Patrick Fields Tough Questions From Third Graders

A reporter's notebook

Gov. Deval Patrick, in early January (Nick Dynan for WBUR)
Gov. Deval Patrick, in early January (Nick Dynan for WBUR)

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Gov. Deval Patrick traveled to a New Bedford elementary school Tuesday morning to announce that Bay State fourth graders are tops in the nation when it comes to test scores in science. Eighth graders are in second place, just a point below their peers in North Dakota.

After announcing the results, as determined by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the governor invited questions from a class of third graders at the Jireh Swift Elementary School.

After an awkward silence, and some prodding by New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang, one boy named Logan asked the first question.

"What's it like being governor?" Logan wondered.

"Way cool," answered the governor. "It's fun. You get to meet interesting people. I get to go to schools all over the commonwealth, which I try to do once a week or so. And there are big, hard issues, big puzzles that you try to solve. Think of it as a lot of puzzles all stacked up — with deadlines." The governor chuckled.

"I’ve been listening to John Legend a lot lately," Patrick said. "Do you know John Legend?” Blank stares came back from the third graders.

With the first question out of the way, hands began popping up among the students.

"Do you have any pets?" asked one girl named Haley.

"I do," Patrick said. "Now just one dog; we lost a dog just a little bit before Christmas. But we have an almost 2-year-old black lab."

"Is it easy being the governor?" queried Ian.

"No, no, no, — but fun" Patrick said. "I like things that are challenging, but you know, like in any job, you have good days and bad days. Mostly they're good days, that's why I wanted to do it again."

Jared wanted to know about the governor's family, asking if he had any children.

"My wife and I have two children," Patrick said. "Two daughters, 25 and 21. So they're grown up. They're great."

Then Tyler piped up with a question that seemed to stump the governor.

"What's your favorite song?" he asked.

The corridor, which was filled with the students, teachers and the media, erupted in laughter.

"Wow, wow! That's a really hard question," Patrick stalled. "I like a lot of different music. I've been listening to John Legend a lot lately. Do you know John Legend?"

Blank stares came back from the third graders.

"We'll work on that," the governor added.

A girl named Diani, wearing a bright pink sweatshirt, then asked the governor his favorite color.

Again, Patrick seemed to be taken aback by the question, and looked at his gray suit and lavender tie as if searching for the answer.

"I don't know, I like blue," the governor said, and then turned the question to young Diani.

"Pink," she responded, without missing a beat.

And just like the State House press corps who never seem to hear the “last question” plea by the gubernatorial aide, a girl named Ashley managed to get her question out.

"Oh no, no kidding?" kidded the governor.

A boy named Dana, with a hairstyle similar to the governor's, asked a styling question.

"Where do you get your haircut?" Dana asked.

"What a great question! It's a great question because my sister is a hairdresser. And mostly I get my haircut from her. You can't beat the price, too, by the way!"

A little girl by the name of Jenaya then piped up with a question.

"What's your favorite book?" she asked.

"I like a bunch of different books. Have you ever read any Mark Twain?" Again, like the John Legend response, blank stares. "He was a famous novelist and essayist who lived a long time ago, not too far from here," the governor said, shifting to more of a teacher mode. "He grew up in the South and wrote about growing up on the Mississippi River. I love the way he writes.

"I also like to read history, biographies mostly, and there is a writer named William Manchester who used to teach at Wesleyan University and he wrote some amazing biographies including about a guy named Winston Churchill which I really like."

And just like they do when the governor is fielding questions from the news media, one of his aides interjected there was time for just one more question, even though a dozen hands remained in the air.

"What's your favorite food?" Rebecca asked.

"I like all food," Patrick said as he puffed out his chest and patted his stomach. "I like to cook, so I like just about everything. I don't think I've eaten anything that I didn't like."

"I should take that back," he added as an addendum. "My mother was a dreadful cook. I loved her, I loved her, but it was not her strong suit."

And just like the State House press corps who never seem to hear the "last question" plea by the gubernatorial aide, a girl named Ashley managed to get her question out.

"Have you ever read any Harry Potter books?" Ashley asked.

"I love Harry Potter!" squealed the governor.

The two then got into a discussion about the books versus the movies (both agreed the books are better, but Ashley thought the movies showed a little more action.) The governor then began to take some questions from reporters about a few of those puzzles stacked up on his desk.

This program aired on January 25, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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