Scot Lehigh

Steve Lynch being Steve Lynch

By Scot Lehigh
Globe Columnist / April 7, 2010

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HERE’S ONE thing you can say with complete confidence about US Representative Stephen Lynch: No one will ever mistake him for Dale Carnegie, the self-improvement guru whose best-seller taught millions how to win friends and influence people.

Nor for one of the savvy and effective congressmen South Boston has traditionally produced. Instead, the recent health care debate brought some of the Ninth District representative’s least appealing qualities to the fore. In private meetings, his peevish manner alienated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and left Vicki Kennedy dismayed.

Publicly, Lynch looked like a portrait in clumsy expedience by attempting a political gainer off the health care springboard. Having voted yes on health care reform in November, he flip-flopped to oppose the main bill — and then twisted yet again to vote for the fix-it legislation seen as part of the same package.

But it was his private encounter with Pelosi that has congressional circles buzzing. The speaker met with Lynch as part of her effort to corral votes for health care reform, something she thought should be a relatively easy vote for a lawmaker from Massachusetts.

Lynch was determined to vote no, however. One reason is said to be that he is keeping his options open for a run against US Senator Scott Brown in 2012 and thus didn’t want to back legislation that Brown got elected in part by opposing.

When Pelosi pressed, Lynch let her know in brusque terms that he had no intention of voting for the bill. Pelosi, said to be astonished by Lynch’s manner, has made her consternation known.

“She said she couldn’t believe how obstinate he was, and that she did not like the way she had been talked to,’’ said one member of Congress. “She repeated the story in front of a number of people.’’

“She couldn’t believe her conversation with him,’’ says another plugged-in source. Several others who know the speaker well confirmed that she found Lynch’s demeanor very off-putting.

Pelosi’s office declined comment. Lynch, in a statement, said his discussions on the health care bill “were conducted with due respect and courtesy’’ and that “any suggestion to the contrary is false.’’

So what, exactly, did Lynch say to Pelosi? Among other things, according to knowledgeable sources, he told the speaker: “Look, lady, I know a lot about this bill, and I am not for it.’’

That comment isn’t derogatory, certainly. Still, it does qualify as high-handed and dismissive, much the way saying “Listen, pal,’’ would be if one were speaking to a man. That being the case, it’s probably not the smartest way to address the woman who is the most powerful person in the House — and one of most powerful in Washington.

Another congressman might worry that his influence would suffer as a result of this. Lynch, however, didn’t have great stores of that particular political commodity to begin with. Elected in 2001, he lacks the seniority that imparts formal power, and as a quick-tempered loner, he has never enjoyed much informal clout.

But certainly after this encounter, he’s unlikely to see his stature grow. Not under this speaker, anyway.

Nor was it just Pelosi who was left shaking her head about Lynch. At the speaker’s request, Vicki Kennedy helped round up votes for health care reform, a cherished cause of her late husband’s.

Kennedy, who is invariably gracious in her dealings with elected officials, met with Lynch to explain why she thought the legislation was good for Massachusetts and to ask him to support the bill. Based on what she later told others, Lynch’s testy response left Kennedy perplexed.

“She said to me, ‘What’s with Steve Lynch? He got hot with me,’ ’’ related one person Kennedy spoke to. Others confirmed she was taken aback by Lynch’s aggressive response.

Among close congressional observers, incidents like those are shrugged off as just another example of Steve Lynch being Steve Lynch. Yet they also demonstrate something worth noting. After more than eight years in the House, Lynch still hasn’t really grown into the job — let alone into the late Joe Moakley’s oversized shoes.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at

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