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The Home Stretch: Cahill’s Down, But Not Out

Independent candidate for governor Tim Cahill at Mul's Diner in South Boston. (Lisa Tobin/WBUR)

For independent gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill, time is growing short. He has just 11 days to persuade voters to support his long-shot candidacy. In the last few weeks, his running mate defected to the Republicans, he’s sued to keep former advisers to his campaign quiet and he’s been ordered by the attorney general to stop using state money to pay for ads that tout his leadership of the state lottery. But Cahill is still in this race, campaigning and making his case.

BOSTON — Sitting in the back booth at Mul’s Diner in Southie, state Treasurer Tim Cahill takes his coffee unsweetened. “I like it straight, without sugar,” he says. “And I think that’s how I would be as a governor — is give it to people straight, without sugarcoating the challenges that we face.”

And the next governor is going to face a lot of serious challenges, many of them right upon taking office. The unemployment rate in Massachusetts is still high and the budget deficit still looms above $2 billion. So what would Gov. Cahill do on Day One in the corner office?

“Well, first thing we do by statute is we have to come up with a budget,” he says. “A budget is a political document as well, and it sort of gives your values, where you’re going to save money. If anything is sacrosanct, what is it? I don’t know if I can make a commitment that anything is off limits right now.”

So that’s Day One. A year into his term, Cahill says, he will have taken on the health care system — again. “We need to bring cost down,” he says. “I think it is a direct link to unemployment, or the lack of employment growth, because health care costs are just unaffordable, not just for individuals, but also for people who have to provide them.”

It’s hard to imagine how Cahill would actually be able to get any of this done as an independent. He will have to find a way to push legislation through a Democratic House and Senate, in a state where it has been notoriously difficult for even a Democratic governor to get things done.

“By dealing with people as individuals, not as party members,” he says. “I think that most folks in the building — not everybody, but many of the folks in the building, in the legislature — see themselves as individual representatives who are supposed to represent their districts first, their parties second.”

But those priorities often get turned upside down, Cahill says, when lawmakers have their party loyalties called into question or are asked to “do it for the speaker or the Senate president.”

Getting things done, Cahill says, requires looking “beyond the leadership” of Robert DeLeo and Therese Murray. “At its core,” he says, “what it really means is cobbling together enough of a constituency that at least can uphold a veto. If you can’t uphold a veto, you’ve really got no leverage.”

“I want to represent those people who don’t feel tethered to either side and that want to have the flexibility to think independently.”
– Tim Cahill,
independent candidate for governor

The treasurer says he has no intention of ever returning to the Democratic Party.

“I like where I am now,” he says, noting that when he first registered to vote in the 1970s, it was as an independent — a fact he had forgotten until recently.

“I didn’t remember having done it because I tended to vote for Democrats for the most part,” he says. “That’s what you did in those days: You voted a Democrat, you became a Democrat. But I want to represent those people who don’t feel tethered to either side and that want to have the flexibility to think independently and react to the situations as they come forward.”

But, as an independent in this race, Cahill had quite a time keeping his team together. Several members jumped ship, including lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Paul Loscocco, some to endorse Republican Charlie Baker. So how would Cahill put together a team he believes in — and that believes in him?

“People miss the difference between campaigning and governing,” he says. “Governing is different. So the folks that have surrounded me in Treasury will be a key part of the administration going forward. We’ll have to add to that and bring in more expertise, but they’ll be my confidants because they’ve proven in both good times and in bad times that they’re able to help me solve problems.”

And, as for not having a lieutenant governor, Cahill says that could turn out to be an advantage. It would mean not having to worry about bringing together two different parties internally.

“It’s never blown up publicly the way it has in my campaign,” Cahill says. “But it’s often sort of under the radar, where you have divisions and people dropping dimes on each other and sort of this struggle to get out from under the shadow of the governor by the lieutenant governor.”

Cahill wants to be remembered as the governor who brought jobs back to Massachusetts. It may sound simplistic, he acknowledges, but solve the jobs problem and you solve a lot of other problems, too.

“I saw it happen in my own family, when my father was unemployed,” he says. “We were faced with problems of how do we feed us, how do we pay for college, how do we keep a roof over our heads? Him getting a job solved most of those problems, not all of them, but most of those problems.”

So let’s imagine four years have gone by. A couple of voters are sitting in a booth here at the diner, and they’re talking about their governor. One of them says to the other, “I’m glad we put Cahill in the governor’s seat, because …”

How would Cahill like the man to finish that sentence?

“He gave it everything he had,” Cahill says. “And he’s working for us, not for anyone else.”

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