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Patrick's Bad Call

Governor Deval Patrick is in damage control mode again. This time the issue is a phone conversation. The governor now says the call he placed to the financial conglomerate "Citigroup" on behalf of the mortgage company Ameriquest, was a mistake.

But political observers and some of Patrick's supporters say it's the latest in a string a blunders that undermine his credibility.

TEXT OF STORY

MARTHA BEBINGER: There was the upgrade to a Cadillac as the governor's official vehicle, the almost 30-thousand dollars spent to furnish his office and the 72-thousand dollar annual salary for the First Lady's secretary...all revelations that raised hackles during the governor's first two months of office. The governor reimbursed the state for the office renovation, is paying part of the Cadillac's monthly lease and admitted, "We screwed up." But now, there's word that the governor called Citigroup, a company that has managed billions of dollars in bond work for the state, on behalf of a mortgage company he once advised, that was seeking Citigroup financing. Richard Parker at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government calls that a major blunder.

RICHARD PARKER: It goes to classic issues of public trust in our public leaders.

BEBINGER: Parker says Patrick, in his first elected office, may not realize how different the role of the state's top public servant is from his recent work in the private sector.

PARKER: I don't think he fully grasps the consequences of his acts because he has moved in a shielded environment that hasn't caused this kind of scrutiny before. He has, so far, a tin ear for the way this will be heard by the press and the certain part of the electorate.

BEBINGER: Parker and Steve Crosby, Dean of the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston say it doesn't help that many of Patrick's top advisers also lack political experience.

STEVE CROSBY: On the one hand, that's a credit to them. We wanted change and we got change. But the down side of it is, this kind of political sensitivities, they are inexperienced at.

BEBINGER: The McCormack Institute held workshops last week for 80 members of Patrick's executive staff that focused on how the administration could affect change. Crosby says the administration has so far been more interested in big issues than in managing the media.

CROSBY: For that reason, they wouldn't have taken the Cadillac as serious issue, they'd say, people are better than that, they don't care. The issue of the phone call about Ameriquest, might be a substantive mistake, not a media mistake, but I do think it comes from their genuine belief that they were elected to take on big issues and not to be the kind of cynical media manipulators that we've had in the past.

BEBINGER: Crosby, who was Secretary for Administration and Finance for acting Governor Jane Swift sees similarities in the mistakes that defined her early months in office. The difference he sees is that Patrick was elected with a strong mandate and earned political capital that Swift never had. But some of Patrick's most ardent supporters are starting to question the governor's judgment. Charley Blandy, a co-founder of the blog, Blue Mass Group, is bothered by the phone call.

CHARLEY BLANDY: The Cadillac and the drapes and the furniture and all that, I thought that was a total side show. But this has to do with his work as governor and he doesn't get to take time off from his work as governor to make a phone call for a former employer.

BEBINGER: Other Patrick supporters are more forgiving. Todd Kaplan worked for candidate Deval Patrick on behalf of Progressive Democrats of Somerville.

TODD KAPLAN: This was a mistake, but it's a blip on the learning curve. If you look at the big picture, he's doing an incredible job. We see that and I don't see any erosion in his support.

BEBINGER: The extent of the political fallout will depend, in par, on whether controversy about the phone call takes on new dimensions. There are questions about whether Patrick's phone call violated state ethics rules. Common Cause director Pam Wilmot says there might a violation if Patrick was protecting a financial interest when he made the call. But with Patrick saying he does not have a financial interest in Ameriquest, Wilmot sees no basis for a complaint.

PAM WILMOT: It probably wasn't illegal, but would advise him to keep only one hat on and that's the governor's hat, and be very careful about these kinds of things. It creates an appearance of a problem and in politics appearances are almost as important as realities.

BEBINGER: Governor Patrick declined repeated requests for public comment yesterday. In a statement he said, "I appreciate that I should not have made the call. I regret the mistake."

This program aired on March 7, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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