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Encumbered candidates

ATTORNEY GENERAL Thomas Reilly said he picked state Representative Marie St. Fleur of Dorchester as his running mate in his bid for governor because she understands the concerns of the ''regular, ordinary people of Massachusetts" who struggle to pay their bills and put their kids through college. But St. Fleur's long record of tax delinquency, failure to repay loans in a timely manner, and foreclosure is hardly regular. Yesterday, she withdrew her candidacy.

It's true that St. Fleur's road through college and law school wasn't smoothed by family wealth. But many Americans have traveled a similar path without running up $40,000 in delinquent federal student loans or being subject to a tax lien for failure to pay more than $12,000 in federal taxes. Deadbeats are actually quite rare.

In 2004, the federal government placed liens on roughly a half million, or 0.4 percent, of its 131 million individual filers, according to an IRS spokesman.

More people struggle with student loans. But even there, the annual default rate now hovers around 5 percent.

Yet even as she withdrew from the race, St. Fleur clung to the illusion that her failure to make good on her debts somehow cast her as a symbol of struggling families across Massachusetts.

Reilly's approach to picking a running mate was just as flawed as St. Fleur's approach to personal finances. He let a seemingly good story get the better of good judgment. Stressing his own humble beginnings, Reilly connected with the popular St. Fleur, the first Haitian-American to hold an elected seat in Massachusetts. Her pragmatism appealed to him. And it couldn't hurt to have a minority at his side when facing off in the primary against Deval Patrick, an African-American with broad appeal to liberal voters. Reilly became so immersed in advanced political calculus, however, that he failed to do the most basic arithmetic on a potential running mate.

Finding the status of liens and mortgages should be child's play for a seasoned investigator. Yet Reilly, the state's top law enforcement officer, didn't mount even a cursory review of St. Fleur's record, even after she advised him of her financial instability. Reilly might have been willing to overlook a single financial lapse. But her failure even to pay her auto excise tax last year suggests a chronic condition. It was a stunning neglect of due diligence on the part of a candidate seeking the state's highest office.

St. Fleur is making efforts to rehabilitate her delinquent loans. Now Reilly needs to rehabilitate his candidacy. There has always been a question about whether Reilly is too dull to win the governor's race. Until recently, few thought he might be too rash.

 Democrats jumped gun on Gabrieli (Boston Globe, 2/4/06)
 Reilly's pick withdraws from race (Boston Globe, 2/2/06)
 Patrick divulges 1996 tax lien (Boston Globe, 2/2/06)
 Reilly picks St. Fleur for campaign (Boston Globe, 1/31/06)
STATEMENTS:  Tom Reilly (2/1/06)  Marie St. Fleur (2/1/06)
 BRIAN MCGRORY: Political malpractice (Boston Globe, 2/3/06)
 SCOT LEHIGH: A taxing week for Democrats (Boston Globe, 2/3/06)
 ADRIAN WALKER: Strange missteps (Boston Globe, 2/2/06)
 JOAN VENNOCHI: Reilly's judgment is suddenly suspect (Boston Globe, 2/2/06)
 GLOBE EDITORIAL: Encumbered candidates (Boston Globe, 2/2/06)
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