|By G. Michael Dobbs|
SPRINGFIELD When gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick told the standing-room-only audience at St. John's Congregational Church Wednesday night that he doesn't "believe Massachusetts can afford to let Springfield go under and I won't allow Springfield to go under," there was thunderous applause.
That wasn't anything out of the ordinary in a campaign stop that was marked by frequent applause and three standing ovations.
Patrick is the corporate attorney and former member of the Clinton Administration's Department of Justice who is challenging the perceived front runner, Attorney General Thomas Reilly, for the Democratic nomination for governor. In a two-day swing through western Massachusetts, Patrick visited Holyoke, Springfield and Pittsfield.
Although he gave a speech, Patrick said he was more interested in having "a real conversation."
"I don't pretend to have all the answers, he said. "I'm not sure I have all the questions ...You have to teach me what are the challenges are in your lives." Patrick said he has had a "improbable professional life." He said that stories such as his a native of Chicago's South Side neighborhood who took the opportunities afforded him by scholarships to Milton Academy and Harvard University "are not told often enough in this country, but told more in this country than any other country on earth."
Patrick expressed concerns about revitalizing the Democratic Party. He noted that democrats have been busier talking among themselves in recent elections than trying to convince other people that the party's candidates deserve to win.
There were microphones set up throughout the church to allow people to speak with Patrick. He answered questions for over a half-hour.
Timothy Collins, president of Springfield Education Association quizzed the candidate on his plans to address the city's financial problems and their impact on municipal workers.
Patrick said that state and local leaders have been playing a "fiscal shell game" by lowering income taxes and raising property taxes and that other communities across the state are not far from being in a situation similar to Springfield.
He said other mayors are "all out of tricks" to keep their municipalities from feeling pain.
He said that economic development is important in stabilizing the state and that communities must give companies reasons to invest. Patrick added that we have been "starving the infrastructure too long."
He said that, under his administration, collective bargaining agreements would be funded. He also took the opportunity to continue his theme of communicating with voters and said he wants teachers to help him to understand what they believe are the priorities in education.
Brian Hoose of Westfield asked Patrick about creating a tax break for homeowners for their mortgage payments, similar to the state's income tax deduction for rent.
Patrick said he was "open to almost any device that would be helpful to working families."
The candidate said, that because too few multi-family homes are bring built, the cost of housing has been driven up.
The lack of investment in public transit has also contributed to housing costs. If the state was more equally served by mass transit, people could buy homes in communities other than the ones in which they work, he said.
Having the meeting in a church led to several discussions on faith and social issues. A man who identified himself only as "Ishmael," and carrying a Bible, asked Patrick how he could support gay marriage and abortion while speaking in a church.
Patrick said that he is pro-choice but that is not the same as pro-abortion. He added that he had never known anyone faced with the decision of whether or not to have an abortion who didn't struggle with it. He added that some decisions in life are so intimate that the government should not be involved.
He said that in the gay marriage issue he saw it as "what rights people have before their government."
The majority of people in the church seemingly agreed with Patrick's statements and he said that "we have to get past the point of thinking alike in order to work together."
He added, "It's important for people in the community to give people who disagree with us the space to disagree. I won't demonize people who disagree with me."
Reverend Jonathan Tetherly, the Protestant chaplain for the Hampden County House of Corrections asked what Patrick would do about the lopsided rate of prisoners of color in the Commonwealth's jails about 85 percent are of color as opposed to the seven percent in the state's population.
"It's grossly unfair. What does this say and what, as governor, could you do about it?" Tetherly asked.
Patrick said that violence is on the rise and that the Commonwealth needs to be "clear and firm with people who break the rules."
He said the policy of warehousing people is bad and that it shouldn't be a surprise that jails are full when programs that are designed to help prevent conditions that cause crime have been eliminated.
Patrick said that society pays for crime either on the "front end" in programs to help people so they don't turn to crime or on the "back end" in correctional costs. He said would rather "pay up front."
Patrick ended his meeting by recalling being brought to see Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr. speak when he was six or seven years-old.
"I have no idea what he talked about, but I remember what it felt like," he said.
King spoke in a public park and Patrick said it was as "solemn as a church."
He said he has since realized that the greatest gift anyone can be given is a reason for hope.
All that he hopes to accomplish with his candidacy improvements in housing, public education and universal healthcare "may not come in my time, but we can start in that direction."