Farewell, Dr. Patrick J. Mogan

Patrick J. Mogan (Photo (c) by James Higgins)

We learned earlier today about the passing of Dr. Patrick J. Mogan—teacher, planner, dreamer, and tireless enthusiast for Lowell. I had the privilege of working for him and with him. He was a mentor and guide to me. His purposeful and joyful commitment to bettering his adopted city inspired countless people. He could be a tough critic when he saw something that he considered to be unfair or wrong-headed. He knew where he wanted to go with a good idea. He amazed people with his relentless advocacy of the core concepts about learning and community redevelopment that he had arrived at through experience, study, and imaginative analysis. He was forever citing nuggets of wisdom and sensible insights that he had picked up through reading or meeting other smart people; at times he seemed to be speaking in proverbs, many of them based on his own observations. A nimble thinker, he was especially good at synthesizing complex thoughts and applying them to the situation at hand. He was the type of person who could see around the corner or over the edge of the horizon, figuratively, which invested his proposals with a depth of importance that made people pay extra attention.

He didn’t suffer fools, and he wasn’t fooled by self-righteous experts and officials, but he sought out and welcomed substantive expertise and serious scholarship. He always remembered that he was working for sincere Lowellians in whom he had so much confidence—and for whom he had so much respect. One of his central worries was that the revitalization of Lowell would turn Lowell residents into “spectators of their own culture.” It was important to him that the cultural revival upon which he had staked so much maintain its authentic Lowell character and be animated by Lowellians—without lapsing into provincialism or becoming stale. As a teacher, he favored learning by doing and place-based learning. He said, “Don’t confuse knowing something with understanding something.”

A couple of years ago, at the wake for his wife, Mary, he thanked me for attending and two minutes later gave me a homework assignment having to do with starting a foreign-language academy in Lowell that would be a sure-fire bet for public funding because of the national-security angle. He never stopped imagining ways to make Lowell “a good address” even after the address had been substantially improved. I will miss him. We will miss him. There is zero chance that he will fade from our collective memory. Lowell was lucky to have him for as long as it did.

Thank you, Pat.

Note to Cahill prosecutors: give it up by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

After  40 hours over 7 days of deliberation, the news is finally in: the jury in the criminal trial of former state treasurer Tim Cahill couldn’t reach a unianimous decision about whether he misappropriated public funds for campaign purposes and committed procurement fraud. The judge has declared a mistrial.

This outcome raises serious questions about the new 2009 ethics law, which criminalizes behavior previously treated as a civil offense and enforced by the state Ethics Commission. The punishment then would have been a fine, along with public shame, instead of five years in the slammer. It turns out that, as I have written before, the law and the Attorney General’s new Public Integrity Division, were using a cannon to kill a flea.

Cahill himself viewed the hung jury as “total vindication,” but that is not at all true. We don’t know what the breakdown was on the jury, how many of the members do believe he is guilty of the charges. All we know is that at least one of the 12 didn’t think he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and wouldn’t vote to convict.

At issue was Cahill’s using three quarters of the FY 2011 Lottery Commission budget to extol the virtues of, er, the lottery but in reality using the advertising budget to support his Independent gubernatorial bid.  Superfically, you might say,  that this behavior is no different from Mayor Tom Menino using construction site signage to boost his career, or Governor Deval Patrick having Turnpike anti-gun warnings enhance his visibility, or Secretary of State Bill Galvin broadcasting voter registration public service spots to strengthen his political campaigns.  Reportedly, Galvin’s ads don’t appear during an election season, but aren’t we in a perpetual campaign?  Yet none of these examples is as serious as  Cahill’s alleged transgression, based on the trail of emails, phone calls and text messages between and among Cahill’s campaign consultants and the account executives handling the lottery account.  Their communications seem to reinforce the case that the ad campaign was designed with Cahill’s candidacy in mind.  But jurors had a difference of opinion. Cahill’s testimony may have been truthful, but it strained credulity.

Some jurors may have been persuaded by Cahill’s  contention that he was innocent of charges because his face and name were deliberately excluded from the Lottery commercials. Maybe they also believed that lottery ticket buyers were legitimately turned off by negative anti-Lottery ads run by the National Republican Governors Association during the gubernatorial campaign, when Cahill’s Independent candidacy threatened to draw anti-Patrick votes from Republican Charlie Baker. The defense argued that the ads were necessary to protect the productivity of the lottery.

Under the new law, passed in in the wake of a series of political scandals, Coakley had little choice but to bring criminal charges, and the grand jury did indict.  (It is, of course, often said that, given the rules for grand jury proceedings, a grand jury “would indict a ham sandwich.”)  She was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. If Coakley failed to act, she’d be accused of a cover-up.  If she indicted Cahill, she would be accused of being too aggressive and trying to advance her own career. She has said she is running for re-election rather than for governor, but her failed attempt to convict Cahill (a tempting target inasmuch as he thumbed his nose at his party by running against Governor Patrick as an independent two years ago) reminds us of why it is so hard for attorneys general to win support of other politicians to gain higher office. If they’re doing their jobs, they’re stepping on legislators’ toes, witness the examples of Scott Harshbarger, Robert Quinn and Frank Bellotti , all of whom were unsuccessful in advancing to the corner office.

It’s not clear whether the failure to convict rests with the prosecutors or with the way the new law is written. At least one juror said it was too complicated, and jurors repeatedly turned to the judge to clarify her instructions.

For starters, the legislature should review the law, which they passed to clean up their image in the wake of Sal Di Masi’s conviction and other breaches of the public trust. Amendments may be in order.    And prosecutors, for their part, should drop the Cahill case.  Do not retry it.   Find a better case to prosecute under the new law or go back to treating this level offense as a civil violation. After all, Di Masi was convicted before the new law was even on the books. Maybe if this were a civil action with a hefty fine, Cahill wouldn’t be crowing  “total vindication.”

Regardless of which route they take, politicians will have to be much more careful about how much, using taxpayer dollars, they inject themselves in official promotions or glom onto other advertising incidental to the duties of their office.  No way should this case be seen as a green light for business as usual on Beacon Hill.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

Political implications of a Secretary of State Kerry

With UN Ambassador Susan Rice withdrawing her name for consideration as Hillary Clinton’s successor as Secretary of State, the odds that our own US Senator, John Kerry, will be named to that post by the President have increased substantially. Republican Senators quoted in this Globe article and elsewhere seem giddy at the prospect of confirming Kerry to that post. Whether they are motivated by affection for Kerry or lust after his vacant Senate seat is open to question.

John Kerry would make an outstanding Secretary of State. He’s the son of a career diplomat; a combat veteran; and someone who understands how the world works: he has traits and interests that in some ways were a detriment while running for office, be it as a Senator for re-election in Massachusetts or as the Democratic nominee for President in 2004, that would be positives to the nation’s top diplomat. But the Kerry to Secretary of State move, while appearing likely, is not a done deal. The same Globe article quotes anonymous sources at the State Department as doubting whether Kerry will be the nominee. More likely, they suggest, it will be current National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. That would open his position, which does not need Senate confirmation, for Susan Rice. The upside of this scenario for the President is that he rewards Rice for her selflessness in withdrawing her name and saving him either a tough confirmation fight if he chose her or the appearance he was cowering before Republican Senatorial bullies had he nominated someone else. Plus, not nominating Kerry would keep the Senate seat he safely holds in the Democratic column at least until the 2014 state election when that seat will be on the ballot anyway.

Should the President nominate Kerry as Secretary of State, he would undoubtedly be swiftly confirmed and would resign his Senate seat. What then? Upon receipt of Kerry’s letter of resignation, Governor Deval Patrick would be required by Massachusetts General Laws chapter 54, section 140, to set the date for a special election to fill the seat not less than 145 days nor more than 160 days from the date of the vacancy.

Let’s say the vacancy was to occur on February 1, 2013. The soonest the election could occur would be Tuesday, June 25, 2013 and the latest it could take place would be Tuesday, July 9, 2013. The date for the special election primary automatically falls six weeks before the date of the election. That means that if the election were set for June 25, the primary would be held on Tuesday, May 14; if the election were to be held on July 9, the primary would fall on May 28.

This is all speculation, but it’s intended to give some tangible dates as those of you who are politically active (isn’t everyone?) consider how you’ll be spending your late winter and spring.