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Hope isn't a strategy

THE POLITICS of hope helped Governor Deval Patrick win election, but hope alone won't win support for his first budget.

The governor needs a sharp, tough political strategy to sell his $26.7 billion spending plan to Beacon Hill. So far, he doesn't have one.

How is the Patrick team going to convince Senate President Robert Travaglini and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi to embrace key parts of the new administration's budget proposal? "I don't know," replied Joe Landolfi, spokesman for the executive office of Administration and Finance, which put the plan together.

On Tuesday night, Patrick delivered a televised budget speech that was warmly received by a live audience of average citizens in Melrose. Yet Patrick, the master of grassroots campaigning, did not seize the moment to rally the same grassroots forces behind his budget proposal.

Finally, a woman in the audience posed this question during the town hall segment of the program: "How do we develop the support and pressure on the outside to help you on the inside?" To that, the governor responded, "Tell somebody this matters. . . . Talk to legislators. They need our encouragement. . . I need your encouragement."

Patrick delivered virtually the same budget speech yesterday morning to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. By the end, it was clear this crowd is not on board his budget train. Some 800 movers and shakers welcomed Patrick with a standing ovation. But once he uttered the words "closing tax loopholes," the packed ballroom at the Park Plaza Hotel got quiet and stayed that way. The first question from chamber president Paul Guzzi asked Patrick to reconcile a commitment to job creation with the "additional cost of doing business" that results from closing said loopholes.

Companies don't invest in communities solely because of tax codes, Patrick replied; they are looking for environments that offer affordable housing, quality education, and assorted factors that make a destination "interesting and exciting."

Asked afterward for reaction to Patrick's plan, chamber chairman Ralph C. Martin said, "I've adopted a wait-and-see attitude. As a former prosecutor, I don't have enough forensic proof to make up my mind one way or the other." Others in his organization already have. Guzzi put out a statement when Patrick's loophole-closing proposal was first aired, which bluntly said, "Imposing business tax increases is wrong for the people of Massachusetts."

Patrick's staff distributed a handout to the media illustrating the governor's argument that other states with which Massachusetts competes have adopted the corporate tax reforms he is proposing. But the business community has already framed this fight as "tax increases" not "tax reform" -- and the business community knows how to get what it wants from Beacon Hill.

What leverage does Patrick have to convince Travaglini and DiMasi to go along with his definition? From a Beacon Hill perspective, he is an interloper, not much different from his predecessor, except for party affiliation. Patrick also lost some precious political capital during the recent brouhaha over his leased Cadillac and pricey office redecorating.

The new governor is still trying to charm and cajole his audience, whether he is addressing average voters or the Boston power elite. In Melrose, he could have framed his proposal crisply as us-vs.-them, reformer-vs.-status-quo, and challenged the audience to let Beacon Hill power brokers know where the people stand -- behind Deval Patrick. He could have gone to the chamber with a fresh speech, making the controversial tax policy the one and only issue of the morning, and challenging the business community to put aside its selfish interests for the good of the Commonwealth. Instead, he stuck with a warm and fuzzy campaign approach.

It makes you wonder. Does Patrick understand the entrenched power of the political and corporate establishment and what it takes to shake it?

The land of the status quo is cold, stubborn, and treacherous. It is inhabited by business executives who don't want to give up tax breaks and legislators who don't want to give up anything. They understand political hardball, not the politics of hope.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is