On a day when Senator Scott Brown sought to fan further questions about Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has not been shy about praising Brown, made clear he is fed up with the issue.
“I think she has come clean but nobody has let her off the hook,” Menino said. “It’s not relevant at all in the campaign. Let’s talk about the real issues: education, housing, crime. Those are the real issues we should be talking about. This is one of the issues that you [use to] try to divert as a candidate because you can’t deal with the real issues.”
Menino’s comments, which he made just before joining Brown for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Faneuil Hall, are potentially significant because the Democratic mayor has often had kind words for the Republican senator and represents the kind of lunch-bucket values that Brown seeks to embrace.
Menino has irked Democrats by refusing to publicly endorse Warren, a statement he reiterated today.
Brown, asked about Menino’s contention that controversy surrounding Warren’s ancestry is a distraction from more substantive issues, said, “I think that’s up to the voters.”
Continuing to hammer the issue, he accused Harvard University of falsely reporting to the federal government that Warren, a law school professor who is now his Democratic challenger, was a Native American.
Brown pointed to a report in today’s Boston Globe that said that for at least six years during Warren’s tenure, Harvard reported in federally mandated diversity statistics that it had a Native American woman in its senior ranks at the law school.
According to both Harvard officials and federal guidelines, those statistics are almost always based on the way employees describe themselves. Harvard and federal guidelines both use a definition of Native American that Warren does not appear to fit.
Warren has said she believes she is part Native American, based on what her mother and others family members have told her about their lineage. She has, however, not produced any tangible evidence of her connection to Indian tribes.
“Now that Harvard and others know she’s not [Native American], they need to correct the record,” Brown told reporters after the ribbon-cutting. “If there’s been misreporting then it’s Harvard, with its over 400-year history of getting to the truth and being an institution of facts and truth, that needs to correct the record.”
Brown argued that because Harvard counted Warren as a Native American, the university was “potentially hurting other Native Americans who could have potentially gotten those jobs.”
Harvard responded by releasing a statement saying it “adheres to the Department of Education and Department of Labor regulations and guidance concerning the reporting of race and ethnicity.”
Brown has repeatedly called on Harvard to release records that could shed light on how Warren and the school classified her heritage. But the law school has a policy that bans divulging personal information about its employees, including race or ethnicity.
A Suffolk University/7News poll released this week indicated that the focus on Warren’s ancestry has not hurt her. The poll indicated that although 73 percent of likely voters were aware of the controversy, 69 percent said it was not a significant story.
On Thursday, Warren sought to bat away questions about her heritage, and put the focus back on Brown’s record. “Scott Brown wants to hammer on my family and I think what matters to the people of Massachusetts is how they’ve been hurt by his votes,” she said.
Brown said Friday that he was “highly offended” by the suggestion he is attacking Warren’s family.
But even on stage at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, he could not escape the partisan fire from his Senate race. US Representative Michael E. Capuano, clearly needling Brown, who was seated at his side, declared twice that the funding to renovate the hall came from the stimulus package and from an earmark.
As the crowd applauded the Somerville Democrat’s comments, Brown, who has been critical of both earmarks and the stimulus program, sat quietly with his hands folded.
“That’s Mike being Mike,” Brown said afterward. “I don’t really pay too much attention.”Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.