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State House Roundup: Fred Laskey And The Standells

Could it be that Democrats have found their champion, a charismatic ore of Romneyian fix-it-iveness and Patrickian stick-to-itiveness up to the task of challenging the political meteor that is Scott Brown in 2012?

Because while Scott Brown, now a U.S. senator, was down in Washington writing legislation and stuff that would expatriate terrorists like the one who tried to blow up Times Square this week, Fred Laskey was performing the Promethean task of giving 2 million people back their clean water.

So Laskey hasn't shown much proclivity for elected office over the last few decades, serving in a variety of senior fiscal roles before establishing himself in 2001 as executive director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. And it's not a great first impression being the guy who explains to metropolitan Boston why they shouldn't wash their hands in the sink or, if they do, make sure to Purell after.

But no news event captures the public imagination like one that affects the public, and the rupture in Weston of a water main, less than a decade old and responsible for hydrating a third of the state's population, ruled the first part of the week. While a generation learned what it was like to purify water the old-fashioned way, and some store shelves cleared of bottles while others remained oddly plentiful, Laskey quickly became the face of the restoration, which finally occurred Tuesday morning, followed by reports that, actually, the dirty water hauled in from other reservoirs wasn't so bad after all. Sick days across the area were canceled with disappointment.

Even Gov. Deval Patrick's campaign rivals didn't want a piece of this one, declining to take shots at the administration's response. What an independent panel that formed this week will find is anyone's guess, the evidence having washed down the Charles. The guv flashed his South Side - "you better believe" - in threatening recoupment against whomever might be found at fault.

Presumptive Republican nominee Charles Baker was one of those declining to attempt mileage off what was quickly dubbed the Aquapocalypse. Instead, at a Tuesday press conference outside the State House, Baker unfurled the 13 reforms, accompanied by a nickname too kitschy to repeat, that he said could net taxpayers $1 billion in savings. Some of them, he said, would likely have cleared the Legislature this session with a little encouragement from Patrick, whose reform credentials both Baker and Independent Treasurer Timothy Cahill have been savaging.

Things derailed for Baker when a reporter asked whether a proposal to deny state services to anyone who did not produce proof of legal residency meant turning people away from the Pine Street Inn. Baker quickly answered that it did, one of those answers you wish you could recall pretty much right away. He appeared to back off a day later, a spokesman explaining that the former state budget chief and health insurer executive had meant long-term assistance, not emergency help, should be restricted to legal residents. But that came after Patrick had pounced, saying veterans and families with kids would be affected under a policy he called "inhumane and wrong."

Baker then rammed Patrick over the famed $384 million fiscal trap Gov. Romney left for him, an amount Romney scooped from the budget and Patrick promptly put back - over, as it happens, the objections of Baker, a transition adviser on fiscal policy to Patrick. That was, in the eyes of some politicos who like both men, the beginning of the destruction of relations between Baker and Patrick, who share Harvard and rich chums, etc. Now, Patrick poses an affront to Baker's integrity and Baker whips out the Statutory Basis Financial Report that insists there was a $78 million surplus. It's largely about semantics, and point of view, and speaks to Patrick's message that he's been an able fiscal manager and Baker's argument that the governor has been the exact opposite.

While Patrick and Baker dueled over reform and homelessness, Independent Treasurer Timothy Cahill was battling long distance, with Republican Governors Association chief and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who likely had not heard of Tim Cahill a year ago and who cuts one of the more intriguing profiles among the prospective 2012 presidential contenders. A hugely successful former lobbyist who's personally, and unlikely, well-liked by Patrick, Barbour is in charge of the ads that have been tagging Cahill the past few weeks as a profligate king of cronyism, whose fictional receptionist is shocked by the agency's supposed shadiness and fearful of his approach.

The treasurer returned serve Wednesday with a knifing web ad depicting Barbour - a self-described "fat redneck" - in states of unflattering corpulence and proximity to former President George W. Bush, and giving a casual Cahill the chance to respond to the ads. "Who you gonna believe?" asks Cahill. "The guy from Yazoo City, Mississippi, or the guy from Quincy?"

That set off volleys between the RGA and Cahill adviser John Weaver, formerly a top strategist to John McCain's presidential campaign, wherein Weaver explicitly laid out the direction in which Cahill's campaign has been drifting. "Cahill is the more conservative candidate," Weaver wrote in an email printed in POLITICO. Weaver said he had opposed the ad, which shows Barbour back-dropped by the Confederate flag, which does not poll well in Massachusetts, but that Cahill had "a right to defend himself." Weaver called Baker "a fiscal ultra liberal."

The state of play: something like 12 percent of the state count as registered Republicans, about 37 percent are Democrats, leaving 51 percent unenrolled, and the formerly Democratic treasurer who endorsed the leftmost Democrat four years ago but has since unenrolled is now running against that Democrat and to the right of the Republican.

Due to the aquatic chaos, Patrick scratched a midweek trip to Chicago for a biotech convention, but the pace of recovery allowed him to hide out to California late in the week to deliver the commencement address at Loyola Marymount, where Mrs. P graduated law school, and to drum up some campaign cash in L.A. Tremendous pains were taken from Saturday through Tuesday to show that the guv was on the case. It wasn't quite like the Mittster delivering tunnel engineering lessons to baffled reporters post-tunnel collapse in 2006, but Patrick spent a considerable amount of time in the Framingham bunker this week.

Illustrative of the administration's hustle to keep the words "Katrina" and "Patrick" as far away from each other as possible, there was the governor's communications director, Kyle Sullivan, hitting send on the 4 a.m. email Tuesday announcing restoration of full service - except to Saugus, approved later. To be clear, this is like Babe Ruth sweeping out the clubhouse, Jefferson straightening the stacks afterhours, or, in the parlance of the Patrick press office, Lennon lugging Ringo's drum kit. Gods do not answer letters, and gubernatorial communications directors do not write press releases.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Pipe rupture sets Greater Boston to boiling and bottling.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Now that's bullying." - Unnamed administration official Monday, as the string of elected officials set up camp in front of the capitol's Grand Staircase for a dog-and-pony bill-signing. Nothing unusual there except that the pols were standing directly in front of the ankle-biting props they'd brought in to show off - children who understandably began to flag after the wearying congratulatory, self- and otherwise, remarks and took a seat on the steps, putting them roughly at eye level with the backsides of the still-talking pols.

TIMING: The Boston Convention Center Authority is looking for a new, 1,000 room hotel near the South Boston exhibit hall, and they want you to fetch some (all?) of the tag, which could hit $700 million. Convention officials point out that the region is foregoing untold revenues by not offering the big-ticket events the option of conveniently coming to Boston because of a shortage of nearby hotel beds. Problem is, the as-yet-undisclosed tax increment financing plan comes as the state's finances gimp into a fiscal year that starts in July with a $2.5 billion structural deficit.

This program aired on May 7, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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