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Political Circuit

Birmingham portrait a study in patience

Globe Staff / May 15, 2011

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Former Senate president Thomas F. Birmingham’s oil portrait — unveiled last week in the Senate Reading Room — took three years to complete. And the artist, George Nick, refused to work from a photograph.

So Birmingham had to sit motionless for hours as Nick, a local artist whose admirers included John Updike, erased and reworked the entire composition four times, and then erased Birmingham’s head another half dozen times, seeking perfection, Birmingham recalled.

“When he decapitated me again, I really began to despair it would never be finished,’’ Birmingham said.

The former Senate president said he had long been reluctant to order a painting of himself to display alongside such luminaries as Calvin Coolidge and Horace Mann, who have also held the position.

But as other modern Senate presidents began ordering portraits, he changed his mind. Six unions chipped in to pay for the painting of Birmingham, a labor lawyer and union supporter. (He would not reveal the cost, but others in the State House have estimated it to be about $30,000.)

Nick chose to portray Birmingham as an insider with an outsider’s perspective, showing him at once inside the State House, but with a view of the Golden Dome by his side. A portrait within a portrait of Mann, a pioneer of American public education, hovers above his right shoulder, an homage requested by Birmingham, who coauthored the landmark Education Reform Act of 1993.

Birmingham, a great admirer of Nick’s realism, said he is pleased with the final product and especially gratified that his tenure as an art model is complete. “When it was finally done I felt like one of those Chilean miners coming out of the center of the earth,’’ he said. “It was such a drawn out and tedious process.’’ — NOAH BIERMAN

Flaherty already adds some color

Here’s an early sign that Michael F. Flaherty’s return to Boston politics will inject life into what could have been a humdrum municipal election year. Flaherty made a pointed observation about Boston last week as he kicked off a campaign to return to the City Council.

“This is not Yemen,’’ Flaherty said in an interview with the Weekly Dig, an entertainment magazine.

Some context: Flaherty seemed to be comparing the tactics of Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s administration to that of a country besieged by an uprising against an entrenched antidemocratic regime.

Here’s the full quote from Flaherty, who fell 15 percentage points short when he tried to unseat Menino in 2009.

“Often times when people go to a community meeting and they raise an objection or have a question, they are ostracized and vilified, quite frankly, by administration officials,’’ Flaherty said, according to the Weekly Dig. “This is unacceptable, particularly in Boston in 2011. This is not Yemen. People are entitled to their opinions, they are residents, they are taxpayers, they are Boston’s greatest asset.’’

And to think the election is still six months away. — ANDREW RYAN

Jim Brett named chairman of US panel on disabilities

Jim Brett, president of the New England Council and a former state legislator, has been named chairman of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

The 15-member panel is charged with providing advice and assistance to the president and the Human Services secretary on a range of topics affecting people with intellectual disabilities.

Brett previously served two terms as a member of the committee under President George W. Bush. He was urged to apply for the chairmanship, he said, by the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

The Dorchester resident brings a special perspective to the committee: His late brother, Jack, the eldest of his family’s six children, was born with an intellectual disability.

Brett recalled how doctors advised his mother to institutionalize Jack, but instead she replied, “No way. He’s coming home with me. And I’m going to have more children.’’

He added: “She taught us to make sure that he’s part of everyone’s daily life. And he taught me about the issues of disability, and the challenges just to function every day. “

Brett served in the state House of Representatives for 15 years. He has been president of the New England Council since 1996. The organization promotes economic growth and a high quality of life in New England.

In 2009, the Boston Red Sox invited Brett to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park in recognition of his national contributions to people with intellectual disabilities. Jack died last September at age 76.

“I carry his picture everywhere I go,’’ said Brett. “I’m very pleased I can keep his memory alive by advocating, on a national stage, for some of those issues that were important to him.’’ — GLEN JOHNSON

Tweet of the week
After the Globe reported on Friday that Transportation Secretary Jeffrey B. Mullan handed out raises to 17 managers in his department, the reaction on Twitter was mixed — some were appalled, others defended the move, saying it was justified because of the merger of several state agencies that expanded responsibilities. Dean Cavaretta (@DeanCav), who describes himself as a former Massachusetts transportation official and staffer for GOP candidate Karyn Polito’s 2010 state treasurer campaign, said: “As former #MassDOT staff, I understand new merger, but raises are inappropriate considering @MassBudget.’’