Why would anyone want to be Lieutenant Governor? Sure, you get to be Governor if your boss resigns, but one can’t count on that happening (though it has become something of a pattern around here in recent years). And unless the Gov quits, don’t you pretty much spend your time carrying water for the Governor at B-list ribbon cuttings and presiding over the largely pointless Governor’s Council meetings?
The "why this job?" question was the first thing I asked Andrea Silbert when we spoke with her earlier this week, and it will be my first question for the other Lieutenant Governor candidates as well. Silbert actually has a pretty good answer for that question. If she is elected Lt. Gov., she hopes to carve out a three-part portfolio for herself: (1) she wants a leading role in economic development; (2) she wants to serve as Massachusetts’ "lobbyist" in Washington, trying to bring federal dollars back home; and (3) she wants to continue her work as a voice and advocate for the underserved and the disadvantaged.
Silbert brings relevant credentials to each of those tasks. Every time you hear from Silbert, expect to hear about the Center for Women and Enterprise (CWE), a non-profit entrepreneurial training center that Silbert co-founded and ran for almost nine years. CWE claims to have assisted 10,000 women (many of them economically disadvantaged) start and grow businesses, in the process creating 14,000 jobs and generating $400 million in wages. Based in part on her experience with CWE, Silbert sees small businesses as far more relevant to job creation than cutting deals with the Raytheons and Gillettes, and hopes to translate her experience at CWE into a statewide effort to encourage small business development.
Silbert also mentioned "urban renewal" as a component of her economic development strategy, reasoning that the best way to bring new business to areas that already have affordable housing, like Worcester, Pittsfield, and New Bedford, is to make those areas desirable places to live and to start businesses. I wish I had followed up on exactly what she meant by "urban renewal," a term that acquired a well-deserved bad reputation a while back – think "Boston’s West End" – and it is not clear that urban planners have learned from past mistakes. I am going to try to get additional information from Silbert on this question and will update or write a new post as necessary.
The second part of Silbert’s vision of the Lt. Gov. job is to act as MA’s Washington lobbyist. Here, too, she draws on her experience with CWE, specifically her ability to obtain federal grants for the work CWE was doing. Silbert also sees regional projects – especially those involving states with some Republicans in the delegation, like railroad projects with Maine and New Hampshire – as a promising strategy for keeping the federal bucks flowing to Massachusetts. (Optimistic footnote: of course, this strategy will no longer be necessary by 2006 when Democrats recapture both houses of Congress!)
Part three of Silbert’s vision is to continue her work as an advocate for underserved populations. And again, Silbert has some unusual skills that will help her. Silbert spent a good deal of time in Latin America doing economic development work, and she is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. That skill alone obviously will allow her to reach populations in Massachusetts that, because of language barriers, may ordinarily find it difficult to communicate with elected officials. In addition, Silbert points to CWE’s track record in helping "disadvantaged women, including single mothers and women on welfare," succeed in business.
Lefties that we are, we couldn’t resist asking Silbert about "social issues" – not that anyone really cares what the Lieutenant Governor thinks about "social issues," since what the Governor says pretty much goes for the administration. Silbert falls into the "progressive Democrat" category here: she is pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and anti-death penalty.
Silbert is obviously very accomplished; she is passionate about what she’s done and what she wants to do; and she is dynamic and engaging in conversation (I have never seen her speak but hope to have the opportunity to do so soon). She has been reasonably successful in campaign fundraising thus far; at the moment she leads the pack. A couple of questions occur to me. (1) Can she keep raising the money she needs to maintain visibility in a below-radar race like this one? Unlike Stop & Shop heiress and fellow candidate Deb Goldberg, she is not personally wealthy so she cannot look to her own bank account in a pinch. (2) Can she start racking up some big-name Democratic endorsements? Goldberg so far boasts the support of US Rep. Barney Frank and former party chair Steve Grossman; that’s not enough to win an election, but it is enough to open some fundraising doors, and Silbert needs to prevent that trickle from becoming a flood – seems to me it would behoove her to keep the party establishment at least neutral in this race.