The Passion of Matt Patrick
It?s a rough game, underneath the backslaps and the handshakes and the big noble speeches . . . Allen Drury, ADVISE AND CONSENT
The Community Counseling Service?generated letter to ?John Q. Prospect? claimed that the Alliance had ?gained support from all the local politicians? and had ?developed a strong base of influential republican and democratic supporters in the State House and in Congress.? Politically, it did look as though project opponents had everything sewn up.
Even Mitt Romney, close to Republican financier Richard J. Egan, had signed on to the cause. In early 2002, Romney announced he would stand for the fall gubernatorial election. Gordon sent Romney a campaign donation and attended a fund-raiser. When he approached Romney to talk about the project, the candidate openly admitted that he?d already made a campaign promise to oppose Gordon?s project.
?I never go back on my promises,? Romney told Gordon.
Gordon was astonished. As with Kennedy, Gordon had never had a chance to explain his proposal to Romney, yet the candidate had already committed himself to opposing a project that could bring a huge economic windfall to Massachusetts.
What?s the deal? Gordon wondered. It may have shocked Gordon, but Romney meant what he?d said. Visiting Cape Cod Times editors, he repeated his stand. As far as ocean views go, the Cape need not worry, Romney told them. The ocean view from the Cape is a national trea - sure: ?You don?t interrupt that.?
Lining up Cape Cod politicians had been one of the Alliance?s first tasks. Between the efforts of congressional aide Mark Forest and the chamber of commerce?s John O?Brien, many of Cape Cod?s boards of selectmen had gone along with opponents. Additionally, the Cape?s state senator, Rob O?Leary, and most of Cape Cod?s state representatives had joined the bandwagon, opting to follow in the footsteps of either Republican Mitt Romney or Democrat Ted Kennedy.
But there was one holdout. Matthew Patrick, a Democratic state representative from Falmouth, refused to toe the line. Growing up, Patrick had idolized the slain Robert F. Kennedy. But when the Kennedy family opposed the wind-farm proposal, Patrick found a postcard of John F. Kennedy sailing his yacht in Nantucket Sound and sketched in an array of wind turbines on the saltwater horizon.
He displayed the touched-up postcard prominently in his office. At forty-nine, Patrick was an unusual politician. He genuinely had little ambition for power or for prestige. Friends often coaxed him to run for higher office, but he always said he was satisfied representing his small constituency in state government. ?Now and then, an innocent man is sent to the legislature,? once quipped Kin Hubbard, a Midwestern newspaper columnist and close friend of Will Rogers. He could easily have had Patrick in mind. The Falmouth representative had no interest in the glamour of Cape Cod?s wealthy class, didn?t care about partying with the glitterati, and was happiest fly-fishing. He owned a small runabout that could take him along the shoreline, but it wasn?t a large enough boat to safely go any distance out into the Sound.
A lifelong Democrat, he had grown up in a small New Jersey town? Millstone, population 400?and was the oldest of ten children. His father was a teacher. His mother divided her time between caring for her children and serving as the town?s mayor, a post she held off and on for twenty-five years, until the age of eighty. Patrick had lived a Huck Finn childhood, fishing the streams, camping out in the woods, swimming and floating down rivers to the sea, and wandering through farm fields. An all-American kid, he had a talent for watercolors and a championship record as a high school cornerback, gaining him a scholarship to Upsala College, without which he would not have been able to afford higher education.
He came to Cape Cod almost by accident. He and his wife, Louise, whom he met in Ghana while both were Peace Corps volunteers, had looked for a place to settle down that was affordable, and in the late 1970s, property on much of Cape Cod, other than along the central southern shoreline, was comparatively inexpensive. In Falmouth, Patrick began working as a carpenter and jack-of-all-trades, then started his own energy-conservation business. A Federal Housing Administration loan helped them buy their first small starter home. Two children were born.
Patrick became an environmental mover and shaker on the local scene, leading a fight to restore a local trout stream, protecting important waterways from overdevelopment and preventing an 800-unit condominium development from being built within fifty feet of an important local river. He led the fight to establish the Cape Cod Commission, a land-use regulatory authority. He was chairman of the Citizens for the Protection of Waquoit Bay, an organization that had successfully protected Washburn Island, an island that was slated for Oyster Harbors?like development but which instead became a state park open to all.
Patrick was also something of a local renewable-energy expert. He ran energy-loan programs for the public, helped create a heating-oil buyers? cooperative, helped produce an energy-management plan for Barnstable County, and was involved in efforts to erect modern wind turbines on a Cape Cod military base. He had spent a considerable amount of time helping a Cape Cod clean-air group pressure the CapeCod Canal power plant to install technology that would decrease its toxic emissions.
He was also tremendously stubborn. Once he made up his mind that something was ?right,? he felt compelled to speak out. His friends weren?t surprised when, at the Barnstable Town Council, he was first to speak in favor of giving Cape Wind a fair shake, even before he knew which way the political winds were blowing. And later, when the town council called for national marine-sanctuary status for the Sound, Patrick spoke to the larger context, connecting the September 11 disaster to global-energy questions, and suggesting that Cape Wind could be one small step toward a solution.
The problem for project opponents was not just that Patrick supported studying the wind farm?a handful of other Cape Cod politicians also did so?but that he wouldn?t shut up. When the Cape Cod Times published editorials with incorrect information, Patrick wrote to correct the record, charging that the paper was providing its readers with ?questionable information.?
When the chamber of commerce?s John O?Brien misled people by saying that New England didn?t need more electrical power, Patrick again stubbornly insisted on setting the record straight. Cultivating O?Brien as an enemy was somewhat dangerous. O?Brien had once physically spun Al Benson around and accosted him verbally for publicly contradicting misinformation O?Brien had given out.
Rumors began to spread that Patrick was not a ?team player.? Led by Congressman William Delahunt, the hazing began. At a St. Patrick?s Day political roast, Delahunt ridiculed Patrick in a speech and called him ?Mr. Wind.? Another state representative, Barnstable?s Demetrius Atsalis, a compliant wind-farm opponent, asked Patrick to wear a little beanie with a propeller on top. State Senators Robert O?Leary and Theresa Murray also chimed in with their little jibes.
Patrick was prepared. He and his son had written an essay: ?Top Ten Reasons to Oppose the Cape Cod Wind Farm.? Among those reasons: ? The wind turbines won?t match the color of the new drapes in the boathouse we just redecorated. ? The turbulence from the wind wake caused by the stupid windmills will take the wind out of our sails. ? It will be damned difficult to get back to Hyannisport after I?ve had a few drinks at the bar over at Edgartown. ? My stock in the nuclear-power plant will go down the toilet. ? They will spoil the Figawi Race, and you know how much trouble those boys have getting home without anything in the way. ? The ambassador says it will spoil the view of the sound from his $13 million mansion he built in Cotuit after tearing down a house that only cost him $4 million.
Amusing as his list was, Patrick was making fun of some of his own constituents. Osterville and its yacht clubs were part of his district. Ridiculing your own constituents is usually considered a faux pas, but when those ridiculed are some of the world?s wealthiest families, the joke could be seen as suicidal.
In particular, the joke about ?the ambassador? was not appreciated by Osterville Republicans. The ambassador referred to Richard J. Egan, Mitt Romney?s friend, a Bush Ranger, and the Bush administration?s then representative in Ireland. Alliance supporters decided to get even.
Once again strange things happened in the Barnstable Town Council. In May 2002, shortly after the political roast, town councilor Richard Barry made an announcement: ?Mr. President, I?d like to, with your permission, introduce Larry Wheatley. He?s a gentleman who?s sitting out in the audience right now. He?s going to be running against Matt Patrick. I?d like to afford him an opportunity to introduce himself.?
Once again, councilor Richard Elrick spoke up, pointing out that introducing a future political candidate via the televised town council meeting was inappropriate, and that allowing him to make a televised campaign speech under the aegis of the town council was an outrage to the democratic process.
The council president interrupted Elrick. ?It is unusual,? the president conceded. He said he would take a vote. If he got eight votes, he would let Wheatley speak. He got seven votes.
He stared intently at several councilors, then polled them again, but still got only seven votes. This time, he raised his own hand, getting the required eight.
?Come aboard,? the council president jovially ordered Wheatley. Wheatley rose from his folding chair in the audience and slipped his suit coat over his white shirt while walking to the podium. His thinning red hair was neatly combed over his forehead. His bright red tie with small white polka dots nicely set off his American flag lapel pin.
?Thank you. Thank you, councilors. Thank you, sir,? he began. His voice fluttered, perhaps because he realized that a campaign speech in this forum was very improper. ?Not to take the time to talk issues,? he said, commencing to talk issues. ?I know where folks in those areas stand on wind farms. I stand with them . . . .? Mission accomplished, Wheatley sat down.
Most of the councilors said nothing about the candidate?s outrageous behavior, giving a campaign speech at the council that would be televised throughout the town of Barnstable. Elrick, though, was furious. ?I think we will rue the day that we chose to interject partisan politics into this night?s meeting or into any town council meeting,? he said. ?It is unprecedented. There are opportunities for people to speak at two public comment sessions, both before and after this meeting. I think it was a mistake on the part of this body, and I think it was unfortunate and particularly unfair to Representative Patrick to not have an opportunity himself to be here tonight. We?ve never done this before, and I certainly hope we never do it again.? Republican candidate Larry Wheatley was a newcomer to Cape Cod who had once written a letter to a local paper claiming that Gordon's wind turbines would ?endanger private pilots.? A Coast Guard retiree and part owner of a couple of car washes, he said he was an attorney and he seemed to be selling real estate in Osterville. Other than serving on a local airport commission, he had no public political presence in the area.
Wheatley hammered away relentlessly at Patrick?s support of Cape Wind. He held the press conference announcing his candidacy on a beach, dressed formally in suit, white shirt with cufflinks, tie, and everpresent American flag lapel pin. Several other similarly dressed men stood with him. Their spit-and-polished wing tips sank into the hot sand. His speech made clear that his main campaign plank was to join with other Cape politicians in opposing Jim Gordon.
Following his announcement, articles began to appear in the Cape Cod Times slamming Patrick and praising Wheatley. ?Wheatley is taking on Falmouth Democrat Matthew Patrick, who could prove vulnerable as one of the few politicians east of the Hudson to support the proposed wind farm,? jeered one reporter.
Massachusetts campaign-finance laws limit contributions by individuals to candidates for state representative to $500 per year. Nevertheless, Wheatley seemed to have plenty of money to work with. Campaign-finance records showed that the candidate was backed by Richard J. Egan, his family, and his business associates. Egan used a technique known as ?political bundling.? Bundlers like Egan control an extensive network of top-level contributors who can be called upon by the political boss to contribute the maximum legal amount to the boss?s chosen candidate. Much of the money funding Wheatley?s attack on Patrick came from the Osterville crowd. The Wheatley-Patrick battle became one of the most expensive state representative campaigns in Massachusetts history.
On election night, 2002, Patrick campaign supporters, gathered for the victory party, didn?t quite know what to do. Patrick seemed to have won, but on the other hand . . . maybe he hadn?t.
Throughout the long election night, as the crowd chowed down on appetizers and made liberal use of the cash bar, they celebrated, but not with abandon. As the count from the precincts came in, the lead seemed to be wavering, sometimes definitely in Patrick?s favor, sometimes precariously close. Patrick?s supporters kept hearing, via reporters, that the Wheatley camp was celebrating victory, too.
By evening?s end, Patrick seemed to have won by twelve votes. Patrick nixed breaking out the champagne on ice. Let?s wait until this is settled, he told his confused supporters.
?What happened?? his wife asked when her husband came home at the end of the long night. When Patrick told her about his tenuous victory, she asked what that meant. He answered that he didn?t really know, but that he was sure of two facts.
?It means a recount,? he said. ?And it means we need a lawyer.?
A bizarre legal battle began as Wheatley and his financiers relentlessly stalked Patrick through the Massachusetts court system over nearly a year, dragging him all the way to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Cape Wind opponents had promised openly that they would use all available legal avenues to stop Jim Gordon, and voters eventually understood that they meant to extend that legal crusade to Matthew Patrick, who had had the temerity to stand apart from the rest of the political crowd.
Their pursuit was to backfire. When voters? sense of fair play was aroused, the wound would be mortal for Larry Wheatley. It would also mark, almost imperceptibly, the turning of the tide for Jim Gordon. When the Wheatley-Patrick controversy spilled over into the Boston arena, it made headlines in the Boston papers as well as elsewhere in the state. This brought the issue of the Cape Cod wind farm, hitherto considered by many to be a parochial issue, into the limelight. Off-Cape media became curious. People elsewhere in Massachusetts began to wonder what, exactly, was going on down there in vacationland.
The first step was a recount, and for that Patrick went to William A. McDermott. Billy, as everybody called him, had been hanging around the world of election law for a good many years. In Massachusetts, only a few lawyers knew election case law inside and out. William Galvin was one, but he was secretary of state. The powerful Massachusetts Speaker of the House, Democrat Thomas Finneran, a longtime Boston politician, directed Patrick to McDermott, who kept an office in a twocentury- old house in the West Roxbury section of Boston. In the small, tight Boston political crowd, Billy knew anybody and everybody. Patrick needed someone like that. Other than when buying a house, he?d had few dealings with lawyers. Just the need for a lawyer made him uneasy, but McDermott had a well-honed skill for soothing anxious clients.
Billy was about as Boston as they come. He grew up in Savin Hill, an area settled in 1630, as old as the city of Boston itself. He graduated from Boston Latin School in 1963, Boston College in 1968, and Suffolk University Law School in 1973. After finishing law school, while working in Boston mayor Kevin White?s administration, McDermott became a Boston election commissioner and decided that it would become one of his specialties. When McDermott began as commissioner, police officers took the city?s census by knocking on residents? doors each year, a rather inefficient use of police time. McDermott helped design a yearly mailed census that saved the city money and was much less intimidating to residents.
?It?s just a matter of odds,? McDermott told Patrick. ?If you?re already ahead, chances are, you?re gonna pick up a few more votes.? From the moment a recount petition is filed, the event becomes highly charged. Both sides maneuver to get their own favorites on the recount team. Each side gears up for war. The recount began on November 23, 2002, in the town of Mashpee. Voters might imagine that a recount is an orderly and organized affair, that the democratic process at work is measured and judicious, and the vote is either clearly for Candidate A or for Candidate B. Nothing could be further from the truth. The recount room, stuffed with well over 100 people, was filled with tables at which sat Patrick and Wheatley supporters. The two candidates walked from table to table, trying to keep their supporters focused on the job, in the midst of the mayhem. At the registrars? table, dubious ballots underwent a kind of mini court session to determine which candidate had been voted for. If agreement could not be reached, registrars put the questionable ballot into a sealed envelope for a future, more thorough examination.
By day?s end, Patrick had picked up three votes, but there were still three other towns in his district. All those votes had to be counted. Anything could happen. But after the final recount session in Barnstable Town Hall, Patrick had increased his lead over Wheatley to seventeen. ?The voters have spoken,? Patrick told a newspaper reporter. As far as he was concerned, the contest was over.
Hearing the final recount tally, Wheatley retired behind closed doors with many of the same Barnstable town councilors who had opposed the wind farm and who had put the Republican up for election against Patrick. When he emerged, Wheatley had a public announcement. ?We are not ready to concede that the election process is over,? he said. Once again, Patrick nixed breaking out the champagne.
Patrick waited for Wheatley to file his promised challenge, but it was not forthcoming. More than three weeks after the recount, on December 18, Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin certified Patrick as the winner.
Unexpectedly, on that same day Wheatley filed for a new election, mystifying McDermott. The law didn?t specify a definite time limit for filing, but the way McDermott read the law, once the election was certified, the courts lost jurisdiction. Article 10 of the state?s constitution clearly said that the House decided whom to seat at that point. Maybe Wheatley, being from Virginia, just didn?t know the election law, thought McDermott. On the other hand, the man did have Massachusetts attorneys. In all of McDermott?s experience, candidates contesting an election filed eight or ten or maybe eleven days after the recount. He?d never seen anyone wait this long.
Wheatley?s filing contested a handful of ballots in the town of Bourne, as well as a very short closing of polls in Osterville, where Wheatley had won by a better than two-to-one margin. In Bourne, where Patrick had won, at one point the wrong box of ballots had been delivered to the polls, so that a small number of voters received ballots without the names of Patrick and Wheatley. In Osterville, when incorrect ballots had also been sent out, a policeman had told waiting voters that the polls would close temporarily until the correct ballots arrived. Wheatley claimed this delay lasted forty-five minutes, causing ?many? people to leave without voting. Had they stayed, he claimed, he would have won. But the policeman and the election supervisor estimated the wait at only fifteen to thirty minutes. The policeman filed an affidavit saying that no one told him they would be unable to vote because of the wait. Nor did anyone appear saying he had not voted because of the delay.
A legal Ping-Pong game began, as motions and countermotions were filed. Then on December 30, two days before Patrick was to be sworn in for his new term, a Barnstable superior court judge decided a new election should be held.
Matt Patrick may not have been familiar with Oyster Harbors, but House Speaker Finneran certainly was. As a boy in the 1950s, Finneran had helped with his dad?s carpet-cleaning business, which had several Oyster Harbors folks as customers. He?d been over that island drawbridge many times in his early life. As a politician, he had come to know some of the island?s powerful people quite well.
Early on, Gordon had briefed Finneran on his proposal, hoping to earn the symbolic blessing of the influential speaker. Finneran knew little about wind power but did know that emerging clean-energy technology could provide jobs in the state. Slowly and painfully, a utility-deregulation bill had made its way through the state legislature in the 1990s. Finneran hadn?t worked on that bill, but he had followed its progress and understood its importance. After September 11, the speaker understood its urgency as well.
Hearing Gordon out, Finneran thought the fact that the newest offshore technology could take advantage of Cape Cod?s south-shore wind resources was ?neat . . . a wonderful coincidence of events . . . a significant amount of clean, green power, forever and ever.? He saw Gordon?s project as providing new jobs, and when he learned that the turbines would be five or so miles offshore in front of Ted Kennedy?s home, the Speaker chuckled a bit, realizing that the senator?s opposition would be somewhat ?awkward? in light of his opposing drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge. How would Kennedy cope with the obvious contradiction? he wondered. He looked forward to watching events unfold, but publicly stayed far away from the divisive issue, which seemed not to concern him.
As the project progressed through its early stages, Finneran watched as the bitterness grew. When he saw Patrick, a new Democratic legislator, make himself an easy target, the longtime politician groaned. When Patrick?s Republican opponent settled on the wind farm as a campaign issue, Finneran wasn?t a bit surprised. He might have done the same himself. The stage, he thought, was set for a good, spirited contest.
But when the election ended in a photo finish, Finneran took a second look. That wind project was dragging down one of his party?s legislators, a fact that he didn?t find at all amusing. He began asking questions about what was going on.
By January 1, 2003, the day legislators were sworn in at the State House, the Speaker considered himself up to speed. On the one hand, 112 Cape Wind he was confident from what McDermott had told him that Patrick was legally the winner. On the other hand, amid all the Ping-Pong of legal filings, a Barnstable judge had called for a new election.
At that point, the contested election took on a larger importance. A battle was brewing among the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the government, and its source, the Cape Wind project, was no longer the central issue. Finneran decided he had to defend the attack on legislative power. He had Patrick seated as temporary representative without being sworn in and appointed a special committee to determine the winner.
Few journalists doubted the outcome. A sculpted cod floats above the state senate chamber?s historic chandelier. The old fish is actually a political weathervane, pointing toward the senate president?s chair when the legislature is Democratic and away from the chair when the legislature is Republican. In Massachusetts, it?s been many a year since the cod pointed away from the president?s chair. In most Massachusetts towns and cities, Democrats outnumber Republicans by overwhelming majorities.
After appointing the committee, Beacon Hill bosses chose to ignore the Barnstable judge?s order. Wheatley?s demand for a new election was met with blank faces, infuriating the candidate. Relatively new to the Land of Our Puritan Fathers, he was slowly learning how Boston played the game.
After briefly considering the situation, Wheatley decided to begin campaigning anyway. If Boston could disregard him, he could disregard Boston. He set up a campaign headquarters, held fund-raisers, and handed out campaign literature.
Meanwhile, as Cape Cod found itself embroiled once more in a Patrick-Wheatley contest, Boston was in a Rip Van Winkle snooze. Eventually, the special committee held a pro forma hearing. Wheatley, in his best suit, tie, and American flag lapel pin, claimed the mantle of voters? rights. Patrick, having been advised to be quiet, smiled a lot and said little. Things continued to drift. Patrick continued to carry out his duties as representative. Wheatley fumed.
Finally, in mid-March, about four months after the election, Finneran?s special committee proclaimed Patrick the winner. The next day, Wheatley lost a court battle to nullify the election. The day after that, the House voted to seat Patrick officially.
Still Wheatley pursued the matter. Voters were losing patience. Wheatley seemed to have lost, fair and square. Shouldn?t he acknowledge that loss and move on? After all, in the interests of democracy, Al Gore had withdrawn. These court filings seemed like revenge.
Then Mitt Romney, newly elected governor, stepped in, raising many an eyebrow. Patrick?s swearing-in ceremony was scheduled for April 2, but at the last minute Romney refused to carry out the duty.
Reporters covered the story in depth. Cape Cod was no longer amused. ?As the senior Republican office holder in Massachusetts,? wrote Frederick Claussen, Cape Cod?s registrar of probate, ?I find it troubling to see our Republican candidate for the House of Representatives, coming essentially out of nowhere, to be seen by many as a poor loser, prolonging this controversy as ?sour grapes.? Matthew Patrick won the election?and increased his lead in the recount. At that time, Larry Wheatley should have graciously conceded, and would have gained support and perhaps increased his chances next time around. Not so now.? Coming as it did from an important local Republican leader, the letter heartened Patrick.
Still, Wheatley continued to file motions, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard the matter in June. In a relatively short hearing, the justices and lawyers debated details of Massachusetts election law, trying to determine the precise point at which power passed from the courts to the legislature.
In August, the court found in favor of Patrick. Governor Mitt Romney swore in the young representative for his second term on August 27, 2003. ?Democracy won out,? the relieved state representative told the press on the way out.
Wheatley ran against Matt Patrick again in 2004. He lost by 1,509 votes. In the 2006 election, Patrick was unopposed.
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