Archive for the ‘Massachusetts Politics’ Category

Farewell to Charles E. Doyle

October 17, 2008

Charles E. Doyle 

Occasionally this blog tells the story of the great personalities who comprise the fabric of the city, the ones who you won’t necessarily read about in the daily newspapers. One of those people died this week, Charlie Doyle of Brighton.

If I were forced to reduce Doyle’s life to headlines, which is always difficult, I’d describe him as the leader — the innovator really — of a vibrantly progressive ward committee in Brighton, Ward 21, a long-time city politico, having run the City of Boston’s Cable Office under a number of city mayors, a political visionary and a Bostonian’s Bostonian.

But I can’t really boil Doyle down to that, because he was much, much more. His story begins amid the simmering liberalism of the late 1950s and early 1960s — before it turned into the cauldron of the latter part of that decade. He graduated from the now-defunct St. Columbkille High School of Brighton and travelled down Commonwealth Avenue to attend Boston University. There he electrified fellow students with his encyclopedic knowledge of politics and history. Then he went even farther afield for a graduate program at Columbia University in New York City. New York, at that time, was a place of swirling intellectual and political foment. Charlie and I talked about that period in his life when I visited with him at the Cable Office in the mid-1990s. It helped power a intellectual engine, but he came back to Brighton to make a difference.

When he came back, Charlie put into practice his knowledge of the burgeoning field of political science. At a time when most ward committee work was limited to distributing political signs, Doyle was turning it into a science. He gathered detailed voter data, compiled demographic information, and kept the best data bases in the city.

My grandparents lived in Brighton for much of my life, and I thought I knew the neighborhood. That was until I called Doyle for a story. In painstaking — and delicious — detail, he broke down the differences between the liberal, but sometimes transient, Ward 21, and the more socially-conservative, Ward 22.

He was a skilled photographer. His work, which was on display at his wake, could serve as a pictorial history of Boston with vintage photos of Kevin White, Larry Bird and others. He was ahead of the curve on a trend that has become very popular today, bicycle riding. I remember on him tooling around his bike at Nantasket Beach in Hull. He remained a political junkie until the end, relishing WGBH’s Friday night line up of political shows, beginning with Greater Boston.

But, most of all, Doyle was the quiet creator of a political dynasty in Brighton. He took the two basketball-loving sons of his sister Mary under his wing and imparted to them everything he ever knew about politics. It was his gift. He bestowed it on the dogged and lovable Kevin Honan, who has become as reliable and earnest a representative as that neighborhood has ever had. And he delivered it to the charismatic, witty and talented Brian Honan, who served Brighton as a city councillor and then was running a rigorous campaign for district attorney, when he died suddenly and tragically at the age of 39 in 2002.

I can’t say that Charlie was the same after that. But who would be.

There was something awful about seeing many of the same faces at the funeral home on Chestnut Hill Avenue yesterday. Amidst the pain, people were talking about one of Charlie’s great final achievements. Back in 2005 and 2006 a former Clinton Administration official, little known in the Boston area, started making the rounds trying to meet people and build up a grass roots political organization. He was, of course, Deval Patrick. Most insiders met Patrick with indifference at best.

Doyle was different. He welcomed Patrick to a ward committee meeting. There he grilled the would-be governor. Why was he any different than any of the other great progressive candidates, whose candidacies failed after great fanfare? Patrick convinced many in the ward that he was different. He took 14/18 delegates at the caucuses that year.

With Doyle’s departure, like the death of Boston-chronicler Alan Lupo a couple weeks ago, the city is a poorer place, one more in danger of losing its character and characters.

Ted Kennedy and His Legacy

May 21, 2008

Everyone in Massachusetts is still digesting the terrible, terrible news about Ted Kennedy.

I wrote a news story about it for The New York Sun.

During my reporting for that story I reached out to Marty Nolan, the Globe’s historic Washington bureau chief. Here’s what he wrote (You may not be able to read Nolan in the Globe, but you can read him at!):

“I first met Ted Kennedy in the lobby of the Parker House in 1962, when he said he was eager not only to run against Eddie McCormack, then the Mass. AG, but eager to debate him fior the U.S. Senate.
The figuring among Bay State pundits was that Kennedy would duck debates because of his thin public record as Suffolk Co. Asst DA and all the favoritism, nepotism charges that would arise. ‘Starting at the top,’ they called it and they were right. He had just turned 30, the Constitutionally eligible age for the Senate on Feb. 22. This means he was born on the 200th anniv. of George Washington’s birthday. When he was born, the 9th of 9, (!), his brother Jack wanted to name his George Washington Kennedy, but papa Joe had other ideas.
Little did any of us know then that he would become the George Washington of the Senate, one of its legendary giants, not only in seniority (3rd all time behind R. Byrd and Strom Thurmond) but in accomplishment.
Just about 50 years ago, JFK was appointed to choose the 5 all-time best senatorswhose portraits would be painted in oval panels in the Sen. Reception room. Webster, Clay, et al. are there, but they’re gonna need a 6th one.
Byrd, who defeated him for Majority Whip in 1970, said in 199 “In My judgment, Sen. Kennedy probably has his name on more legislation that has become law, than probably any other senator.” By that, Byrd added, not “legislation the Administration wants, but legislation that originates in the committee on which a senator sits, legislation which he nurtures and develops and promotes, I don’t think there are many senators, if any, as his peer.”
And he is a heckuva guy, who loves politics and loves life. He is thoroughly bipartisan, even in this poisonous time. He has ideological opponents in the Senate, but no enemies.”

Ted Kennedy Hospitalization: NECN Coverage

May 17, 2008

Watch me here on NECN with Jim Braude and R.D. Sahl. I’ll add more as NECN makes it available.

Kennedy Statement

May 17, 2008

Here’s the statement of Kennedy’s office on his hospitalization via

“It appears that Senator Kennedy experienced a seizure this morning. He is undergoing a battery of tests at Massachusetts General Hospital to determine the cause of the seizure. Senator Kennedy is resting comfortably, and it is unlikely we will know anything more for the next 48 hours.”’s prayers go out to the senator as he recovers.

David Nyhan on Ted Kennedy

May 17, 2008

The last great piece of David Nyhan’s life was his story on Ted Kennedy just prior to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Read it here.

Nyhan had a great anecdote in Kennedy’s role in getting Boston the 2004 Democratic National Convention: “When he returns to the old executive mansion nowadays, he mostly stays downstairs. Except for the Clinton interregnum, it’s always been business: negotiations, state dinners, bill signings. Now he’s on the verge of having one of his own back upstairs in the living quarters, over the store at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. But Kerry’s not the only local politician who has benefited from Kennedy’s considerable political bulk. Menino spent four years pursuing this month’s Democratic National Convention. He got it down to the two-yard line, then called for Kennedy to push the ball over the goal line. Kennedy dialed up Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic Party chairman, with this message: Tell me if Boston has a real chance to snag this, or is it a bag job for New York?

Kennedy was assured it wasn’t in the satchel for New York, that Boston was alive, but the key issue was money and the $50-odd million needed from Massachusetts Democrats. Kennedy joined Menino working the phones, collaring wealthy donors, encouraging wary business types, smoothing out the wrinkles in the city’s pitch. Save for his buddy Menino, no one did more to land the city’s first convention. Whether Kennedy is also the kingmaker, we won’t know until November. But along with Menino, he is co-maker of the throne.”

Nyhan died in 2005 and we miss him. I’ll do my best to help fill the void on NECN at 4 p.m. as part of breaking news coverage.

Gitell on NECN: DiMasi, Clinton, Obama and McCain

May 13, 2008

I appeared on NECN’s NewsNight tonight along with Rep. Frank Smizik of Brookline, Peter Torkildsen of the state GOP, and Casey Ross of The Boston Herald. The primary topic was Sal DiMasi’s fight to preserve his speakership. Watch it here.

Boston Celebrates Israel at 60

May 8, 2008

Turnout was big for Israel’s 60th Anniversary celebration at the John F. Kennedy Library last night. Governor Patrick, along with Myra Kraft and Israel’s Consul General, Nadav Tamir, addressed the crowd. 

Patrick, whose fortunes figure to rise with the tough times of Speaker DiMasi and the resurgence of Barack Obama, gave a brief, good speech. He pointed out that Massachusetts governors have a record of supporting Israel since William Russell attached his name to the Jewish cause in 1891.

He also announced that he plans to lead a trade mission on behalf of the Commonwealth to Israel. While I’d expect the papers to get on him for this as time away from the state, I think there are some natural synergies between our state and Israel where biotech is emerging as a major industry.

I’ll have more on this historic milestone for Israel later in the week.



Mayor Menino at the Municipal Research Bureau: Expand the Emerald Necklace to the Charles

March 7, 2008

Mayor Menino just finished his speech to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. While the mayor didn’t use the words “emerald necklace,” he sketched out a vision that will expand Frederick Law Olmstead’s historic plan for Boston system of parks to the Charles River.

Menino posited using the opportunity of the repair project of the Storrow Drive Tunnel as a chance to rework the city’s green space, a time to take, what he called, “a big picture view.”

“We can create a seamless connection of green space from the Public Garden to the Esplanade while improving transportation,” told attendees at the Seaport Hotel. “Think about this for a minute: we can reopen the riverfront to residents, connect the Charles River and the Public Garden, and create more green space in the heart of our downtown neighborhoods.”

The mayor’s idea is one that makes sense — why is it so hard to get to the Charles from downtown — and demonstrates his continued energy and vision.

Albie Sherman Honored at Beacon Hill Life Sciences Ceremony

February 15, 2008

Yesterday Sal DiMasi, the Speaker of the Massachusetts House, announced a new version of the historic $1 billion life sciences bill. While I’m not yet qualified to comment on all the specific details of this important bill, which holds the potential to cement the state’s economic future, I can salute the House leadership for getting one personal detail right.

As Rep. Daniel Bosley, the chairman of the economic development committee, outlined the details of the bill, he stopped to talk about the plans for capital investment to beef up the state’s research infrastructure. Bosley mentioned some $90 million dollars for a research center at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, a facility, Bosley said as he motioned to his left, “we are calling the Albie Sherman — the Albert Sherman Advanced Therapeutic Center.”

Readers of are familiar with Albert Sherman of whom I wrote the following last year: “a great Jew, a great Bostonian, and a great man, Albert Sherman. Albie’s official job is vice chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, but his influence goes far beyond that post. (Although, it can be fairly stated, as UMass Medical School’s Chancellor Aaron Lazare did yesterday, that Albie’s commitment to the school helped contribute to its winning a Nobel Prize in 2006.) He is a confidante, fixer, and strategist for the powerful and politically active. A graduate of Boston English High School and a pharmacist by training and education, he has relationships that transcend the decades.” I’ve known Sherman since he worked across the hall at the Doctor’s Office Building from my mother at Boston University Medical School. His son Matthew, the impresario behind Hollywood’s Matt Sherman Management, is one of my best friends.

DiMasi added to the commentary about Sherman, noting that he wasn’t just known locally but around the world. He recalled walking down the streets of Jerusalam with Sherman as numerous bystanders came up to him to say hello.UMass President Jack Wilson said getting to know Sherman was an important step in helping him adjusted to his role when he took the job. “I was told he taught the former speaker how to ride a bicycle,” Wilson said referring to Sherman’s relationship with Tom Finneran. Then he put Sherman’s job into perspective. The vision to build a life science center at UMass’s Worcester campus “would have gone nowhere without someone to translate it. That person was Albie Sherman.”

The recognition comes at an important moment for the Sherman family. Sherman is awaiting a kidney transplant.

Someday in the future, an important discovery that will help save lives — maybe even somebody with kidney disease — will be made at the UMass Medical Center. I found it, the scientist might say, in my lab in Sherman. The researcher might not be aware of the tireless advocate and passionate UMass supporter who helped the research building come to be. But one of those people will be the indomitable Albie Sherman.

Bald Is Beautiful

February 12, 2008

Boston Globe Photo

Governor Deval Patrick has a history of taking brave stands for progress and civil rights. He headed up the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice in the Clinton Administration. He became the first ever African-American governor in Massachusetts. Now, according to Matt Viser in today’s Boston Globe he earns his place in Massachusetts history as the first ever Massachusetts chief executive to shave his head. Hats off to him.

Patrick’s move follows in the footsteps of a former state senator from Watertown and 2002 gubernatorial candidate, Warren Tolman. Tolman was a pioneer for bald politicians — and even journalists — in the Commonwealth. The catchy slogan of one of his publicly-financed advertisements was “bald is beautiful.”Hopefully 2008 will be a new era for the bald in Massachusetts. Back in 2002, Gersh Kuntzman, then a web columnist for Newsweek, did a piece on Tolman that captured the anti-bald spirit of the era. Kuntzman wrote: “The victim this time was former Massachusetts state senator Warren Tolman, a proud bald man, who lost the Democratic primary for governor last week. The loss was particularly bitter for the bald because Tolman had intentionally used his lack of hair to get on the radar screen in the race, running ads that showed him rubbing his shiny pate while standing in a barbershop surrounded by equally hairless men.”

I caught up with Tolman to find out what he thought of the governor’s bold bald move. “Welcome to the club,” Tolman said Patrick. “Up to this point I always said Deval Patrick was a handsome guy, now more impressively he’s a handsome bald guy.” He described his own bald ploy as taking “what in politics what is often perceived as a negative and make it a positive.”

Of course, I’ve got a stake in this battle as well and thank the governor for his courageous leadership.