Sunday, June 9, 2013

RIP Argeo Paul Cellucci

     I knew Paul Cellucci. He was the acting Governor at the time back in the late 90's when I pumped gas at a service station which was owned by a guy who got his start working for Cellucci's father Junior, the longtime Hudson Chamber of Commerce president, who'd founded Washington Street Motors. If you spoke to Cellucci, you immediately were faced with this stultifying sense of dullness of personality, with an indistinct voice that, like Gerald Ford, would and could not be easily emulated by political impressionists. And yet, despite being uncharismatic even as far as Republicans go, Cellucci enjoyed the almost unique distinction of never losing an election in a long career in public service. Even in a heavily blue state such as Massachusetts (although 51% of our voters are registered independents), Cellucci managed to win whether he was running for the state house of representatives, the state senate, the lieutenant Governorship and eventually the top office.
     Argeo Paul Cellucci passed away yesterday of ALS at the age of 65. He'd revealed he was dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease back in January of 2011.
     My recollections of Gov. Cellucci are, as with most voters, of a necessarily worm's eye view. I knew the man on a personal basis, filled up his Jeep Cherokee about once every three weeks and talked shop. Massachusetts, you see, is one of only two states in the union that doesn't have a Governor's mansion so Cellucci used to commute back from Beacon Hill every day to his home literally down the street from my job. His wife Jan would hand him back their watched videos from Blockbuster and sometimes the Governor would pull in for a fill-up while he was running his errands. I used to love addressing him in a Cockney accent because I never before had the chance to say, "'Ey, Guvnor!" to an actual Governor.
     In fact, the first time I ever waited on him, Cellucci was so unprepossessing I didn't even know who he was until I saw his wife Jan's name on the credit card he'd handed me. So, we'd chew the fat, discuss the Family Medical Leave Act he'd just signed into law ("So, now, if you want to watch your kid's soccer game, you can.") that gave Massachusetts workers 40 hours a year off for personal reasons. While I was in the beginning stages of my novel The Toy Cop, I'd asked for Cellucci's help on points regarding the death penalty and what state constitutional law would say about that if we had capital punishment. Not one to forget a favor, I'd mentioned the Governor in my acknowledgements page when I finally published my massive thriller on Create Space.
     But while he may have been lacking in the personality department, Cellucci was a moderate Republican who was wisely chosen by Bill Weld when he was running for Governor in 1990. Cellucci may have been a fiscal conservative (he lowered the state income tax from almost 6% to 5%) but he was also a social moderate to liberal, depending on your criteria. Earlier this year, Cellucci's name appeared on an amicus curiae brief coming out in support of same sex marriage (even though we've had it since May 17, 2004 after the Goodridge vs the Dept of Public Health ruling).
     The biggest scandal to hit his office when he was Governor was over the massive cost overruns regarding the Big Dig, which had more to do with corrupt Boston mobsters getting cement contracts than anything having to do with Cellucci, who at least had the sense to remove the project manager, the stupendously corrupt and incompetent Jim Kerasiotes who had disappeared thousands of records and sandblasted hard drives to cover up what we can assume were countless crimes pertaining to the Big Dig.
     The one thing you could say about Cellucci's administration, which made advances in serious gun control, educational betterment and a whole host of other progressive issues, was that it was incorruptible. Long after Republicans on Capitol Hill had sold their souls to the Devil in his various incarnations through captains of industry, lobbyists, etc, Cellucci's only ethical failing was a weakness for the ponies that had ruined his personal finances (Ironically, after leaving Ottawa as our ambassador to Canada, Cellucci took a job with Magna, a sports entertainment corporation. "Magna chairman Frank Stronach said Cellucci's role would be to help reform the U.S. regulations around horse racing."), handily explaining why he had to use wife Jan's credit card to fill up.
     Cellucci obviously did not enter public service to get wealthy. In fact, he was likely the most broke-ass Governor we ever had. And even when he was fighting for life during the 1999 election that saw him nearly lose to MA Attorney General Scott Harshbarger (seen above with Cellucci during their campaigns), even during the highly contentious "Brawl in Faneiul Hall" debate, he always maintained that Old World insistence on civility and a willingness to reach across the aisle in order to do some good by the people (a lesson obviously lost on our current POTUS). Seven years ago, Cellucci even admitted that we were hasty and wrong in invading Iraq and for using his office as Ambassador to Canada to pressure them into joining Bush's ridiculous Coalition of the Willing.
     Argeo Paul Cellucci entered public service with the intention of doing that good. He didn't, like his successor Deval Patrick, use his law degree to get a $20,000,000 golden parachute from Coca Cola after defending that corporation from civil rights lawsuits. He wasn't a rude, raving Tea Bagger like Chris Christie or Paul LaPage. Cellucci was a class act, a man who, compared to the current psychopaths of his party, would almost be considered a liberal today by conspicuous relief. I didn't always agree with the Governor's policies but that's the price one pays when entering public service. It could be argued that Cellucci actually left Massachusetts a better, stronger Commonwealth than he'd found it.
     If we must have Republicans in our midst, then Argeo Paul Cellucci typified the kind we need more of, one that's willing to work in a bipartisan manner and not devote his office to reducing one man to one term (Are we listening, Mitch?) and he did not use his political connections merely to get rich. Paul Cellucci will be missed as much as the moderate Republican he represented throughout his entire career.
     In my own small way, I'd honored Gov. Cellucci yet again by basing part of my fictional Senator James Forrest's character on Cellucci's. He, too, had a brawl in Faneiul Hall and loved movies. And to inspire somebody while they're writing a book, regardless of how good or bad it'll ultimately be, is surely one of the highest praises one can bestow on another.

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