THE FLAP over Education Secretary Paul Reville’s ill-considered e-mail about a Gloucester charter school, like that over Transportation Secretary Jim Aloisi’s messy firing of MBTA chief Dan Grabauskas last month, revealed something lacking in Governor Patrick.
In both instances, the state’s chief executive expressed muted support for his appointees, while keeping his distance from their actions. As Aloisi pushed Grabauskas out on a vague pretext, the governor stayed mum. And then last week, while Reville and other education officials were defending the integrity of the approval of the Gloucester charter school, Patrick was calling for the decision to be reviewed. By disassociating himself from his own administration, the reform-minded governor seemed eager to convey that he represents the people of Massachusetts, not the political establishment.
In some contexts, this sense of detachment would be admirable. But Patrick’s failure to take more forceful ownership of his own team helps explain why an administration with an ambitious agenda in education, energy, and transportation remains more associated with disarray than achievement. Patrick has fallen into a familiar trap for political outsiders - failing to realize that he is now the insider, and that people expect him to set priorities and deliver on them, not stand apart and critique the performance of his appointees. He was elected governor, not inspector general.
Patrick’s posture is self-defeating because the dust-ups over Reville and Aloisi, who has since announced his resignation, were only prolonged by the governor’s aloof stance, and both were the kinds of purely political tempests that can drag down an otherwise enlightened administration.
Patrick has some good instincts, many good policies, and has made some good appointments. But he hasn’t gotten the hang of his job yet. There’s still time before the next election for him to improve. His modesty - his best political trait - should enable him to look in the mirror and vow to make changes. It’s time for the governor to take command of his team, and lead.