Talk Turns To Romney At Cellucci ALS Fundraiser

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Former Gov. Paul Cellucci, who has ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease, reunited with some of Massachusetts' most prominent politicians, both past and present, at a fundraiser in South Boston Thursday night. The event was held to raise money for ALS research at the UMass Medical School.

The Elephant Not In The Room

Three of the last four Republicans who occupied the governor's office were there: Jane Swift, Bill Weld, and Paul Cellucci, looking frail three years after his ALS diagnosis. With so many politicians in the room, the talk quickly turned to the one former Republican governor who was not there: Mitt Romney.

Cellucci supports Romney in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination. He talked about how Romney's prolonged primary campaign could actually help him if he gets the nomination.

"I remember the tough primary campaign I had in 1998 with Joe Malone," Cellucci said. "It really got me ready for that general election campaign against Scott Harshbarger. So I'm not one who thinks that if it drags out it's going to hurt the chances of the Republican nominee. I think it may well strengthen the chances."

"I'm quite sure Gov. Romney will be the nominee, and I think he'll be a great nominee."

Former Gov. Bill Weld

Weld, too, is backing Romney, but he's hedging his bets on who might win the general election.

"I'm quite sure Gov. Romney will be the nominee, and I think he'll be a great nominee," Weld said. "I think the result in the final is going to be decided by macro factors, economically domestic factors and foreign policy factors as well, so it's totally impossible to predict at this point. It completely could go to the Republicans or to the Democrats at the presidential level."

Old Rivals Working Together

The event also drew Cellucci's old rival, Joe Malone, as well as the Democratic speaker and senate president  he worked with, Tom Finneran and Tom Birmingham. Lt. Gov. Tim Murray was there and, right off the plane from Washington, Sen. Brown, who wanted to show his support for Cellucci's efforts.

"He's out there really taking on an issue that's very important not only to his family but to many people in Massachusetts," Brown said.

Brown also had a personal reason to be there.

"I have a dear friend, George Mazareas, played basketball with him at Tufts, who is in a similar situation, who is actually more advanced, so I wanted to come out and support him, " Brown said.

Brown said he learned a lot from Cellucci about working across party lines.

But for all talk of politics in the room, this was, after all, an event to raise money for research into ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases. Tickets were $500. Many corporate sponsors donated more. UMass won't have the total raised until next week. Cellucci wants to create a $10 million endowment for UMass Medical. With Cellucci last night was Robert Brown, the chairman of the UMass Medical neurology department.

"The concept is to create a fund which allows essentially discretionary use for some of the most exciting and innovative ideas, both in terms of discovery, what can cause ALS, and how to treat it," Robert Brown said. "One of the points to emphasize is that when one goes, for example, after [National Institute of Health] funding, which indeed, we do, one has to have good evidence that an idea looks like it's going to work."

The money raised by Cellucci would work as seed money. It would allow researchers to pursue the most cutting-edge research, and if they're successful, they could then go back to the National Institutes of Health for more funding.

This program aired on March 16, 2012.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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