Yvonne Abraham

Vacillating to victory

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Columnist / November 15, 2009

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It’s been a big week in the race to succeed the late Ted Kennedy in the US Senate.

Until Monday, the contest was an insomniac’s dream. Then things got a lot more interesting. Martha Coakley took a controversial stand on health care reform, saying she would refuse to vote for a bill that included an odious amendment that could reduce women’s access to abortions, even if that meant scuttling the entire package. She found a strong position. And some candidates’ feet found their mouths.

The controversy that ensued, and some other flare-ups, raised interesting questions.

First, why can’t the people who would be our next senator seem to hold their positions from one day to the next?

Congressman Michael Capuano excoriated Coakley for her position on Monday - only to admit on Tuesday that he would do the same thing if the bill came back to the House with the amendment intact. Coakley’s campaign released a gleeful statement congratulating Capuano for coming around.

Then, Coakley herself seemed to waver, moving from her strong stand to a noncommittal one, declining to tell NECN reporter Alison King what she’d do if hers was the pivotal vote on health care reform and the amendment was still in the package. Coakley restated her original position on Friday.

In a spirited Thursday morning radio debate on WTKK, Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca said he was in favor of a military draft. That ear-popping assertion was followed by a sheepish retraction: He’d misheard the question, Pagliuca said. The question seemed pretty clear to me, but never mind.

Second: Is Capuano really a master of the game on Capitol Hill?

The congressman is touting his insiderism at a time when everybody seems quite fond of outsiders. He’s proud of his earmarks, he said Thursday morning. But then he professed to be mystified as to which particular member of Congress was responsible for slipping a provision into a defense bill giving $20 million to an institute honoring the late senator from Massachusetts.

“I don’t know that specific one,’’ he told moderator Margery Eagan. “I don’t know, it’s not mine, I don’t have a clue. You can check it better than me. You’re a better investigative reporter than I am.’’

Really? You’d have to be living in a box buried fathoms deep not to know who was responsible. Even ultimate outsider Alan Khazei knew.

“It was John Kerry,’’ he told Capuano. Duh.

Third: Where does Coakley’s money go?

Her revised financial disclosure form (Question 3a - How does an attorney general get a financial disclosure form wrong?) shows she has hardly any savings of her own. Lucky Coakley has one of those nice state pensions to look forward to, otherwise I’d be worried about her retirement. According to her statement, she apparently manages to spend just about all of her $135,000 salary each year, even though she has no kids. At first, I found this heartening: Maybe the accomplished AG is really just like me, making it to the end of each year with nothing to spare. But it passed. I don’t want my elected leaders to be that much like me.

Fourth, how come Khazei keeps trucking in endorsements from people who wouldn’t want to live here?

First it was Max Kennedy, Ted Kennedy’s nice nephew, who lit out for the Golden State once it became clear he wasn’t going to be handed a congressional seat here. And now Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, who, as we learned recently, fled to Manhattan because he felt stifled in poor old Medford.

Still, Khazei came out of the week looking good. He didn’t backtrack on any positions. He sounded very smart during Thursday’s debate. He even invited the great Stephen Colbert to come moderate another one.

Which brings us to our final question: Why is Khazei running dead last?

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at