HLS Alum Triumphs in Gubernatorial Primary


Deval Patrick being interviewed by the press outside Austin Hall

Deval Patrick, a 1982 graduate of Harvard Law School, is now one step closer to being the next governor of Massachusetts. Patrick won the Democratic primary for Massachusetts governor Tuesday night with 50% of the vote, defeating Boston venture capitalist Chris Gabrieli and Attorney General Tom Reilly. The race for the Democratic nomination was close in the months leading up to the election, with polls showing the three candidates in a near-tie in August. In recent weeks, however, Patrick pulled ahead, with a September 16th Boston Globe poll showing Patrick ahead by as much as 21 points over Gabrieli, his closest challenger.

Patrick will face Republican Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey in the general election on November 7. Republican Governor Mitt Romney, HLS ’75, HBS ’75, has held the office since 2003, but decided not to seek reelection and will likely pursue a 2008 presidential bid. While Massachusetts has long had a Democrat-dominated state legislature, it has been 20 years since it elected its last Democratic governor, Michael Dukakis, HLS ’60.

If he beats Healey, Patrick would become the first black governor of Massachusetts, and only the second in the nation. Lawrence Douglas Wilder became the first black state executive in 1989 when he won Virginia’s gubernatorial race. A win by Healey, meanwhile, would make her the first-ever female governor to be elected in Massachusetts; Romney’s predecessor, Jane Swift obtained the office through succession in 2001.

Patrick has been compared to Illinois Senator Barack Obama both in style and in the historical meaning of his campaign. Obama, a 1991 graduate of HLS and the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, became the only sitting black senator in 2004, and the third elected in history.

Patrick’s life began on the South Side of Chicago in 1956, where he lived on welfare in a one-bedroom apartment with his mother and sister. A teacher recommended the young Patrick to the organization A Better Chance, which assists minority students with potential by placing them in elite private and public schools nationwide. A Better Chance took Patrick to the Milton Academy, in Massachusetts, and from there he went on to Harvard College, graduating in 1978. For the next year he worked on a United Nations youth training project in the Darfur region of Sudan.

After matriculating at HLS in 1979, Patrick won the Ames Moot Court Competition and was named best oral advocate. He also was elected president of the Legal Aid Bureau and devoted much of his time there to housing law.

Kim Harbin, currently serving as President of the Bureau, said that the organization had not had much recent contact with Patrick, but that its members wished him luck.

“We are excited that one of our Bureau alum[ni] is in the running to become the next governor of Massachusetts,” Harbin said. “His work at the Bureau with tenants facing eviction has continued to influence his ideas of fairness and his commitment to ameliorating conditions of poverty throughout the state.”

Upon graduation from HLS, Patrick clerked for a year in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Los Angeles. After a few years at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), he joined the Boston law firm Hill & Barlow, where he became partner in 1990. In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Patrick Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Most recently, Patrick was Executive Vice President and General Counsel of The Coca-Cola Company, a post from which he resigned last year. His involvement with Coca-Cola, and his previous employment with Texaco and Ameriquest Mortgage Company, has engendered controversy, and his critics-including Reilly-cite corporate exploitation of minorities and implementation of unfair business practices. The Campaign for Killer Coke, www.killercoke.org, has devoted a section of its website to criticizing Patrick.

“[T]he suits, smiles, and speeches conceal the realities of his lucrative lawyering for Coca-Cola and other corporations that abuse workers, the environment, and local community interests,” reads a flyer distributed by Killer Coke, which features a cartoon rendering of Patrick embracing bags of money.

The most hotly contested issue going into the primary, however, was not Patrick’s corporate career, but the state income tax. In 2000, voters approved, by a large margin, a ballot measure cutting the rate to 5 percent over a period of three years. But in 2002, the state temporarily froze the rate at 5.3 percent owing to a sharp fall in tax revenues, and the rate has remained there since.

Patrick has said the tax should stay where it is, fearful of a hike in property taxes if it is rolled back. Reilly disagreed, saying that the constituents’ votes should be honored, and Gabrieli offered a plan to fund the tax cut.

While the three Democratic candidates agreed on some issues, such as support for same-sex marriage and stem cell research, they diverged on others, including the Cape Wind energy project, allowing certain undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition, the proper role of charter schools, and whether to legalize gambling in Massachusetts. Patrick was more hesitant than his two opponents to bring slot machines and casinos to the state as an attempt to recoup revenue lost at out-of-state sites like Connecticut’s Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos.

All three candidates came to Harvard Law School’s Ames Courtroom last week to discuss issues affecting the GLBT community. Many Harvard Law students worked on the Patrick campaign over the last year, and the Patrick campaign was supported widely by young people and bloggers before branching out into wider coalitions of voters. “Deval has shown that he knows how to form coalitions and engage the community behind innovative and exciting ideas,” said HLS Democrats President Dan Geldon Tuesday evening. “He’s done HLS proud through the course of the campaign, and he’s surely going to do us proud as Governor.”

However, not everyone in Massachussetts was ready to crown Patrick governor. “We believe the outcome today only strengthens Kerry Healey’s chances in November,” said Sarah Isgur, Communications Director for the HLS Republicans. “Massachusetts voters will now have a clear cut choice between a fringe, left-wing candidate who does not share their values or vision for this state and Lt. Governor Healey, who has time and time again proven that she is a moderate and disciplined choice for the people of Massachusetts.”

The Boston Globe endorsed Patrick’s candidacy in the primary, telling readers, “In choosing a governor to run the state, voters look for executive experience, wise issue positions, and the intangible quality of leadership. It is a rare thing when a candidate has all three.”

Geldon and the HLS Democrats agree. “Massachusetts is ready for a new kind of leader,” said Geldon. “Deval has shown again and again that he has what it takes.”

Andrea Saenz contributed to the reporting of this article.

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