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State House Roundup: The Calm After The Storm Before The Storm

Although tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents remained in the dark days after Tropical Storm Irene skipped town, the lights flickered this week on political ambitions as Beacon Hill geared up for another low pressure system — gambling — moving in early next month.

The end of the summer, per tradition, meant decision time for politicians hoping to climb a rung or two up the elected ladder, and as some doors closed, others opened wide.

The first domino fell on Tuesday when the veteran, but still young, lobbyist and communications director for the AFL-CIO Tim Sullivan pulled the plug on his bid to succeed Robert Haynes as the next president of state’s largest organized labor group, ceding an unimpeded path to the union presidency to Sen. Steven Tolman.

While Sullivan likely did the math and counted that he couldn’t muster the votes to stave off Tolman, who has been a union leader and strong labor advocate in the Senate, the conclusion to the power struggle for the pole position atop the teetering labor movement in Massachusetts had ramifications beyond the union halls from Boston to Pittsfield.

With Tolman speeding toward resignation from the Senate when his election likely becomes official in October, Rep. William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat, wasted little time announcing his intentions to run for the seat Tolman will leave behind after 13 years.

Calling in from Montana where he was just one state away from completing a cross-country bike ride that will finish in Seattle, Brownsberger confirmed, “I’m in,” not worrying about how redistricting could scuttle his plans as quickly as they hatched should his hometown be drawn out of Tolman’s Boston-based district that includes parts of Cambridge and Watertown.

Rep. Jonathan Hecht, a Watertown Democrat, also told the Roundup he was watching the redistricting process with great interest and could join Brownsberger in a race for what is now the Second Middlesex and Suffolk district.

Not only will Tolman’s departure open up another mid-year vacancy in the Legislature, his successful ascension to lead the AFL-CIO will remove a senior lawmaker from Senate President Therese Murray’s leadership team warranting at least some questioning of who exactly is the heir-apparent in the upper chamber, known more recently for its cordial handoff of leadership compared to the contentious battles that have played out in the House.

U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano officially announced he would not run for U.S. Senate, while the intensity grew around Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, a self-described 5-foot-8-inch unapologetic firebrand, who will deliver the keynote at the Greater Boston Labor Council Labor Day breakfast on Monday as she prepares to make a formal announcement about her potential candidacy.

Back to school for many children also became complicated in several communities where extended power outages prompted a fresh cry from lawmakers to scrutinize whether the utilities – NStar and National Grid, in particular – were prepared for last weekend’s weakened hurricane.

And with Gov. Deval Patrick tending to flood victims and joining President Obama at the White House to prod Congress on a transportation spending bill, lawmakers began to slowly check in from their August recess destinations, some more exotic (Africa and Spain) than others.

Patrick, meanwhile, has not sniffed the capitol since departing on a 10-day vacation to Bermuda and Maine that turned into an extended respite in the Berkshires where the chief executive, according to his staff, has stayed plugged in through email and cell phone.

Irene, however, dragged him back into the public eye as Patrick donned his MEMA vest at the emergency management bunker in Framingham, and toured flood ravaged communities in western Massachusetts where heavy rains washed out roads and bridges.

Patrick even lost power to his Milton home, according to one official, but thankfully he was in Richmond at the time hunkered down like everyone else playing Scrabble with his family.

With tens of thousands of people still without power as of Thursday, Republicans and Democrats alike started the drumbeat to haul utility executives before an alphabet soup of oversight committees, while Rep. Daniel Winslow (R-Norfolk) went so far as to suggest legislation requiring customers to be reimbursed two days of electricity costs for every day without power.

No matter that the 700,000 customers without power at the peak on Sunday had been winnowed down to just 42,000, the Unitil debacle of 2008 that left homes in the dark for weeks after a severe ice storm has left public servants on high alert every time a wire goes down.

While Patrick was tending to the waterlogged residents of western Massachusetts sandwiched around his trip to D.C., the governor’s pick to fill the vacant register of probate post in the Hampshire County Probate and Family Court must have felt like he got hung out to dry before the Governor’s Council.

In a rare display of unanimous skepticism, the Council ripped William Rosen’s nomination to the top court administrator post, criticizing his lack of experience in the Massachusetts court system and questioning why Patrick would nominate someone for an elected position when another potential candidate for the post in 2012, Mark Ames, has been filling in temporarily and winning raves.

Rosen, a lobbyist and non-profit consultant with Cardinal Strategies, has been a heavy Democratic donor and Councilor’s would have voted on the spot to reject his nomination had Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray not ruled the motion out of order because the vote was not on the agenda and could have been seen as a break with protocol.

Instead, the Council will vote in two weeks when Murray returns from a trip to San Francisco for a meeting of the Democratic Lieutenant Governor’s Association, and as of Friday afternoon, Rosen had not yet withdrawn his nomination.

The last time Patrick was actually publicly in the State House, he was announcing his pick, MBTA General Manager Richard Davey, as the next in a line of transportation secretaries who has served under this administration.

Before taking over his official duties on Friday, Davey joined outgoing secretary Jeffrey Mullan in giving the press a tour of the inner sanctum of the Central Artery Tunnel, giving reporters a similar look at the trouble-plagued highway project that lawmakers received earlier this summer. Stated or otherwise, the message was, ‘See, it’s safe.”

Political operatives like to call it managing expectations, and Davey already seemed well schooled. Davey professed “no doubt” that unforeseen problems with the project would arise in the future, and promised full transparency.

Helping him with those efforts will be Cyndi Roy, the former deputy press secretary to the governor who returned to the administration to take over communications at MassDOT after a brief stint in the private sector. “It’s about time we play a little offense,” Davey said when asked about the hire.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The winds of change

This program aired on September 2, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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