As promised yesterday, I will make the nominations for this award from among those who are considered the leaders of the hacks, elected politicians. Keep in mind where some consider the word hack to be a pejorative indicating a loafer or idler; I happen to think it is a worthy title because it applies to all involved in politics or serving on the public payroll from the president of the United States, through our fighting men and women, to our teachers, pubic works employees, judges, police, fire, and other public officials and all those who support them and make our government operate. The hacks are the people who have maintained and preserved our democracy and keep us safe.
It’s easy to sit in a newspaper room or radio studio and criticize but it is hard to go out and interact with the public when one subjects oneself to the turmoil, invective and hurly-burly of running for public office. I have found that even those who hold positions totally opposite from me I nevertheless admire their fortitude and determination to do what it takes to leave one’s comfort zone and take a chance to work for their ideas. I could never do it but I don’t begrudge anything to those that do. When I hear the term hacks I think of people like Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison who laid the foundation for our country.
You must be familiar with the name Sheila Burgess. She just recently got canned as the Massachusetts highway safety director by Governor Patrick. I know it is reported that she resigned but who resigns a good paying state job without have been told to hand in their resignation. It was pointed out in the article noting her resignation that: “Burgess was appointed to her $87,000-a-year position in July 2007, without any background in public safety, transportation, or government administration. Her experience was in Democratic Party politics. For almost two decades as a paid consultant and congressional aide, she had raised money and advised candidates for public office, including — according to her resume — Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, who had taken office six months earlier as part of the new Patrick administration.”
The original article that called our attention to the 48 year old woman was that she had: “ seven accidents, four speeding violations, two failures to stop for a police officer, one failure to stay in her lane, one driving without registration or license in possession, and one driving without wearing a seat belt.”
What is totally unremarkable and seems par for the course is that a media frenzy followed. Like sharks being fed, the media rushed about tearing away at the flesh of Ms Burgess. The public greedily watched as TV trucks showed pictures of her modest house with the suggestion she was hiding in there afraid to come out and face the music as if she were public enemy number one. Not one media outlet stepped back nor did one commentator stopped to ask what the woman had done wrong. The original story came back to us over and over again like words uttered in an echo chamber.
The article doesn’t point that while she held the job she had no driving problems. except for an accident in August, 2012, where she swung off the road to avoid being hit by an oncoming car shortly after noon. We don’t know how long it had been since her prior traffic violations occurred. The most recent problem mentioned was a 1999 an incident of speeding in New Hampshire. ‘
Her record was examined from 1982 when she was 17 to the present. We have no idea of whether her bad driving was as a teenager or in her early twenties. We don’t know whether she was acquitted or convicted of these offenses. We know nothing of their circumstances. We can see that the charges against her are minor misdemeanors or perhaps civil violations. We don’t know whether the accidents were her fault or someone else’s.
Nor does the article point out how she had performed her job since 2007. It noted she had no background in “public safety, transportation, or government administration.” This was repeated over and over again. The newspaper apparently using its superior wisdom decided one of those were necessary qualifications.
Yet considering the job it seemed the background one would look for would be in public relations. She had plenty of background for that in running political campaigns for twenty years. Further, as JJ Sullivan the irascible attorney who taught me how to be a lawyer would say, “she learned the best way – in the school of hard knocks.”
All the reports of her performance as director point to her having done a proficient and skillful job. The message her office was supposed to convey was getting out. Ms Burgess is not accused of any crime, any deception, anything untoward in the performance of her job. Her resume had no problems. Her driving record was as available to the hiring party as to the newspaper.
She did nothing wrong yet she was pilloried for having a bad driving record during her youth and working for politicians prior to the time she got the state job. In this tawdry media inspired rush to malign a woman we are to urged to condemn her for these things of the distant past and ignore her having done her present job for over five years in a well qualified manner.
In a job where what matters is the message we are told that because the messenger may not be pure it is wrong for her to send it out. Yet, today, in the same newspaper that reported on Sheila Burgess, in an analogous situation a man with a background much worse than hers is extolled for having turned his life around. He is now preaching to high school kids. Tell me the difference between the situations of Sheila Burgess and Cris Nilan.
In the context of the injustice in terminating her, I offer the nominations of two persons for my newly created awards.
For the Got Guts I nominate US Representative James McGovern. He defended his recommendation of Ms Burgess as a “good person” and a “hard worker.” He went on to say: “She wanted to make a career change, so we passed her resume along. I had every reason to believe she would be a good, decent, hard-working (employee). Not withstanding this controversy, she did a pretty good job.”
The intrepid newspaper reporter then put it squarely to McGovern. He was asked whether his recommendation of her for a position gave “the appearance that he was doing a favor for someone who helped him raise money.” McGovern responded: “Just because somebody works for me in a political campaign, does not mean she should be disqualified from working in some capacity for other people. Good people get involved in political campaigns.”
McGovern got guts. He stood up for what he did. He did not back down in the face of the newspapers crusade.
This allows me also to give the Gone Gray award. This goes to Governor Deval Patrick. Rather than noting she did a good job as director, he ran through the briar and brambles faster than a rabbit. He first blamed McGovern for recommending her; then he said he was furious, he said it was a screw up. He then was going to reassign her but finally he terminated her. He didn’t have the courage to look at the facts. I hope he ends his political career here. We don’t look forward to having any Gone Gray nominees in positions where we need guts.
(Tomorrow I’ll tell you where I think there should have been a media frenzy.)