Adrian Walker

Rebounding from the edge

By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / February 14, 2011

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Politicians’ memoirs are usually not fertile ground for revelations. They’re more often self-serving advertisements for a future presidential bid.

But Governor Deval Patrick, perhaps in a bid to satisfy his $1.35 million advance, delivers some news in his forthcoming book, “A Reason To Believe.’’ As reported by the Globe last week, he seriously considered resigning from office just as he was beginning the job, because his wife, Diane, was hospitalized for depression.

The Patrick administration got off to a very rocky start, and came in for a fusillade of criticism. Even four years later — after much has been forgiven — everyone remembers the criticism of the drapes and the Cadillac.

But the breaking point, or near-breaking point, apparently came because of the press coverage of his very ill-advised phone call on behalf of the dubious mortgage lender Ameriquest.

I always thought a lot of the criticism was overblown. As Patrick was being battered for his alleged political naiveté and transgressions, I occasionally sought a reality check from people who had worked in the early days of other administrations. “Is the Patrick team really that bad?’’ was the gist of my question. And the answer was uniformly this: Every administration starts out as a mess. Or as one former aide to Governor William Weld put it, “We didn’t even know where the bathrooms were, two months in.’’

The Ameriquest story — identified in Patrick’s book as the one that caused his wife the most emotional turmoil — was far more substantive than the coverage that preceded it. Patrick, who had once served on Ameriquest’s board of directors, placed a call to Citigroup’s chairman, Robert Rubin, on behalf of the lender, which Citigroup was thinking about buying. Even Patrick supporters were dismayed by his lobbying on behalf of a company that was making billions on the backs of the very people who looked to Patrick for hope.

It was no secret that Patrick and those around him were reeling from their tough start. But any suggestion that he might step down was strenuously denied. As it happens, the soul-searching produced by the public and private pressure Patrick was facing may have saved his administration.

Ever high-minded, Patrick insisted that his book is not an occasion for settling scores. Still, there is one perceived insult I wish the governor would get over. He whines about the coverage of his real estate debt — especially about stories about the mansion he was building in the Berkshires. He implies that the coverage is racist, writing, “As if Ted Kennedy or Mitt Romney or John Kerry could own a nice home, but not Deval Patrick.’’

I can understand that coverage of one’s finances is uncomfortable. But he is not the first politician to be subject to it. Kerry — whose financial stability fluctuated in his early years as a senator — has gotten plenty of scrutiny, especially when he married the wildly wealthy Teresa Heinz. So did Paul Tsongas, and others. There’s no racial dimension to this.

Politicians are not an introspective lot, but Patrick has always been a striking exception. Indeed, it was his ability to dramatize his life in such a magnetic way that made him a viable candidate in the first place.

There wasn’t, and isn’t, anything all that revolutionary about his political stances. To an unusual degree his success has been built on the way people feel about him personally. Patrick — sometimes to his detriment — is convincing as a person whose priorities transcend the next campaign.

And in some sense, that moment when he almost packed it in is a perfect crystallization of Patrick as an antipolitician. For most governors, quitting would be unthinkable.

Not many of them could write the sentence, “Being governor is an episode in my life. Diane is my life.’’

The pressures eventually eased. She got better.

He has, too.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at