boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe
BRIAN MCGRORY

One-man show

All right, now I'm angry.

I'm angry as I stand in the briefing room at the State House watching Deval Patrick do what we the people elected Deval Patrick to do, which is to be an articulate voice of reason, to show compassion, to take controversial stands on behalf of the neediest residents of Massachusetts.

That's what he was doing yesterday, blasting the federal government for flying the illegal immigrants from New Bedford down to Texas, even as the owners and managers of the sweat shop were already out on bail.

"They're back at work today, and I think there's something wrong with that," Patrick seethed.

Where has this governor been? I'll tell you where. He's been planning the most lavish inauguration in state history. He's been shopping for damask drapes. He's been leasing a Cadillac, hiring a taxpayer-funded aide for his wife, making calls on behalf of a sleazy mortgage company that regularly forecloses on predatory loans.

Which is what's so infuriating. Every now and again, when he butts heads with Homeland Security czar Michael Chertoff or strongarms local health insurance executives to reduce rates, you realize why it is the people elected him. He's smart, he's savvy, he's personable, and he's empathetic. This is the guy we bought in November.

But time and again, the guy we get is the one with fundamentally flawed judgment, the inexperienced prima donna who's incapable of getting out of his own way.

Which leads to the question: How many idiotic decisions can you make before you're certified an idiot? And is it possible to reboot a governorship, to press a button and start all over?

Deval Patrick needs to be saved. He needs to be saved from himself. He needs to be saved from the caricature that's already forming. He needs to be saved from a Legislature that can smell blood in the water and won't feel any need to change its anachronistic ways.

How? He needs to hire a strong second in command who is willing and able to tell the governor, quite simply, no, no to the Cadillac, no to the drapes, no to the wife's aide, no to the phone call to Robert Rubin at Citicorp.

That same person needs to be able to negotiate with the legislative leaders. He or she needs the authority to tell other staff members to fall in line. He or she needs to be able to speak for the governor, to think for the governor, to be an honest sounding board for the governor behind closed doors.

That person doesn't exist now. Nearly all his Cabinet secretaries and senior advisers lack either prior government service or long-term ties to Patrick or, too often, both. It's as if he prized inexperienced strangers when he picked his staff, which plays into what some describe as the arrogance of a guy who believed he knew better than everyone else.

This isn't just me saying it. It's people inside and around the administration who privately tell me that the Legislature has no go-to person but the governor himself, and that no one, absolutely no one, has the guts or portfolio to tell Patrick when he's about to screw up.

They describe a chief of staff, Joan Wallace-Benjamin, an upstanding human being with no prior Beacon Hill experience, as more of an executive assistant than a gubernatorial alter ego. Patrick hasn't given her the authority, and she hasn't demanded it.

During his campaign, Patrick relied most on his affable manager, John Walsh, and strategist Doug Rubin. Both have gone their own ways, Walsh waiting in the wings to take over the state Democratic Party, Rubin to a lucrative private consulting business.

Patrick needs at least one of them back in his office with the title counselor at large, running the show, even for a few months. He needs it immediately. If not one of them, then an old-guard Beacon Hill hand willing to extend a little charity. Hello, John Sasso or Dan Payne.

The point is, Patrick is his own worst enemy. What he really needs is a friend schooled in the ways of tough love.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES