Brian McGrory

Early steps go a long way

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / January 29, 2010

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Looking beyond the barn jacket, beyond the pickup truck, beyond the all-American good looks, somebody’s got to say this about Scott Brown: He’s had a terrific run so far as a senator-elect.

His decision to make Tom Menino the first stop on his first day of the first week on the job was uncommonly shrewd. With Menino, politics isn’t partisan, but personal, and this show of respect will be remembered for a while. Brown got slaughtered in Boston, making his postelection foray into the city that much more notable.

“I give him credit,’’ Menino said of Brown. “He’s trying to make connections and not just be that Republican. In two years, he has a campaign, and you don’t know what the climate is going to be.’’

He added: “He’s doing all the right things. I believe I can work with him.’’

Let nobody say the mayor of Boston isn’t easily seduced. But he’s in good company this week. After Brown left Menino, he headed for Roxbury to call upon a group of black ministers, in something of a Nixon-in-China moment.

“A guy-guy,’’ is how the Rev. Gene Rivers described Brown after the meeting. He said Brown met with them for about 90 minutes, had a bit of “swag’’ to him from his days playing basketball at Tufts with mostly black teammates, and smartly pushed back in a way that made them respect him even more.

When one of the ministers asked about CORI reform, Brown said he believes potential employers should be allowed to know some things about past misdeeds of people they may hire. It was never confrontational, always loose and collegial.

Said Rivers: “As an outsider, he understands the strategic importance of black clergy and he’s not as prone to take us for granted.’’

Sorry to say this, but the Democrat in the race would not have made Menino and the black clergy the first stops in a victory tour. Indeed, the Globe’s front-page photograph of a smiling Brown yukking it up with the group of black clergy undoubtedly caused some aides to our black governor and black president to choke on their Starbucks lattes.

Speaking of which, yesterday’s meeting with Deval Patrick may have been the trickiest part of the week, given that Brown had taken a swipe at Patrick over the distribution of stimulus funds a few days before. The two of them sat without aides. They talked about the campaign, the mood of the electorate, about trying to work together on projects. When they emerged to address reporters, Brown pulled back from his earlier criticisms.

Patrick, in a phone call after the session, told me, “It was a very positive meeting, at the beginning of a strong relationship. He knows and I know the campaign is over. Just as I’m not here to serve as the governor of the Democrats alone, he’s not in Congress to serves as the senator for Republicans alone. We serve everyone’s best interests.’’

Patrick added, “He’s a hard guy not to like.’’

Behind the scenes, Brown declined requests from virtually all the Sunday news shows last weekend (he will be interviewed by Barbara Walters on ABC’s “This Week’’ this Sunday). He refused invitations to do post-State of the Union speech commentary Wednesday night. Besides an appearance with Jay Leno last night, he has, nationally, made himself relatively scarce. Today starts a three-day tour of the state.

He told the Globe yesterday that Republicans in Washington shouldn’t assume his vote on every issue. He has offered jobs to a few of Ted Kennedy’s legendary Senate aides. He is consulting with John McCain in choosing a new chief of staff.

As national pundits remain breathless, as pollsters plug Brown’s name into presidential surveys, Brown adviser Eric Fehrnstrom says the amused senator-elect has turned to him more than a few times and asked, “Can you believe this?’’

Please keep answering no, Eric. Right now, the myth is bigger than the man, and the atmospherics are ridiculous. But this is a very good start.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at