State House News Service

State House Roundup: Fall Classic

BOSTON — In a town renowned for its fanatical passion of all things sport and politics — sometimes one and the same — the waning days of October offered up an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The leaves are falling, there’s a chill in the air and hardballs are still being thrown.

Rep. Marty Walsh and City Councilor John Connolly finished their second-to-last full week of campaigning having to compete not just against each other, but with the Red Sox and red birds, for whatever remaining bandwidth busy Boston voters might have before pulling a lever on election-day.

While Suffolk Downs worked to minimize the fallout from Caesars’ withdrawal as its casino partner due to concerns raised by the Gaming Commission over apparent ties of a Caesars associate to unsavory Russian criminal elements, Gov. Deval Patrick surfaced to announce shored up plans for electronic turnpike tolling and new Red and Orange Line T cars, before jetting to California for a little R&R with the new grandson.

With the governor in management mode as he eagerly winds down his second term in office, the administration is gearing up for a series of regional announcements about how it plans to spend the transportation financing tax revenues approved this summer. Lawmakers, advocates and municipalities are watching closely to see if their projects make the cut.

Two new polls painted differing portraits of the Boston mayoral race, by any measure still up for grabs. While a WBUR survey had the two hopefuls in a statistical dead heat with Connolly edging Walsh 41-39, a Globe/UNH poll showed Connolly with an eight-point lead over Walsh, with 19 percent still undecided.

Under these uncertain conditions, the civility that defined the preliminary elections and had been promised at the outset of the general election campaign appeared to be fading. With fliers linked to outside union groups arriving on doorsteps unflatteringly characterizing Connolly as a son of privilege, news arrived Friday of a “push poll” being conducted by a group tied to Connolly’s campaign testing negative messages against Walsh.

Connolly denied knowing anything about the robo-calls, and Walsh denounced the negative fliers, at the urging of Connolly to remain civil. Amidst this back-and-forth, Senate President Therese Murray (OFD) endorsed Walsh on Friday.

While the shenanigans in the mayor’s race may have more immediacy behind it, candidates eyeing 2014 are also starting to feel the crunch of more than the just the leaves under their feet.

Maura Healey, who last week resigned from the attorney general’s office where she had been chief of the business and labor bureau and the public protection and advocacy bureau, threw her sneakers in the race for attorney general. (She used to be a professional point-guard in Austria).

Rep. Harold Naughton, a Clinton Democrat, followed days later with an announcement video and campaign stops to start his bid for attorney general. While those two Democrats got the ball rolling, speculation continued to build that former state Sen. Warren Tolman was nearing a decision to enter the race, and sources close to Tolman indicated he was “leaning toward” running and hoped to finalize a decision before November.

With the exception of Charlie Baker running for governor, potential GOP candidates for statewide office continue to bide their time, and Cape Cod Sen. Daniel Wolf, a Harwich Democrat, pulled the plug on his nascent campaign for governor, expecting the Ethics Commission to take its time deciding whether he will have to choose between politics and his company, Cape Air.

Boston venture capitalist Jeffrey McCormick, or “Jeff Mac” as he signed one email, filed the paperwork to run for governor as an independent, further complicating the path to the Corner Office. Three years ago, another independent – Treasurer Tim Cahill – won enough votes to leave some Bakerites thinking they might have won had they gotten Patrick in a head-to-head contest. McCormick makes two independents now in the race, along with Evan Falchuk. Quitting the Republican Party and knocking it as out of touch, former Treasurer Joe Malone is backing McCormick and predicted in an interview with radio host Michael Graham that McCormick will wind up in a “terrific position” to win the race and is “not a Cahill.”

Boston played host to more than just the St. Louis Cardinals this week for the first two games of the World Series.

European officials were in town for an eHealth conference, Bill and Chelsea Clinton were honored at Harvard University, and even Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius escaped the Obamacare conflagration enveloping D.C. for the more friendly confines of Cambridge and Harvard Yard, giving new meaning to the term “sanctuary city.”

“What a great room to be in tonight. For all kinds of reasons…,” Sebelius was quoted saying to an audience on hand to mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s signing of the Community Mental Health Act. “I can tell you it’s good for my mental health.”

While Massachusetts runs its own health care exchange and website, the end of the government shutdown ushered in intensified scrutiny of the problematic rollout of the Obamacare health insurance web portal.

Before she even pleads guilty or goes on trial, the possible punishments being contemplated for former state drug lab chemist Annie Dookhan also sparked outrage in many circles for not being nearly harsh enough.

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s prosecutors requested a five to seven-year prison term for Dookhan, accused of falsifying documents and tampering with drug evidence that has led to hundreds of convictions being overturned and criminals put back on the street, only to reoffend. The judge hearing the case ruled that if Dookhan pleads guilty to the charges, and that is still a big if, her sentence will fall to between three to five years.

Enter the MassGOP quickly moving to paint Coakley as soft on crime, a tenuous connection but one that could still play on the campaign trail if enough people, and there seemed to be plenty, are upset with the outcome of the Dookhan case.

Given her frontrunner status, Coakley is enemy number one for the MassGOP who welcomed Emmalee Kalmbach from Ohio as the new communications director this week, replacing seat-warmer Will Ritter. Asked about leaving the party, Ritter replied, “I’m not leaving the party in the Joe Malone sense.”

STORY OF THE WEEK: The Boston mayor’s race heats up, as well as the city’s casino drama.

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