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POLITICS AND PUBLIC OPINION

As anger boiled over, Patrick faced wrenching decision

Woburn’s police chief, Philip L. Mahoney, spoke at a press conference last week on the front steps of the city’s Police Department about reaction to the killing of Officer John B. Maguire. Woburn’s police chief, Philip L. Mahoney, spoke at a press conference last week on the front steps of the city’s Police Department about reaction to the killing of Officer John B. Maguire. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Michael Levenson and Frank Phillips
Globe Staff / January 14, 2011

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The very day last week that Governor Deval Patrick celebrated his inauguration amid pomp and camera flashes and cheering supporters, the outrage was boiling over, inside and outside the State House.

In Woburn, the mayor stood with more than 100 police officers and chiefs, demanding that the governor take swift and decisive action to restore public confidence in the Parole Board. Meanwhile, in a Senate hearing room, a large, bipartisan group of lawmakers demanded that the Parole Board immediately suspend hearings.

For weeks after a parolee killed a Woburn police officer, the governor had been pleading for patience, his public comments brief, measured, and cool. But the dual calls for action on the very day that was supposed to highlight Patrick’s triumphant return to a second term was a sure sign that the controversy was not going away and that he needed to act.

Yesterday, in the face of such unrelenting pressure, Patrick announced the resignations of five members of the Parole Board and the executive director, saying they had failed to protect the public in releasing Domenic Cinelli, a violent career criminal who shot and killed Officer John B. Maguire on the day after Christmas.

The decision was wrenching for the governor, according to a senior administration official, who asked for anonymity to share internal deliberations. Not only was he facing calls for tough action from Republicans and conservative Democrats, but his liberal political base was quietly pressuring him, as well, urging him not to go too far in clamping down on the parole system, which they called a vital tool for rehabilitation.

Yesterday, after announcing the parole shakeup at a tense State House press conference, Patrick was drained and emotional, the official said. He retreated to his office, closed the door, and, ignoring his schedule, spent 45 minutes alone.

“The political pressures in this kind of situation are unbelievable,’’ said Brian A. Callery, a former chairman of the Parole Board. “He’s reacting to the public pressures.’’

Many who had ratcheted up the pressure on the governor applauded him for heeding the public outcry.

“There was really no other decision you could make,’’ said Mayor Scott D. Galvin of Woburn, whom the governor called just before holding his press conference. “The general public just wasn’t going to let it go, because it was a very, very heinous act. And the fact that it happened and should have never happened had people furious. It wasn’t going away.’’

But some called the decision to force out Parole Board members shortsighted. “This is reactionary,’’ Callery said, arguing that it could dissuade future board members from releasing even worthy prisoners.

Patrick was in an especially sensitive position in trying to navigate the parole controversy.

Running for governor in 2006, he was heavily criticized by his Republican opponent, Kerry Healey, for writing letters to the Parole Board seeking the release of Ben LaGuer, a convicted rapist serving a life sentence. Healey also ran a hard-hitting television ad highlighting a case Patrick won as an NAACP defense lawyer in 1985, when he successfully halted the execution of Carl Ray Songer, who was convicted of murdering a Florida state trooper. That case had provoked an outcry in Florida and anger from the trooper’s family.

Running for reelection last year, Patrick was attacked as “immensely soft’’ on crime by his Republican opponent, Charles D. Baker, who blasted the governor’s refusal to join a federal program that automatically checks the immigration status of people who are arrested. Patrick joined the program soon after winning reelection.

Former governor Michael S. Dukakis, whose 1988 presidential campaign was dogged by criticism over the furlough of William Horton, said he sympathizes with the governor’s plight.

“Obviously, there are risks when you let someone out,’’ he said. “Fundamentally, if you’re going to have a parole system, you have to rely on the competence and the good judgment of the board you appointed.’’

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, a Democrat who was among those seeking tough action from the governor, applauded the governor’s sweeping changes yesterday and expressed surprise that he had made them.

Representative James J. Dwyer, a Woburn Democrat who joined a large group of Republicans last week seeking harsher penalties for repeat offenders, also praised Patrick for acknowledging the public anger.

“Obviously, the citizenry and the good folks in blue who provide public safety . . . were looking for this conclusion,’’ he said. “It’s something that had to be done. The confidence in the Parole Board wasn’t there.’’

Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com, Phillips at phillips@globe.com.