- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

BOSTON (AP) — As a candidate, Deval Patrick won over voters with a message of hope and renewed confidence in government. Now, eight turbulent weeks into his term, Massachusetts’ first black governor is already pleading: “Don’t give up on me.”

First, the 50-year-old former chief of the Justice Department’s civil rights division under the Clinton administration was criticized for using a state helicopter to zip from one end of the state to the other. Then he found himself defending his decision to upgrade his state car to a $1,166-a-month Cadillac.

Soon came news of pricey new drapes for the governor’s office, a $72,000 salary for his wife’s appointments secretary and a call to Citigroup on behalf of a struggling lending company on whose board he once served — a move that prompted a call for an ethics investigation by the Republicans.

Mr. Patrick’s loyalists have portrayed the incidents as the kind of missteps made by someone who has never held elective office. But they also fear that, taken together, the blunders could hurt the Democrat’s populist appeal and erode his authority.

When he took office, “the canvas was blank. What we saw was a first portrait of a governor who was stumbling, rather than a governor moving forward,” said Jeffrey Berry, a Tufts University political science professor. “There’s a tone-deafness that continues to hamper the governor.”

Critics point to his use of a State Police helicopter as his first blunder. Former acting Gov. Jane Swift was criticized for using the helicopter to beat Thanksgiving traffic to her home in the Berkshire Mountains in 1999. Mr. Patrick twice used the aircraft, once to return to the Statehouse after attending the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq.

The criticism mounted after Mr. Patrick upgraded his official car from a Ford Crown Victoria, which was leased for $623 per month, to the Cadillac. He later agreed to reimburse the state the $543 monthly difference, as well as $27,387 for the new furnishings in his office, including the $12,300 drapes. But he defended his decision to hire a staff member for his wife.

Particularly grating to critics was the impression that Mr. Patrick was splurging on luxuries even as he was warning of a $1.3 billion deficit and asking state agencies to trim spending.

Perhaps the biggest blunder was Mr. Patrick’s decision to call Citigroup executive Robert E. Rubin on Feb. 20 of behalf of ACC Capital Holdings while ACC sought an infusion of cash from Citigroup. Mr. Patrick had served on ACC’s board but resigned the $360,000-a-year post during the campaign. ACC is the parent of Ameriquest, a mortgage company that has been accused of predatory lending practices.

Mr. Patrick initially defended the call, saying he was acting as a private citizen, but then conceded that as governor, the line between his private and official lives had disappeared.

The governor sounded alternately defensive and chastened as the disclosures mounted.

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