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What it takes to be No. 2

SUCH ARE the sacrifices that a political columnist makes for his readers that over the last few days, I've completed a toilsome tedium triathlon.

My first event: Tuning in to the Democratic lieutenant-gubernatorial forum on WGBH. The second leg: Unearthing a recent LG debate from CBS4's video archives. The final discipline: Web-watching Channel 5's Sunday face-off among the three candidates vying for the post.

Kudos to the three stations for their civic commitment. But please, don't try this at home -- not without a triple espresso in hand, anyway.

Actually, committing oneself to a second-banana snooze-fest requires not just caffeine, but a willingness to entertain momentous matters. Matters like: What are the essential qualities in a good lieutenant governor, anyway? Candor would be refreshing, certainly. The candidate who, when asked why he or she was running, replied, ``I've looked deep within myself and discovered that I have the soul of a number two," might just get my vote.

Watching these forums, it was easy to drift back to some of the diverting moments this pointless post has provided Bay Staters in years past. In 1980, Tom O'Neill, a liberal Democrat, chafed so in his service under the conservative Ed King that he actually surrendered one of the few functions he had, federal-state liaison.

When reporters rushed to get King's response to the news that O'Neill had broken with him, the governor was underwhelmed.

``Ergo quid," replied King. That phrase, a Latin scholar tells me, translates literally as ``Therefore, what," though King clearly intended it to convey a ``So what" sentiment.

Latin aside, King had gauged the significance of the matter accurately.

Still, the incident does demonstrate the political pitfalls of a poorly matched pair.

That's why the Republican model of running as a self-selected team has worked pretty well.

The Democrats usually don't do it that way, however. Instead, the electoral process often produces an awkward shotgun marriage, a marriage that, for the junior partner, has meant long stretches of obscurity punctuated by brief bursts of insurrection.

Back in 1964, Lieutenant Governor Frank Bellotti got so incensed about the way Governor Chub Peabody treated him that he challenged -- and beat -- Peabody in the Democratic primary, only to lose in the general election.

Hoping to revive her own flagging gubernatorial hopes in 1990, Evelyn Murphy, then the lieutenant governor, planned a palace revolt against Michael Dukakis. Dukakis was about to leave on a Europe trade mission when word leaked that in his absence, Murphy would use her power as acting governor to do some deeper budget-cutting -- and perhaps even to defenestrate a gubernatorial aide or two.

And so it was that while the rest of his delegation winged its way across the Atlantic, the Duke, steaming like a manhole cover on a winter morning, delayed his own departure in an attempt to stare down his mutinous number two.

In this year's race, Deb Goldberg and Tim Murray are both running on their records as municipal officials, Goldberg basically on her two years (2002-2004) as chairman of the Brookline Board of Selectmen, Murray on his three terms as mayor of Worcester, where the title amounts to city councilor-on-stilts.

Goldberg's candidacy took a home-town torpedo last week when the Brookline Tab endorsed Andrea Silbert -- and accused the former selectwoman of exaggerating her role in Brookline's governance.

Judging from the debates, as lieutenant governor Murray and Goldberg would dedicate themselves to tending to the needs of the state's cities and towns. When it comes to ensuring adequate local aid, his conscience simply wouldn't allow him to keep quiet, Murray told CBS4's Jon Keller.

By my count, with 40 senators and 160 representatives regularly doing the same thing, we'd then have 201 public officials committed to that task.

And that's why I'm impressed with Silbert. As cofounder of the Center for Women & Enterprise, a nonprofit training center for entrepreneurs, she's done something different, and as number two she would try to do something different: focus on job creation. What's more, she actually seems to know something about it.

Further, she's the only candidate iconoclastic enough to support lifting the cap on charter schools.

Now, I don't expect busy voters to endure the arduous LG triathlon.

But check out even one of the events and I think you'll conclude that Andrea Silbert is the real star in this field.

Scot Lehigh's e-mail address is

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