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Deval Patrick (left) discussed environmental issues with John Donahue yesterday at Patrick's campaign office on Milk Street.
Deval Patrick (left) discussed environmental issues with John Donahue yesterday at Patrick's campaign office on Milk Street. (Globe Staff Photo / Bill Greene)

Patrick enters race, casts self as outsider

Deval Patrick, who rose from the welfare rolls in Chicago to the top levels of government and the inner sanctums of corporate boardrooms, opened his campaign for governor yesterday with a call for universal healthcare and an expansion of education programs and said he would be open to new taxes or cuts in services to pay for them.

Patrick, 48, the first African-American candidate for governor in the state's history, also took a swipe at his probable Democratic primary opponent, Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, who he said represents the old politics and has a record of caution and an insider focus.

''When I talk about the politics of hope, I am talking about an alternative to the politics of partisan blood sport, which I think is the real reason why a lot of people have given up [and decided] there is no reason to care about state government," Patrick said in an interview with the Globe at his downtown campaign headquarters.

Reilly, the early Democratic favorite in the race, brushed off Patrick's criticism of him as an insider. ''I have been called a lot of things in my life, but that has never been said," said the two-term attorney general, who touts an image of taking on powerful interests.

He said he welcomed the challenge. ''Competition is good," he told reporters at a press conference called to respond to Patrick's announcement.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin is also giving serious consideration to running for the Democratic nomination.

Still, Patrick made clear he will seek to seize the role of political outsider in the race, and he spoke of trying to reignite voters' faith in state government.

On education, he said he wanted a public system, from kindergarten to college, second to none. He said he wants smaller classes, after-school programs, to ensure school safety, and to ''honor teachers as professionals."

He said he views charter schools as a fine idea, but only as laboratories for innovation that can be transferred to public classrooms. He said he supports the MCAS test, but said it should be only one part of a more complete evaluation of students.

On social issues, Patrick said he opposes the death penalty and strongly supports same-sex marriage, positions likely to appeal to the state's liberal Democrats. Reilly supports the death penalty and, while he at first opposed same-sex marriage, has recently supported it. They both oppose Governor Mitt Romney's initiative to roll back the state income tax.

Patrick stopped short of saying he would sign a tax bill to pay for initiatives. Instead, he said he wanted to challenge voters to decide how to pay for programs and other increases they want: either with new taxes or cuts in other areas of the state budget.

''I favor the idea of a tax cut when we can afford it; we can't afford it right now," Patrick said. Romney is calling for an immediate rollback of the state income tax from 5.3 percent to 5 percent.

''We have to stop being sold this bit from the Republicans, that you can have something for nothing," he said. ''If we all want to agree to shut down all the public schools, have everyone dig their own latrine, build their own roads, put out their own fire, then we can have a big tax cut. The first thing we have to do is agree on what we want government to do."

At a press conference on another issue yesterday, Romney defended his administration's record, while saying he welcomed Patrick to the race.

''Come on in; the water's fine," said Romney, who aides say is weighing whether to seek reelection as governor or focus instead on a bid for the 2008 presidential nomination. ''I don't know Deval Patrick personally, but he's a person who has experience in the public sector, of course, and also experience in the private sector. And I think government needs more good people who have good private sector experience to understand how jobs are won and lost."

Patrick is expected to base his campaign in part on his life story. He was raised in the tough neighborhoods of Chicago's South Side by a single mother on welfare. He won a scholarship to Milton Academy and earned bachelor and law degrees from Harvard.

He became chairman of NAACP Legal Defense Fund's New England Committee and was appointed in 1994 by President Clinton to lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. After leaving the Justice Department in 1997, he was appointed by a federal judge to chair the Equality and Fairness Task Force for Texaco, after the oil company was rocked by charges of racism at the highest executive levels. In 1999, Patrick joined Texaco as vice president and general counsel. He then moved to Coca Cola Co. as its general counsel in 2002, serving until last December.He has also served on the boards of other large corporations.

Patrick made clear yesterday that he plans to use his experience in the public and private sectors to contrast himself to Reilly. ''My range of experience and record of creativity is simply better than his," he said.

But his corporate background could also create problems. For example, Coca Cola has become a target of some major labor unions in recent years, who have accused the company of complicity in the killing of labor organizers by paramilitary groups in Columbia. The company strongly denies the charge, and a federal judge removed Coke as a defendant in the case, saying the company did not have a sufficient controlling interest in the bottling plant where the labor strife occurred.

Patrick has said he persuaded Coke to investigate and address the allegations.

''I have tried to make sure that I can be satisfied the company is acting responsibly," Patrick said, when asked about his role on several corporate boards.

He is expected to pour some of his personal wealth into his race for governor, as much as $500,000, according to Democratic political leaders who have discussed the campaign with him.

Globe correspondent Janette A. Neuwahl contributed to this report.

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