Living in Swampscott all my life, including the period in which Charlie Baker moved into town and started (though quickly stopped) being involved in town politics, I’ve grown to know a little bit about Charlie Baker, both the myth and the man.
In today’s Boston Globe, we get to know a lot about the myth. When Charlie Baker moved into town and then, later, decided to run for Town Selectman, he was going to solve all our problems. He was going to take our structural deficit and fix it. He was the former A&F Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, after all — and he single-handily saved Harvard Pilgram! Solving Swampscott’s problems would be no problem at all.
He won his spot on the Board of Selectmen in a cakewalk, one of the most dominating performances ever. People really did buy into the myth. A lot of people in town still believe in it.
And yet, in Baker’s three-year term, from 2004 to 2007, there are hints, broad-brush strokes, of the kind of gubernatorial candidate he may become.
He was, his colleagues on the Board of Selectmen said in interviews this week, inclusive and collaborative. He was a stickler for budget issues. His style was low key. He was not prone to sponsor many motions or to champion many issues.
“His major strength was preparing the budget,” said Reid Cassidy, a former selectman who served with Baker. “He was on top of things at all times and he did go through a budget in a matter of minutes where most of us wouldn’t know where to begin.”
And what about the man?
According to records in Town Hall, Baker missed 12 out of 74 selectmen’s meetings, including three held during the annual Town Meeting where the budget is set. According to selectmen’s minutes recorded during his term, the few motions he sponsored, such as asking the board to approve overhanging signs, restaurant licenses, and bills from law firms, were generally rubber-stamped….
“He had a minimal impact on the government in this town,” said Bill DiMento, a Swampscott lawyer and former School Committee member. “He didn’t take hold of this government. He was just another selectman who missed a lot of meetings.”
The truth of the matter is that Charlie Baker was not a very good Selectman. Our town was very low on his totem pole of importance. None of this is to say Charlie Baker is a bad person. After all, he had the decency to step down.
But he didn’t come in and save us. He didn’t solve all our problems. He had a rather ordinary and somewhat vacant term on the Board of Selectmen. After his term was up, he stopped even trying to solve those problems — problems that have become much worse as the years have gone by.
In the grand scheme of things, the only good thing he did was help secure matching funds for our town at the very period Mitt Romney shut them down. We were the last town to get those funds for several years, but it wasn’t because of the folksy hero Charlie Baker, arguing the merits on the phone and taking the fight to the state, as the Boston Globe
tried to spin put it, it was because Charlie Baker knew the right people at the right time. He was on the Board of Education, after all, to say nothing about his connections from his A&F and CoS days.
As Governor, should Charlie Baker be elected, we will decidedly be getting the man, though we’re almost certain to hear far more about the myth. Like Mitt Romney, we’ll hear a lot about how Charlie Baker saved something. And like when Charlie Baker ran for Town Selectman, not everyone will be rushing to bridge the gap between man and legend (Governor Patrick will have to do that).
Regardless of the credit Charlie Baker deserves (or doesn’t) for Harvard Pilgram, he can’t possibly save state government. He can’t wave a wand and double our revenues. He can’t find mythical cuts to be made that will “solve” our budget. He won’t support the kind of investments we’ll need to make as a state to save our budgets in these bleak times. He won’t favor the kind of expansion in services we need to make as a state if we’re going to grow jobs and share the economic prosperity beyond the Metro Boston region. It’s important for Charlie Baker, the myth, to be broken before people decide whether or not to vote for Charlie Baker, the man.