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SCOT LEHIGH

Romney shows up Democrats

HAVING MOCKED the Mittster last week for letting his gaze wander to the national stage while state business went wanting, it's only fair of me to acknowledge that Governor Romney has done well since returning from his Washington woolgathering.

Last Thursday the governor boldly went where too many diffident Democrats have feared to tread -- straight into the brouhaha between the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association and the Menino administration. And this week the governor scored a big victory by making his veto of a moratorium on charter schools stick.

By installing a new chairman of the state's Joint Labor-Management Committee, Romney jump-started the expedited arbitration that resulted in the new police contract announced yesterday.

To be sure, the average raise of 3.6 percent a year -- more than 2 1/2 times the average yearly Boston-area private sector increase -- hasn't ended the threat of police pickets at next week's Democratic National Convention. That's no surprise, given that mature adults are such a scarce commodity in the state's union leadership. Still, the arbitrated deal has cut through the impasse to give the police a contract, reducing their protests to little more than an exercise in pointless petulance.

Romney looks the better for his executive action because so many Democrats have been cowed.

Of the seven prominent Democrats I surveyed this week about what they would advise delegates to do in the event of BPPA picket lines and whether they thought the city had been fair, the overwhelming instinct was to duck. Saying, in a statement, that he was "working very hard behind the scenes" to resolve the issue, Senator Kennedy sidestepped my questions. Neither House Speaker Thomas Finneran nor Senate President Robert Travaglini would comment at all.

And what of the four Democratic congressmen most open about their hopes to replace John Kerry in the Senate should he win the presidency?

Stephen Lynch said he would advise delegates not to cross. Does that mean he thinks Menino has been unfair to the police? Lynch couldn't say.

"In every negotiation, am I supposed to inject myself and try to figure out who is being fair and who is not being fair?"

Let's rephrase the question: Is it really such an extraordinary thing to expect a congressman to show independent judgment rather than blind allegiance in a dispute that has taken on these proportions?

Ed Markey, distant dean of the delegation, first issued a statement that took refuge in vague blather. Pressed, spokesman Mark Bayer revised his boss's remarks to say that delegates would have to decide for themselves but that Markey wouldn't cross any picket lines.

Marty Meehan took temporizing to Kilimanjaroean heights. If confronted with a picket line, "I would talk to them about what the issues are and get a sense of what their positions are before making a decision" about crossing, he said.

Only Barney Frank was willing to buck the Patrolmen's Association, saying the union shouldn't be asking people to honor what is essentially an informational picket line. Although Frank says he respects legitimate picket lines, he said he is troubled by the police tactic of picketing events for delegates who aren't central to the dispute.

"Ultimately, you set a precedent that any party that is in a dispute with anybody else can throw up a picket line against a third party, and that is not a good idea," he said.

On the Democratic side, Frank's was a laudable but exceedingly lonely example of commonsense and courage.

Romney's second victory came when the House upheld his veto of the moratorium on charter schools. The governor had fought that battle on two fronts, first by staging several high-profile press conferences with charter school parents and students, emphasizing the havoc that would result if the new schools were put on hold.

As important, the administration also did something it has not done well to date: It worked with Democrats toward a new funding formula for charters. That effort, legislative sources said, helped make the difference.

As the governor takes stock of one of the best weeks he's had in some time, there are some lessons for both sides:

First, that the political process rewards boldness, particularly when controversy has others quaking. But, second, that politics needn't be all public combat. A willingness to work in a bipartisan fashion can sometimes be just as important in laying the groundwork for victory.

Scot Lehigh's e-mail address is lehigh@globe.com. 

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