SPRINGFIELD Announcing Workforce Training grants is a routine kind of gubernatorial task, but the way Governor W. Mitt Romney made the announcement Wednesday in Springfield seemed somewhat presidential.
Taking a page out of presidential campaigning, Romney picked a secure location for an appearance before a very friendly crowd. He then stayed "on point" with members of the press by repeating the same message several times and by making few definitive statements.
The governor arrived in a black SUV protected by a black unmarked police car in the front and rear. Once the motorcade made its way into the fenced-in headquarters of Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO), where the announcement was made, the rear entrance of the compound was guarded by two State Troopers
The fence came in handy as Springfield municipal union members were picketing at both of the entrances of the WMECO compound.
When Romney made his brief remarks to the recipients, a number of protesters were on the other side of the fence, waving their signs and booing the governor.
When he finished his remarks, Romney turned to State Representative Mary Rogeness (R-Longmeadow) who was on the stage with him and asked her, "Do you know which group that is?"
After meeting representatives of the companies receiving the grants and posing for photos, Romney then met with area reporters. He seemed quite at ease as he grabbed TV40's Ray Hershel's clipboard with a smile and flipped it towards a camera so Hershel's videographer could get a "white balance" a technical requirement before shooting could begin.
Romney expressed pleasure over the work that has happened so far in Springfield in righting the city's finances.
"The city has made great progress over the past few months," he said.
The next step, though, in helping the city, he said, was either for the Legislature to authorize additional state aid to the city or to secure the cooperation of the municipal unions.
Romney repeated that statement several more times during the short press availability.
The governor said that he has worked with Springfield more than any other city in the Commonwealth during his administration and that the state's third largest city has been "a problem child."
He added that "it takes two parties to make this work" and that Springfield's costs are the cost of labor.
When asked if recent statements made by Secretary for Administration and Finance Eric Kriss concerning the Finance Control Board receiving more power in order to negotiate with the unions and whether or not his administration was "union busting," Romney stayed on message. He didn't acknowledge the issue of "union busting" in his answer, but repeated his earlier statement concerning two options facing the city.
And he added he doesn't think the Legislature will appropriate more aid to Springfield.
Clearly, Romney was sending the message that the future of the city's finances rests on the shoulders of the municipal unions.
When asked about the possibility of receivership, he said that he didn't know how close the city was to have a receiver appointed, but that he has "confidence in the Control Board" which has "done a great job." Although Romney said he didn't know what the receivership option would be like, he is "not going to take it off the table."
Romney was asked about filing legislation that would strip the civil service status from Springfield Police Chief Paula Meara and he said he had no update on whether or not he would do that. He did offer the opinion that selecting a police chief by a civil service test "doesn't make a lot of sense with me."
"We don't choose our leaders by a test," he said.
When told what Romney had said, Springfield Education Association President Tim Collins said, "Mitt Romney is willing to commit educational opportunity apartheid in order to crush the union to put a line on his resume as he runs for president. Shame on him."
Collins was among the protesters outside the fence.
State Senator Stephen Buoniconti was present when Kriss made his initial remarks and has since hand-delivered a letter to Romney's office protesting Kriss' stand.
Speaking on Hot Talk with Tony Gill over WAIC on Wednesday, Buoniconti said that hearing Kriss' remarks was like being "thrown a David Wells curve ball."
He said that asking the Legislature for more state aid was "unrealistic," as cities such as Lowell and Lawrence are "lining up" for additional state aid.
He said the Legislature might try to compromise on the civil service issue, but that such an action would probably annoy both sides.
Buoniconti said that Romney's remarks are "pitting people against people."
As far as Springfield being "a problem child," Buoniconti said, "those are the kinds of statements that infuriate people."
And as far as Romney's political aspirations, Buoniconti said, "that's another mixed message." The senator believes, though, that Romney is really running for president.
The 13 recipients from western Massachusetts received $1.1 million of state Workforce Training Fund grants that will be used to train 1,740 employees.
"These funds to train our workforce in cutting edge technologies and workforce efficiencies are absolutely critical to enhancing Massachuetts' competitive edge," Romney said.
Recipients in the Reminder Publications circulation area include:
Balise Motor Sales Company, West Springfield, $99,000
Boston Bread, Ludlow, $79,699
Disability Management Services, Inc., Springfield, $60,790
Hoppe Tool, Inc., Chicopee, $75,600
Kielb Welding Enterprise, Inc., West Springfield, $31,400
Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance, Co., Springfield, $212,940
Thorn Industries, Springfield, $36,600
Tyco/healthcare/Ludlow, Chicopee, $24,000
Video Communications, Inc., Springfield, $160,150
Western Massachusetts Electric Co., Springfield, $188,400
Michael Balise of Balise Motor Sales told Reminder Publications that grants such as these are important as "every business is evolving more and more."