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Jane Swift remakes herself, juggles her passions

The former acting governor broke from making apple sauce at home in Williamstown.
The former acting governor broke from making apple sauce at home in Williamstown. (Christine Peterson for The Boston Globe)

WILLIAMSTOWN - Imagine being Jane Swift, longtime overachiever in the far-flung Berkshires, whose bruising experience on Beacon Hill is now the stuff of legend. Alternately viewed as the victim of the merciless Boston media, a symbol of the failed promise of feminism, or an accidental leader who stumbled bullheadedly to her political demise, she is, nonetheless, an alumna of the governor's office at 42 years old.

She is nowhere near finished.

Relentlessly driven and famously stubborn, Swift is remaking herself as a consultant, a feminist speaker, a once and future contender. And though political analysts might not have been kind to Swift, time has. Nearly five years after she was hounded out of office by her political missteps and the emergence of her shiny new Republican successor Mitt Romney, she has lost the baby weight that brought her mockery and channeled her passion for education into lucrative private sector gigs in venture capital and consulting.

She is even leaving the door open for a political comeback. She has updated her network of supporters and invited them to summer barbecues and Children's Hospital fund-raisers, mindful of how she had lost contact between her unsuccessful 1996 campaign for Congress and her run for lieutenant governor.

"Everybody who reads the Globe knows I have made more than my share of mistakes. But I try not to make the same one twice," Swift said in an interview at her home in Williamstown. "And so, I don't know if there's another race. But I know if there's enough of a long period of time where a race could be viable that I would be silly to squander the infrastructure that was built."

The notion of a Jane Swift resurrection campaign might prompt a collective groan from Boston political observers and working mothers across the country who watched as the Swift's decisions were constantly and publicly second-guessed.

"A bad brand got developed," said Stephen P. Crosby, a top Swift aide who is now dean of John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. "It was a terrible time. There was a recession and 9/11 when she was governor. She was dealt a very, very tough deck of cards, and she made some mistakes. But the full and real Jane Swift is a really bright, interesting, positive, and constructive human being. And it would be great for people to get to see that."

The governors who preceded her - William F. Weld and Paul Cellucci - were a decade older than Swift is now when they left the governor's office midterm for offers of ambassadorships. (Weld was never confirmed and ended up writing novels and working in venture capital and law.)

For her second act, Swift wanted to influence public education and make an impact on women's leadership - while remaining deeply involved with her three daughters, 6-year-old twins and an 8-year-old, and living in Williamstown with her husband, Chuck Hunt.

A campaign supporter and venture capitalist put her in touch with William F. Achtmeyer, chairman of the Parthenon Group, who introduced her to friends in venture capital, another male-dominated profession. Swift became a partner at Arcadia Partners, a small Boston-based venture firm focused on for-profit education companies. That job put her back in Boston and had her traveling across the country, sometimes for three days a week, working with investors and clients like Teachscape, which analyzes the skills of schools and students and designs online development for teachers.

Founding partner Liam Donohue said Swift's government know-how was prized by client Health Dialog, which was trying to work with Medicare but had little experience with government agencies. "She single-handedly took a company which was trying to figure out how to interact with Medicare and built a team that came up with a strategy and set them on the right course," Donohue said.

Still, Swift kept an eye out for other opportunities, negotiating for permission to continue speaking engagements while at Arcadia. After a decade of standing out - as the youngest woman elected to the state senate at 25, the first female to become governor of Massachusetts, the first governor in the country to give birth while in office - she seems reluctant to cede the spotlight, even one that was unusually harsh.

"I get bored, basically. I really felt like to create the kind of professional life that I wanted, it was hard to imagine taking a single job that would meet all of my goals," Swift said.

The woman who sometimes seemed to be living a cautionary tale for working mothers now lectures on work-life integration - not balance, which means "you're always sacrificing something" - and "practicing feminism" on the paid speaking circuit and at universities. This winter, she will teach a political involvement course at Williams College.

When Arcadia began winding down last year, Swift formed her own firm, WNP Consulting, which works with businesses such as ConnectEdu, which provides electronic links between graduating high school students and university admissions offices. Her passion is Sally Ride Science, a company whose mission is to foster interest in science, especially among girls, and whose founder was the first American woman in space. She is still traveling - three nights last week for the Sally Ride board meeting and Fortune magazine's Most Powerful Women in Business summit.

Her flexible schedule and home office at her 25-acre farm with soaring views of the Berkshires would seem to offer a respite from her hectic days as acting governor, when she was pregnant with twins, commuting three hours each way from Boston.

But calm is not her way.

Last Sunday, at 10 a.m., she was at the computer printing her boarding pass for the following morning's Southwest Airlines flight from Albany to California, and trying in vain to snag coveted concert tickets for the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus World Tour before dashing to a 10:30 a.m. Mass. "It's all in my Blackberry, so I won't forget," she said during the interview two days earlier.

For four years, she and Marianne DeMarco, a pathologist, have served as co-leaders of the Williamstown Girl Scout troop they organized. They also work as third-grade room parents at Williamstown Elementary School, organizing activities and acting as liaisons to other parents. They are, DeMarco says, both doers.

"When I was asked if I would be a room parent this year, I was very hesitant to do it because I'm so overbooked myself," said DeMarco. "And I said, 'who's the other room parent?' And it's Jane. So I said, 'Oh, I'll do it then.' Because I know I won't get dumped on."

During a visit with the Globe, Swift proudly displayed jars of two-color salsa she had made from the abundance of tomatoes in her garden. A batch of homemade applesauce bubbled on the stove.

But about 40 minutes into the interview, Swift's husband, who devotes himself to running the family and a fledgling horse farm, called her from the kitchen: "Hey, Betty Crocker! The apples are burning."

"OK. Can you turn them off?" she answered, then said laughing, "Love ya!"

Her compulsive juggling might be typical for the modern, type-A mom, but her iconic stature as a working mother is not.

Swift advertised her first pregnancy during her campaign for lieutenant governor and was dogged by maternal crises in office - using a State Police helicopter to avoid Thanksgiving traffic to get home to her daughter with pneumonia, tapping State House aides as baby sitters. Swift, seeming defiant and defensive, never recovered. She was pregnant with twins when she took over as acting governor, viewed as an inexperienced successor to a third-string Republican team.

By the time she was a candidate for governor in 2002, Republican donors and activists were lining up with Romney, who had swept back into Massachusetts with solid odds of retaining the governor's office for the Republicans.

As one former member of her administration recalls, she was "thrown under the bus. Jane Swift was smart and talented and she's a punch line."

This year, she offered a mild volley, endorsing Senator John McCain of Arizona against Romney in the Republican presidential primary and helping to develop McCain's education policy.

While memories of her travails in office will fade with time, political analysts say Swift would fare better campaigning in the Berkshires, where she was a favorite daughter, than in the sharp-elbowed ring of statewide politics. Many expect her to run for US Representative John Olver's seat when he leaves office.

"I think in retrospect, people will believe that the press was awfully tough on her around some relatively trivial matters," said Jeffrey M. Berry, a Tufts University professor of political science. "But I don't think people in retrospect are going to come to the belief that she was an effective governor. I think she's still regarded as largely a failure."

Allies who think she was caricatured by the media and forsaken by the Republican party would welcome a reversal of fortune.

"She didn't leave office because of being dishonest or because of some scandal," said former Senate minority leader Brian P. Lees, of East Longmeadow. "She left for the best reasons . . . for Massachusetts and the Republican party. How can you fault her for that?"

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at ebbert@globe.com

Photo Gallery PHOTO GALLERY: Jane Swift, now and then

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