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Kevin Cullen

A hall of shame

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / February 26, 2009
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I spent Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday in the Gardner Auditorium at the State House, watching Vincent Dowling's marvelous, thought-provoking production of East Boston native Norman Corwin's play "The Rivalry," based on the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.

The acting was exquisite, the themes relevant to this day, and the setting absolutely perfect, seeing as it appears that the last time the Gardner Auditorium got a coat of paint was sometime during the Civil War.

The Gardner Auditorium - the people's court in the General Court, the place set aside for the most important debates of the most important issues facing the citizens of Massachusetts - looks like something you'd find in Afghanistan. The seats are ripped and torn. The carpet is worn and stained.

The place is a dump.

It is an embarrassment to the Commonwealth and an insult to taxpayers, whose money has been used to spruce up the offices of the most powerful politicians on Beacon Hill, a.k.a., the people who work for us.

Gardner Auditorium is named for Augustus Peabody Gardner, a congressman who was married to the daughter of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, whose family inspired the ditty: And this is good old Boston, the land of the bean and the cod. Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots, and the Cabots talk only to God.

I wish someone would talk to an upholsterer, because most of the seats in the Gardner are shot. Some of them have rusty springs that protrude through the torn fabric.

Augustus Gardner was a patriot, and he gave up his seat in Congress to serve in World War I. Unfortunately, he contracted pneumonia and died before he reached the front. If he sat in the public gallery in the auditorium named in his memory, he might catch something else. The shabby blue carpet is stained with fluids that appear to be the remnants of summary executions.

The men's room in the auditorium's foyer looks like it was appointed during the Roosevelt administration.

Teddy Roosevelt.

There are no urinals, but urine has left its mark on the metal dividers between the three toilets, big rusty stains on both sides. The electronic hand drier appears to have been a gift to the state from the Flintstones. The metal button you push to start the drier, alas, has gone to its reward and has been replaced with a piece of wood that appears to be fashioned from an old brush.

If only our elected representatives could show such ingenuity and frugality when it comes to dismantling the sweetheart deals they've created for themselves to boost their pay and pensions. Maybe Jeff Simon, the guy Deval Patrick picked to divvy up the stimulus dough, can fix some of the grotty chairs by donating some of the $400,000 he pulled down since his convenient dismissal from the state Land Bank allowed him to jack up his pension.

Maybe the governor can send down those $10,000 damask drapes he put up in his office. Or maybe the new speaker, Bob DeLeo, can skip the firewood for the fireplace in his office and buy some paint. Or DeLeo's predecessor, Sal DiMasi, can reimburse us for the taxpayer portion of his $45,000 office refit.

The state's broke. So it's probably asking too much in these parlous times to spruce up the public's auditorium. But it's worth asking some questions, like how did it get this way?

Does the speaker's office look like this?

Does the senate president's office look like this?

Does the governor's office look like this?

You know the answer.

This is what they think of us.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.

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