual, get-elected political standpoint, serving on the board of Ameriquest might not have looked good. Yet looks can be deceiving. (That’s why we need nice drapes -- just kidding.) The average voter was unlikely to grasp the particular personal appeal to someone like myself -- someone whose life has been a "quest," a distinctively "American" quest -- of a name like that company’s. For that matter, the average voter could hardly understand how much good can be accomplished from the "inside." Texaco, Coca-Cola, Ameriquest -- even as I type the names I feel the burden once again weighing down my shoulders -- they were tough, tough jobs, but someone had to do them.

CORPORATE CRUSADER

Sometimes I think my close friend Barack Obama took the easy route, leaving law school and plunging into community organizing. I chose to run with the big dogs, the leaders of great American companies like Texaco and Coca-Cola.

People think that corporations are huge, impersonal, soulless entities that don't care what happens to their customers or their employees. Not true that! Texaco cared a lot about the huge discrimination suit they had to settle with their African-American employees, and they certainly cared about making that embarrassing class action suit by the Ecuadoran Indian and peasants disappear.

Coke had plenty to care about, too. Misinformed hotheads were suggesting that they were complicit in the deaths of labor organizers at bottling companies in Colombia that they didn't even own.

And that's what you get when you hire Deval Patrick. Message: We Care.

BERKSHIRE XANADU

After decades of hard work in the private and public sector, Diane and I felt we had earned a place to relax. We both loved the Berkshires, and during a weekend drive we signed papers for a modest, 77-acre plot near Richmond.

A local newspaper obtained the building plans for our camp, which they characterized as a $4 million "compound," with 24 rooms, a $90,000 swimming pool, a squash court and a 1,000-foot driveway. Their slipshod reporting later had to be corrected. Our two small dwellings had a total of only 13 rooms, plus seven bathrooms. We hadn't actually broken ground for the squash court either, although anyone who knows the Berkshires knows how hard it is to find good international courts west of Groton.

To the man on the street, maybe 13 rooms sounds like a lot. But it's important to maintain a sense of perspective. Sans Souci Richmond, as we call it in the family, is smaller and less costly than the high school currently under construction in Newton. I mean, I’m just saying.

IN THE ARENA

I promised the citizens of Massachusetts that I would start changing state government from the first day that I took office. And that is exactly what I did.

Unfortunately, many of my bold reforms were misinterpreted by political insiders trapped "inside the box," in "old school" ways of thinking. It may have been OK for Bill Weld and Mitt Romney to tool around town in a beat-up Crown Victoria with some statie goon in the front seat, but that’s not the message I wanted to send to the people of the Commonwealth. New York governor Eliot Spitzer insisted on stretch limos with tinted glass and full bar. Shouldn’t our governor have a Cadillac? Maybe that’s not the best comparison, but I’m sure you get my point.

There were other "flaps" about my replacing the furniture and the drapes, and hiring a hand-holder – sorry, a chief of staff – for Diane. But I quickly moved on to tackle the real challenges of state government. And those first days weren’t all bad. Speaker DiMasi sent over a moving-in gift, a beautiful, flowering Venus Flytrap. What a sweet gesture. I like Sal. He’s a little rough around the edges – not everyone has a Harvard pedigree! – but I think we’ll be able to work together just fine.

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