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Women, be warned

The election is over and so is the pretense of a Romney-Healey administration. It was back to a one-man show on Friday when the state's lame duck chief executive went on the podium to play presidential politics with the Massachusetts budget without his accessory lieutenant governor.

While Governor Mitt Romney was buffing his Republican budget-cutting bona fides on the backs of underpaid human services workers and an under funded public higher education system, Healey was reacquainting herself with the obscurity from which he plucked her in 2002 when he needed a date to the Governor's Ball.

Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey is a cautionary tale for female political candidates in an otherwise historic election cycle for women. California Representative Nancy Pelosi is poised to become the first female speaker of the US House. Sixteen women will take seats in the US Senate in January. New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton won an overwhelming re election bid, setting the stage for a presidential run in 2008. And the pride of Prides Crossing is going home to her mansion in Beverly where more of her neighbors voted for Deval L. Patrick than for her.

The lesson? A fat wallet is no compensation for a thin résumé. Women, whether running for elective office or anchoring the evening news, still have to prove a level of competence that is taken for granted in a man. (See Katie Couric and "gravitas.") It is not fair, but it is an impossible task to accomplish without a credible track record.

Healey did not have one, and the Romney record she was saddled with was often at odds with her stated aspirations as a candidate. That was especially clear on Friday when, in a press conference decrying a manufactured budget crisis, Romney used his emergency authority to shore up political support among fiscal conservatives in Iowa and South Carolina. At least he came back to Boston this time to insult our intelligence.

There were a few discretionary items among the $425 million in expenditures that Romney cut. (Does Braintree really need a $100,000 gazebo?) But there were also cuts in essential services and compensation for some of the lowest paid state workers doing some of the most thankless jobs in the Commonwealth, caring for the sick, the elderly , and the disabled.

"The true character of any society can be seen in how it treats the weak, the sick, or the voiceless. They are not a problem for us. They are a priority." That's what Healey said when she formally announced her candidacy for governor last spring. How does that square with Romney's unilateral decision last week to withhold $28 million in wage increases for human service workers who now earn less than $11 an hour caring for our infirm parents, our disabled brothers, and our sisters with mental retardation?

"Access to good quality public higher education is essential both to the economy of Massachusetts and our children's success." That's what Healey said in the same speech, even though she knew that spending on public higher education in Massachusetts under the Romney administration is a national embarrassment. What will our state colleges and universities cut to accommodate the $20 million Romney said he plans to withhold?

"I understand the needs and concerns of our local communities better than any candidate in this race because I've been there," Kerry Healey said all those months ago. "I've met with local leaders from every corner of the Commonwealth, not just once, but in good times and bad. Our cities and towns have always been a priority for me as lieutenant governor." What will she tell them now that Romney wants to rescind $25 million in rate relief for the 61 communities that rely on the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority for water and sewer services?

In the end, it was not enough that Kerry Healey was smart and rich and hardworking. This woman lost because she was not her own man.

Eileen McNamara is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at

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