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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Joe the Plumber meets Joe the Tree Guy

Charlie Baker continues to showcase his financial superiority in the governor's race, launching a new TV ad in the ultimate dog days of summer when most candidates save their dollars for a time when people are focusing on more than their vacations.

And today's Globe highlights another question about a strategy that, so far at least, has failed to generate any positive momentum for the candidate: sloppy work on the part of the staff and consultants benefiting from Baker's fund-raising prowess.

Joe the Plumber meet Joe the Tree Guy.

Not since John McCain offered the world Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher has a candidate offered such a tainted example of a small business guy allegedly screwed by the government. In fact, Baker's poster boy, Joseph M. DiStasio, makes Wurzelbacher almost seem credible.

Baker trotted put DiStasio as an example of a guy trying to earn a living in the tree business but who was ultimately strangled by red tape.
... DiStasio, a former owner of two Quincy tree companies, described what he said was a long struggle with state agencies that ended up drowning his businesses in red tape, fees, and rising taxes. He filed for bankruptcy for himself and for both companies in January.

“I was forced to close the doors," he told reporters as Baker, the GOP gubernatorial nominee, stood by his side. “Regulations and never-ending rules are ever changing; taxes are going up. I’m scared to try to grow another business in Massachusetts. . . . I got the rug pulled out from under me."

But court filings and other civil actions, as easily available to the Baker staff as to the Globe, adds some important facts missing from the staged press event.

American Express has filed a petition with the bankruptcy court, saying that DiStasio ran up more than $40,000 in bills on his personal card for luxury items in the weeks before the January filing.

Last month, Attorney General Martha Coakley fined one of his companies nearly $100,000 for significant wage law violations.

And, in a lawsuit, his former business partner asserts that DiStasio siphoned company funds to purchase luxury items and to cover personal expenses.

His personal bankruptcy petition outlines liabilities of $3.6 million. He lists assets of $4.1 million, but $2.7 million of that is money that he said he was owed as part of a counter-lawsuit against his partner. A judge has already dismissed two-thirds of that amount.

One of Baker's well-paid staffers, spokeswoman Amy Goodrich, brushed off the problems, suggesting the Globe speak directly with DiStasio, who didn't return their calls, and defended Baker's overall message.
“This is a guy who has been negatively affected by the state’s regulatory policies for the last four years, and we are happy to provide a platform for him.’’
But not as "negatively affected" as the employees stiffed out of $288,000 in wages. Nor apparently the small businessman personally, who is still is leasing a 2008 RS 60 Porsche Boxster convertible, at a cost of $798 monthly, according to his bankruptcy filing.

Unless of course we should feel bad that he hasn't been able to lease a 2010 model.

Baker's spending and the bang he's getting for those bucks -- and the window that opens into how he might operate as the state's chief executive officer -- is really tarnishing the can-do image he created as Bill Weld's right-hand man and as the boss at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

Lucky for him no one is really paying attention, yet.

Except of course the Deval Patrick Committee, which has just been handed another juicy topic for when they start to run ads after Labor Day. You know when people do pay attention.

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