Brian McGrory

Patrick reboots

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / January 14, 2011

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You certainly don’t see this every day. Actually, you’ve never seen this on any day.

Deval Patrick yesterday boldly went where no Massachusetts governor has gone before. He pushed out pretty much an entire board. And when even that didn’t feel like enough, he canned a bunch of staff members with it. If we were watching “Batman’’ reruns, words like “Pow!’’ and “Bam!’’ would fill the screen as villains fall to the dusty floor.

Already, the hand-wringing has begun in the wake of the Parole Board resignations. Liberals and other assorted inmate advocates are squeamish about whether this will put a damper on future parole decisions, and every two-bit pontificator is asking whether Patrick is playing to the (angry) crowd.

Maybe they’re right, maybe not, but the truth is, it doesn’t matter. Not often enough in this day and age, in this society, are people held truly and closely accountable for their mistakes or misdeeds. Deval Patrick did exactly what needed to be done to restore public confidence and assure public safety.

Among all the high-minded arguments about predictive modeling and the frailties of the human condition, there are two facts that cannot be impeached. Domenic Cinelli should not have gotten parole under any logical measure. And once he did, he wasn’t supervised properly. The results: a dead Woburn police officer named John Maguire, and faith in the justice system shaken to its core.

Put another way, this wasn’t a judgment call gone awry. It was a profoundly bad decision that was part of a completely failed process. Actions have consequences — in this matter, for the Parole Board as well.

Patrick’s action guts the notion of politics as usual in this state. Last week, when Woburn officials and Maguire relatives called for the ouster of the board, knowledgeable people across the state all but rolled their eyes, murmuring that that’s not how business gets done on Beacon Hill or anywhere else.

Moments before Patrick took to the podium yesterday, the assumption was that he’d offer little more than a few proposed reforms that would stagger into a legislative committee that would also serve as their grave.

In a few sternly delivered sentences, that all changed. Could this actually be the no-nonsense, decisive governor that the electorate has always longed for, basically what it thought it was getting in Mitt Romney before Romney became political to a fault?

Patrick appears almost apolitical in this new role. He appointed the chairman of the Parole Board that he fired, among others. And his fresh support for harsher sentences for repeat violent offenders will cause no small stir among his fussy liberal base.

This, of course, comes amid a spasm of personnel actions by this governor. He helped push out the head of the film board. He jettisoned the front-running candidate to be president of UMass. He forced the resignation of the much admired secretary of veterans’ services. Not every move was warranted or well-executed; the UMass move, as was written here before, was particularly ham-handed. But say this about the governor: He’s collecting bucks, not passing them.

Throw in a couple of major snowstorms that were handled with ease, and Patrick is kicking aside the notion that Massachusetts elects Democrats for their ideology and Republicans for their competence.

In terms of the Parole Board, what the governor has done is little different than what regular people do when they get “error’’ messages all over their computer monitors. He reached down and hit the reboot button to give the whole thing the fresh start that the public wants and probably needs.

Are some of these ousted Parole Board members decent and honorable people? Let there be little doubt. But the reality is that they serve at the pleasure of the governor. He was displeased, and so were many of the people he represents.

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