Romney As Executive: Big Dig Crisis Management

The final entry of a six-part series

Then-Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to reporters in front of his office at the State House in Boston on July 27, 2006, about the resignation of Mass. Turnpike Authority chairman Matt Amorello after a ceiling panel killed a motorist in a Big Dig highway tunnel. (AP)

Then-Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to reporters in front of his office at the State House in Boston on July 27, 2006, about the resignation of Mass. Turnpike Authority chairman Matt Amorello after a ceiling panel killed a motorist in a Big Dig highway tunnel. (AP)

BOSTON – On July 11, 2006, Boston area residents woke up to shocking news.

A concrete slab had killed 38-year-old Milena Del Valle and injured her husband, Angel, after it fell from the I-90 connector tunnel onto their car. Drivers were terrified.

Although Turnpike Authority Chairman Matt Amorello called it an “anomaly,” anxiety about the tunnels spiked. In response, Gov. Mitt Romney came home from vacation in New Hampshire and went right to work.

Tom Trimarco, then secretary of administration and finance, says Romney “thrives” on problem solving.

Trimarco and Romney attended a two-hour briefing with the Turnpike Authority’s lead engineer and later that day Romney spoke to reporters, saying that the public should not drive through turnpike tunnels “with their fingers crossed.”

Mary Connaughton was a member of the turnpike board at the time and she says Romney sized up exactly what the public needed.

“They wanted someone with an independent view of this to make sure that the tunnels were indeed safe,” Connaughton says.

Romney called for the turnpike chair to step down. Within 72 hours he passed emergency legislation to get control of inspecting the Big Dig.

He personally called forensic engineering firms to get them interested in the investigation. And he made sure his man in charge of the audit reported directly to him. Romney remained the public face of the investigation. He gave regular Powerpoint presentations to the press and looked like the lead engineer and CEO.

“My first thought was that he seized the photo opportunity moment,” the Boston Globe’s Joan Vennochi says. Vennochi questions his character as a leader.

“Whether he ever held himself accountable for what led up to what had happened. No. I don’t think he did that,” she says.

Instead, Vennochi says Romney shifted all the blame to the man running the Big Dig in that moment.

“[Romney] chose to focus on one person — Matt Amorello — who was someone he had not appointed,” Vennochi explains. “And he was the scapegoat for everything bad that had happened.”

Another problem was that Romney had promised to take control of the Turnpike Authority during his gubernatorial campaign. Once he was in office, Romney tried to remove Amorello from his job as chairman.

But according to Trimarco, Romney ran into trouble with legislative leaders who supported Amorello. These were the same leaders he would need on his side to pass major health care reform. According to Trimarco, Romney made a political calculation.

“He needed to work closely with the Senate president and the speaker on that issue,” Trimarco says. “And they agreed to disagree on Amorello and the governor backed off.”

Romney wouldn’t talk to us about this story. But back in 2006, while he briefed reporters on safety in the Big Dig, Romney took several questions about why he hadn’t taken over the Big Dig sooner, like he promised. Romney blamed the Legislature.

“The problem was — and you know this — the State House didn’t want me to get control,” Romney said.

Some people still don’t buy it. Christy Mihos was an outspoken member of the Turnpike Authority board. He ran for governor as an independent and then as a Republican in 2010. He says he brought information about safety problems to the governor and Romney dismissed them.

“Mitt always had intentional indifference to the Turnpike Authority’s issues and the Big Dig’s problems,” Mihos says. “But he had a front seat to all of this and just chose to do nothing.”

Mihos says there were other ways to get control of the Big Dig. Romney could have cut off money to the project, which we controlled. But that may have also compromised Romney’s relationship with Beacon Hill lawmakers.

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  • Anonymous

    From: The
    Massachusetts Whistleblower

    Wait a minute Radio Station  WBUR
    on any praise reporting for Romney on the Waste, Fraud, and Abuse or on the tragic
    accident of the projectthat should have been avoided and forewarned on questionable
    engineering design deficiencies of a project that went from $2.3 Billion to
    $23 Billion Plus.  This is the worlds most
    expensive  misguided shoddy so called
    transportation project of the 21st century.

    I have respect
    for Christy Mihos for his efforts to bring and expose the massive shortcomings
    of the project that many valiantly fought to expose for years during both
    Republican and Democratic State and Federal Administrations. But, Mihos
    continuous defense of Romney is not acceptable. Any praise of Romney service by
    Tom Trimarco who also served as point political appointee and damasge control
    spokesperson for the scandalous administration of former Treasurer Joe Malone
    is a further outrage.

    As for Boston
    Globe Columnist Joan Vennochi making any statement on the Big Dig failure is
    absolutely wrong. I cannot recall her ever having a strong accountability
    record of calls on the project. I remind all the comments of Jon Keller former Editorial
    Page Columnist for The Boston Globe when asked why both Boston Newspapers did not
    do more to expose the project….both newspapers were in the tank.  Joan on this one-clean up your comments and
    hopefully you are not carrying water for some lobbyist or PR Campaign Friend.

    As someone who
    has been there along with others who tried valiantly to sound the alarm and
    blow the whistle on the Big Dig Scam……WBUR could do better in reporting.



  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Welker/1157592320 Brian Welker

    Blue state corruption at its finest. What else would you expect from a state where the last two Democrat Speakers of the House went to jail? The citizens of MA routinely elect crooks and and deserve all of the results of the corruption that they apparently expect and enjoy.

  • MM

    Style-wise he reminds me of Obama. This article strengthens that impression. No, that is not a compliment.

  • hankbrad

    Instead, Vennochi says Romney shifted all the blame to the man running the Big Dig in that moment.

    Properly so.  Romney was neither designer nor contractor – he had no license as either one.  Responsibility had to lie on the man in charge of the engineers and contractors, whose job it was to ensure that a good design had been made – and checked – and that the contractor followed the plans and specifications.  He failed at both those tasks, and was justly booted out of his position.

  • http://twitter.com/MrFeverHead Mr. Fever Head

    So let’s get this straight: Mitt Romney campaigned saying he’d fix Big Dig problems. After being elected he called for the project lead to be removed. The legislation fought him until disaster strikes.  The legislature then agrees to remove the manager and Mitt Romney fixes the problem. Obviously the problem is Mitt Romney.   


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_F5G5WGXPDTYCHQVMMSSL47OXFM Quayle

    This is a complete crap piece of journalism spin because the underlying facts appear to not matter at all, and the narrative is so forced it is laughable.

    Let’s get the basic facts straight:

    1. Mitt always wanted to replace the guy that was in charge of the project that utter failed (cost and time), had a design flaw, and/or materials flaws.

    2. But the overwhelmingly Democrat legislature said no.

    3. And when someone got killed, Mitt was able to use that to take control and clean up the department that had failed the citizens.

    And now some lackey feeding the reporter said that Mitt didn’t try hard enough to take over the Turnpike Authority before the accident because he wanted to pass HIS healthcare bill.

    Which makes absolutely zero sense.

    For that to make sense you’d have to believe that nobody in the legislature – no Democrat – wanted to pass healthcare themselves, and Mitt needed to sacrifice every other wish he had (like taking over the Turnpike Authority) to try to preserve every last Democrat vote he could get on healthcare.  In an overwhelmingly Democrat legislature.

    That is nonsense.  Mitt got told no on the Turnpike Authority takeover, and he realized that he couldn’t get that done – until someone got killed -  and he didn’t need to do anything to get Democrat votes on a healthcare bill.

    Of the three main actors in this factual scenario, the blame, if it lies anywhere, lies first with the Tunpike Authority, and second with the legislature, and if any is left over, with Romney.

    Exactly the opposite of what the article tries to say.

  • Metanis

    So now the bitter Left is claiming that Mitt is no good because he didn’t act like an autocratic dictator and stomp his feet until he got his way?

  • Alan

    This shoddy hit-piece makes me want to vote for Mitt.

  • gs

    1. Nowhere does this piece mention that Amorello is a former (Republican) Senate Minority Leader. 

    2. Maybe Romney tried to dismiss a fellow Republican in the interests of
    good government, but the bipartisan hackocracy closed ranks
    until the incompetence got too big to ignore. I don’t know if this
    interpretation is correct, but it makes no less sense than the spin in the

    3. Commenter Alan described the article as a “shoddy hit-piece”.

    Shoddy? Obviously.

    A hit piece against a Republican front-runner?  Well, the article was written
    by a Princeton cultural anthropology major and published by an NPR

  • http://twitter.com/pishabh pishabh

    I’ve had bowel movements that stood on more firm ground than this sophmoric hit piece 

  • wareinparis

    Mitt Romney is not a lot different from many others in that he wants credit, but does not accept blame. This may be a poorly written hit piece by the Left, but that doesn’t make Romney any better than he is. And what he is does not include the stuff that the POTUS needs to be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1540957749 Barry L Alexander

    Well what do you want, a person who gets things done by “compromise” or someone who gets little done by being “intolerant”.  His takeover was allowed by the legislators who would not allow it previously.  Sure the person in charge of the project is responsible and the person who is not his boss is not!!!

  • smc

    So Mitt holds the people accountable, takes it upon himself to personally oversee every aspect of the inspections and corrections, all the while keeping the public completely informed of all proceedings.  I remember living in Boston at the time that this occurred and getting regular updates.  Shame on you for bashing him for doing an excellent job here.  But I suppose you’re used to your candidate making huge miscalculations, bad decisions, and hiding them from the public.

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