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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Where's Weldo?

Bill Weld is a charming rogue, with a gift for blarney that put his Democratic counterparts to shame during his meteoric rise and fall in Massachusetts politics.

But I've always felt that Bill Weld was too smart for his own good; that the thrill of the chase outweighed the daily hum-drum of dealing with the devil in the details. That reality is coming home to roost as the erstwhile Republican candidate for governor in New York must deal with the realities left in the wake of his stint as CEO of Decker College.

My guess is that Weld did not have a clue what was going on at the Kentucky vocational school under federal investigation for fraud. Was Bill Weld the type of CEO who signed things without looking? Yes. Is he a crook or charlatan like so many of his GOP brethren? No.

Weld established a solid career as a federal prosecutor, even though he failed at getting his ultimate target, Kevin White. He rode that reputation to the Corner Office, aided by the rampant public distaste for John Silber, the BU president whose disposition makes Harvard's Larry Summers seem like Mr. Congeniality.

Big Red has some success in his first term, helped along by tax increases voted by the Legislature during the final months of the Dukakis administration. His major accomplishment, in my view, was removing some of the venom injected into state political life by Dukakis' failed presidential bid, the fiscal collapse and Silber's venomous tongue.

It was enough to win him an overwhelming re-election. And it revealed the streak in Weld's persona that had been hidden until then. The man bores easily. The quest is the challenge and when he reaches that goal it's time for another. And another. And another.

The first was his unsuccessful challenge for John Kerry's Senate seat. He put on a good fight, scared a lot of Democrats but lost when Kerry actually responded to the challenge.

After that came his quixotic bid for ambassador to Mexico. Let this sink in: He quit his job in mid-term to try to become Ambassador to Mexico? After Jesse Helms torpedoed that venture, it was back to New York to make some money (not that the Welds, who came over on or shortly after the Mayflower, needed it).

One mid-life crisis and divorce later, Weldo was out to make his mark as a venture capitalist, the saga that led him down the road to Louisville and Decker College. But even that was boring so Big Red decided he needed another challenge: being the first man since Sam Houston to be elected governor in two states.

One thing should be clear. Despite his many years in Massachusetts, Weld is not a carpetbagger. A case could be made that he wore that title here, a Middlesex School and Harvard-educated transient who returned home.

The bigger issue are what if: What if he overcomes the Decker mess and the antipathy of New York's Conservative Party? What if he beats Elliott Spitzer by casting the New York attorney general as John Silber redux? What if Weld gets bored again?

The words of someone who has witnessed it all should stick with every New Yorker tempted by this lovable, overgrown child:

"I think my dad might love the campaigns more than governing," says David Weld, his eldest son, before catching himself. "Well, he loves campaigning as much as governing."


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