McWorcester: Does McGovern Run The City?

Thursday, December 05, 2013

“The real mayor of Worcester isn’t Joe Petty. It’s Jim McGovern.”

So says Chris Pinto, vice chairman of the Worcester Republican City Committee, referring to the rapid and unexpected ascent of Ed Augustus to interim city manager over the last week.

“The whole thing stinks. It’s all too cozy.”

It’s been an interesting week for Worcester and for Augustus, a former state senator and former staffer for six-term Rep. Jim McGovern. His recommendation for the position by Mayor Joe Petty, took many by surprise, as few had mentioned him as a potential candidate in the days after city manager Michael O’Brien announced his resignation last month. One week later, city council voted in virtual lockstep to approve Augustus for his new role. Most recently, Augustus served as the head of Governement Relations for The College of the Holy Cross and for a short-term was a guest MINDSETTER™ for GoLocalWorcester.com

This turn of events adds to the widespread belief is that being friends with Jim McGovern seems to pay off.

McGovernment?

McGovern has had a reputation for lending a helping hand to former staffers find new work in public posts, long before Ed Augustus became a sudden household name in the area. Besides Augustus, a number of his top staffers have gone onto high level positions. 

In some cases it hasn’t always gone so well.

In 2012, Sheila Burgess – who was once a McGovern consultant – was reassigned from her post as the director of Massachusetts Highway Safety after her driving record revealed seven accidents and four moving violations. McGovern recommended her for the $87,000 / year gig, which Gov. Deval Patrick later called “a screw-up.”

Currently, another McGovern protégée, Tim Murray was named the CEO of Worcester’s Chamber of Commerce earlier this year. Murray, who had previously campaigned for McGovern in his victorious run against Peter Blute in 1996, was initially the center of buzz as a possible replacement for O’Brien, before professing no interest in the job.

To add to the intrigue, McGovern relocated his office to downtown Worcester in July.

That this has all one down in “the most partisan city in the state” is no surprise to Pinto.

Despite having a different political affiliation than Pinto, Councilor Konnie Lukes would seem to agree. She is on the record as calling the move “blatantly political,” and would prove be the only naysayer in a city council that otherwise voted unanimously. Phone calls and e-mails to Mrs. Lukes for comment were not returned.

Among those who voted in favor: Joseph C. O’Brien, a former McGovern staffer.

Friends In Washington

Paul Giorgio, a longtime Democratic Party activist, isn’t so quick to see a conspiracy. “I don’t think McGovern controls anything.”

Instead, Giorgio sees the relationship between Augustus and McGovern, viewed by some as an embodiment of insider politics, as a positive. “If you want to get things done, you need a partner in Washington.

“You can’t get things done solely on the backs of Worcester tax payers. You need federal dollars. You need state dollars. $10 million to renovate City Square, most of that money isn’t coming from Worcester. It’s state money. Funding for JetBlue, that’s federal money, that’s FAA money.”

Giorgio says Augustus will bring “fresh eyes on issues and problems in Worcester. “He’s a logical choice.”

Then again, he may have been city council’s only choice.

“What talented businessman in the private sector would quit their job to make less money putting up with partisan politics?” asks Pinto. “Who would do that?”

“Whoever would, would have to kiss McGovern’s ring first.”

“I don’t know anyone else locally who was interested,” Giorgio concedes. Giorgio wrote a strong column in support of Augustus this week in his MINDSETTER™ role for GoLocalWorcester.

The People Are Voiceless

That voters in Worcester have had no choice but to watch McGovern play puppeteer with the city’s public officials sticks in the craw of Pinto, and many others. However, he laments that the electorate’s only current recourse is to “email their councilors and voice their displeasure. They can show up at meetings.

“That’s about it.”

  • 1) City Manager's Position May Be Vacant

     
    Michael O'Brien may leave to take a position in the private sector. O'Brien has been the proverbial glue that has held City Hall together.  O'Brien is a competent fiscal manager and keeps the peace among the City Council.
     
    Top-level government pros are NOT likely to line up for the Worcester job. Petty will be on the hot seat to find  talent in the post-O'Brien era.
     
  • 2) Economic Development Mixed Reviews

    The recent series in the Boston Globe and the overview in GoLocal outlined the lack of success Worcester has had in creating a comprehensive economic development plan.  The results of the new construction has created some hope, but there lacks a comprehensive vision and the building seems to be developed in a vacuum.  Mayor Petty seems to be extraneous except for the ribbon cutting ceremonies. 
     
    The biggest embarrassment was his lack of input into the casino process. Petty had no public opinion on the projects proposed in Worcester or the projects in adjacent towns.
     
  • 3) New Council

    The new City Council will have its own personality, while the old council failed to debate or discuss - and too often voted in block.

    A number of the council members just elected have promised to be more proactive. This could be a challenge for Petty -- or an opportunity to drive proactive change leveraging new ideas and new energy.

     
  • 4) Telegram Closing?

     
    Since John Henry purchased both the Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram, there have been a series of indications that Henry has a strong desire to invest in the Globe and has not said a public word or even visited the Telegram. Media experts have prophesied that the Telegram could be rolled into the Globe - a Globe West edition.
     
    This would leave New England's second largest city  without a daily newspaper. What has been deafening is Petty's lack of leadership on this issue.  Can you imagine Tom Menino or Buddy Cianci waiting for a decision to be made on Morrissey Boulevard?
     
  • 5) Lack of Diversity in Worcester's Government 

     
    As GoLocal previously reported, more than 40 percent of Worcester's population is a minority, but you would not know it by who gets the city jobs. Worcester has more than 1,600 full- and part-time city employees and well over 80 percent of them are white.
     
    In almost every department, the number of white workers far outnumbers minorities; some departments are as much as 98 percent white. It is a startling disparity in a city known for its diversity. There has been no concerted public effort to change this by Petty.
     
  • 6) Republican Governor Factor

    Worcester may not be as wired to the Patrick Administration since Lt. Governor Murray resigned and returned to Worcester, but the Democratic Mayor can get his phone calls answered in the State House. 
     
    The next Governor of the Commonwealth could be Charlie Baker. The Democrats are looking at a bruising primary between AG Martha Coakley and Treasurer Steve Grossman, while Charlie Baker is looking like he may get a free ride through the GOP primary. Baker may not be so quick to be concerned about Joe Petty's phone calls.
     
  • 7) Legacy

    Every Mayor wants to leave his or her city better than they found it -- and wanst to put a mark on the history of the City. Some Mayors focus on schools and others on major developments.
     
    Mayor Petty has yet to define his priorities and the second term is the time to unveil a game plan on why he was the man for the job.