Patrick, Baker differ on state’s job picture

By Noah Bierman and Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / October 28, 2010

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The two leading contenders for governor chose their backdrops carefully yesterday, using public appearances in the final campaign stretch to paint drastically different pictures of the Massachusetts job market.

Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, stood before hundreds of cheering employees in the sleek atrium of pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG in Cambridge, beaming as a top executive announced plans to expand and hire 300 employees.

About an hour later, Patrick’s Republican opponent, Charles D. Baker, stood with an unemployed finance worker in a bar overlooking a vacant Fenway Park, evoking his recent television ad as he likened the 21,000 jobs the state lost last month to empty seats in the ballpark.

As they make their closing arguments, the candidates agree that the election will turn on whether voters believe the state’s economy is recovering from the recession. The events yesterday offered some of the most vivid contrasts yet of their divergent views.

Patrick highlighted Novartis’s plans to double the size of its office and lab complex as evidence that his administration’s focus on biotechnology is paying off.

“I feel like a proud parent in some humble way,’’ the governor said, calling Novartis’s $600 million expansion project “another example of the advances we are making economically around the life sciences.’’

Baker, with a more confident and emphatic delivery than he has displayed for most of his 15 months on the campaign trail, declared that Patrick had nothing to be proud of.

“I think we have miles to go,’’ he said. “If the governor thinks things are going in the right direction, he’s not going to change course.’’

Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, who is running as an independent, released two new 15-second television commercials, hoping to climb up from single digits in the polls. The first shows campaign signs for Patrick and Baker being thrown into a garbage can, while a Cahill sign is pulled from the trash.

“Unhappy with the choices the political parties have given us for governor?’’ a narrator asks. “Then don’t throw away your vote on more of the same.’’

The fourth candidate, Jill Stein of the Green-Rainbow Party, rallied in Natick yesterday, decrying the influence of money in elections, her campaign said.

But Baker and Patrick are effectively in a two-person race, polls show, and both are casting the election as a referendum on Patrick’s economic policies.

At Novartis, Mark Fishman, president of the company’s Institutes for Biomedical Research, linked Patrick’s leadership to the growth of the biotech industry.

“And for that we’re very grateful,’’ he said, as the firm’s employees burst into applause.

Patrick then spoke at a town-hall-style event at EF Education First, a Cambridge educational travel firm that is planning to hire 400 new workers. He finished the day in Western Massachusetts, headlining a spirited Democratic rally with hundreds of supporters at Old First Church in Springfield, where bunting and campaign signs hung from the walls.

Patrick, last to speak, took off his suit jacket and urged the crowd to grab their friends and neighbors, and to get people to the polls.

“Don’t let your spirits settle down,’’ he said. “Don’t let your enthusiasm settle down.’’

Patrick thanked backers for supporting him during the campaign but said it was not enough.

“I need you to give a little more, because what’s at stake is who we are,’’ he said.

Baker’s sole public appearance was at the Bleacher Bar at Fenway with Peter Vitale, a 54-year-old Wakefield supporter who says he has been out of work since he lost his job in the financial services industry 14 months ago and sees “no end in sight.’’

Vitale blamed Patrick and said he was bothered by the governor’s commercials contending that the state is “on the mend and on the move.’’

“It just simply isn’t so,’’ Vitale said, adding that he is competing against 100 applicants for every job opening.

Baker said Patrick was planning to raise the state income tax rate from 5.3 percent to 7 percent, although Patrick has made no such proposal. Baker said that he made the assertion because Patrick has yet to outline how he would address next year’s projected budget deficit and that, in his estimation, the governor would have to raise taxes that much in the absence of reforms.

Patrick replied by saying the number of jobs Massachusetts has added this year is “enough to fill Fenway Park to overflowing.’’

The governor also leveled his own attack, contrasting the expansion at Novartis with “the damage that’s been done to small businesses’’ because of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s decision to raise premiums by 150 percent during the decade that Baker was the company’s chief executive.

Baker replied that Patrick owns responsibility for the rise in health care costs, asserting that premiums went up because of the state’s economic and regulatory climate.

Amid the tussles over the economy, one woman who has worked with both men has thrown her support to Patrick.

Leslie Kirwan, an administrator at Harvard, served as Patrick’s chief budget officer until last year and as Baker’s undersecretary and chief of staff from 1995 through 1997, when he was the top budget official under Republican governors. In an e-mail to friends, Kirwan praises Baker’s intelligence, but laments what she characterizes as a negative campaign that pleads ignorance to global warming, minimizes the harm of laying off state workers, and “plays to the Tea Party audience.’’

“While both men may have the brains to be governor,’’ Kirwan writes, “only one has the heart to lead Massachusetts in troubled times, and that is Governor Deval Patrick.’’

Noah Bierman can be reached at Michael Levenson can be reached at