BOSTON — His was not the story of Deval Patrick, or Mitt Romney or Bill Weld.
Argeo Paul Cellucci started local on the Board of Selectmen in his beloved town of Hudson and worked his way up: state representative, state senator, lieutenant governor, governor, ambassador. He was the Calvin Coolidge of his time, according to former Minority Leader Richard Tisei, and Democrats, Republicans and Canadians, alike, loved and respected him for it.
Cellucci passed away last weekend after a battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 65, and on Thursday he became the 13th public figure to lie in state under the State House rotunda. The memorial service and public viewing for the former governor drew a who’s-who to Beacon Hill, including Romney, Michael Dukakis, Jane Swift, faces from the Weld and Cellucci administrations who haven’t seen the inside of the capitol since the late 1990s, and even William Bulger and his old Senate rival David Locke.
Above all, Cellucci was remembered as a classy public servant, one who put people before party (as Gabriel Gomez is prone to say), worked across party lines, and helped define what it is to be a successful Massachusetts Republican. He never lost a political race, had a memorable affinity for movies and played a mean game of bocce, even if his talent for the game remained in question.
Among the faces in the faces in the crowd on Thursday was Bulger, the former Senate President.
While jurors in the murder and racketeering trial of his brother Whitey Bulger heard about a gun cache the alleged mobster kept close to Billy Bulger’s South Boston home, the aging pol quietly took in the Cellucci ceremony before venturing back into the chamber he led for 18 years to watch as Linda Dorcena Forry was sworn into the Senate.
A daughter of Haitian immigrants, Forry’s swearing in was routine, but symbolic of the changing face of Boston. She takes over as the representative of a Senate district that includes Mattapan, Dorchester and South Boston, the traditionally Irish stronghold from which Bulger drew his power for 26 years.
Ironically, Forry began her political career 17 years ago as a State House aide to former Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie, who is trying to make her own history running to become the first minority, female mayor of Boston. Forry mentioned her early work for Golar Richie during remarks to the Senate after she was sworn in by Patrick.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones may gotten caught up in the Cellucci nostalgia when he left the door open, if only a crack, to supporting a minimum wage hike this session in exchange for some pro-business unemployment insurance and overtime reforms.
As the Globe’s Scot Lehigh noted, Cellucci supported an effort in 1998 to hike the minimum wage after he and Weld opposed the move three years earlier. Cellucci came to the new position after Democrats pushed through the wage hike over Weld’s veto, and the feared dire effects on the economy never came to pass.
The Labor and Workforce Development Committee took hours of testimony on the minimum wage this week, bombarded by supporters who flooded the hearing to try to convince lawmakers that $8 an hour is no longer enough to support a family.
Senate President Therese Murray, who has pushed the issue so far this year, didn’t need convincing on that point, but has yet to pick the over-under on an $11 line currently set by Sen. Marc Pacheco and Rep. Antonio Cabral.
Murray, Gov. Patrick and Treasurer Steven Grossman may be reluctant to lock themselves into specific new minimum wage level, but Republican Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez suffers from no such indecision.
In his continuing attempts to appeal to moderate independent and Democratic voters, Gomez during his second debate with U.S. Rep. Edward Markey came out in direct support for a $10 federal minimum wage, $2.75 higher than the current federal minimum and $1 more than President Barack Obama called for in his State of Union.
Gomez heads in the final week of the campaign looking at multiple polls that show him within single digits of Markey. Surveys released this week by Suffolk University and WBUR showed Markey leading Gomez by seven points as the two race toward June 25.
Obama’s campaign stop in Boston Wednesday for Markey and former President Bill Clinton’s visit to Worcester on Saturday are an attempt by Democrats to drive home a simple, but important factor in the race: voters need to pay more attention because they’re not accustomed to late June elections.
“I need Ed Markey in the U.S. Senate, so this election’s going to come down to turnout,” Obama said at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury. “You can’t just turn out during a presidential election. You’ve got to turn out in this election.”
The Suffolk poll that showed Markey’s lead dwindling also showed that Patrick is a resilient brand, even in the face of continued negative attention on his welfare agencies and wasted public benefits. Sixty-five percent of voters have a favorable opinion of the second-term governor, and 66 percent approve of the job he is doing.
If Suffolk had polled municipal officials instead of likely voters, Patrick’s numbers may have been decidedly lower. The tension between the two sides has risen to an all-time high, and gone is Tim “I’m a mayor like you” Murray to try to smooth things over.
“I have to register with you a real sense of disappointment, confusion, bewilderment, a level of upsetness in terms of where we are today versus where we thought we were a few weeks ago,” Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan told Secretary Glen Shor, referring to the administration’s decision to withhold $150 million, or half, of the local road funding approved by the Legislature.
Shor said the governor is still worried that without substantial new revenues from a tax bill being negotiated between the House and Senate, the increase in Chapter 90 funding was be unaffordable. More likely – in the minds of selectmen, mayors and city councilors – is that Patrick is playing politics with their road money to gain leverage within the tax conference committee.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Who can unite four Senate presidents, two speakers, a White House chief of staff, a foreign ambassador and five governors, including two former party presidential nominees? Argeo Paul Cellucci (1948-2013)