for Peeps of all Persuasions

Real Estate, Boatbuilding, Business, and Politics ....
Interspersed with Truth, Justice, and Insight into the Meaning of Life .....
for Nanepashemet Peeps of all Persuasions.



Saturday, January 05, 2013

Speaker Thomas McGee of Lynn

Tom McGee, former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, passed away this week from Alzheimer's Disease. He was 88 years old.
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McGee from Lynn was a tough, cigar chomping,  ex-Marine and was an old style politician who believed in helping people.   He was completely unpretentious and didn't tolerate fools or phonies.
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During his heyday in Massachusetts, the Governor's Office was held by Michael Dukakis, who was a well spoken academic liberal, adored by the Boston Globe.  McGee wasn't.   He and Senate President Billy Bulger were held in contempt by the Globe which held a great deal of sway in that pre-Internet era. 
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The Globe had no use for straight talking, no bullshit political operatives that they couldn't intellectually control in those days, and that is precisely what McGee was.
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When I had the ambition to become the Executive Director of the Lynn Housing Authority, I had a strange intuition to call the Speaker's Office and ask to talk to McGee.  I was 28 years old at the time, but remember precisely where I was as I miraculously picked up the phone and dialed his number without even checking the telephone book.   The number just appeared in my head, and I dialed it, even though I never had called him before.   That is a true story and even I have always been significantly weirded out by it.
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McGee got right on the line, and I blurted out to him that I was interested in the job and would appreciate if he could give me his support.   He said he'd get back to me, and that was it.   Less than a minute on the phone.    
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Two weeks later, I was the Lynn Housing Authority Executive Director.   I was young, naive and not a little bit stupid, but aggressively worked that job until I ran afoul of the state regulatory bureaucracy when I asked them to restore local control to the Authority.  They were hell bent on having the state community affairs office run the Lynn Housing Authority
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In a showdown meeting in Speaker McGee's office, complete local control was restored after I demonstrated the physical and financial improvements that had been made in my first year there.
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Throughout my three year tenure at the Housing Authority, I was accused of shilling for McGee for units and jobs, but he never put the arm on me to do any of that political stuff..... except once, when I laid off a painter who was his AA sponsor.  I didn't even know of the guy's relationship with McGee when the layoffs went down. McGee got me on the line and ripped me a new one for 30 seconds, then slammed the phone down.   So.... against the union rules and state regulations, I promptly put the painter back on the payroll.   Never a peep from anyone.... not the state bureaucrats, the union stewards..... nobody.
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McGee was really proud of being the Speaker and loved to show you his office at the State House.   Grand ceilings and ornate wood paneling.   He served longer than any person in that highly volatile position and was crucial in helping the State maintain fiscal solvency when the Dukakis Massachusetts Miracle hit the skids.
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I attended a Mayor's meeting once with a Dukakis transportation bureaucrat named Fred Salvucci, who was pining away on state process and policy when McGee finally had enough, slammed his fist on the conference table in the Lynn Mayor's office and yelled, " You tell your fucking boss the Governor, that Lynn gets this funding and I've got the fucking votes."   The Dukakis intellectual was stunned and the meeting was abruptly concluded.
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Peter DeVeau and I sat in the back of the room, glanced at each other and suppressed even a smirk at this awesome shutdown by McGee, who so inelegantly stated what we we both thinking.
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McGee was upended in the House by George Keverian of Everett who put together a coup and got the Speakership votes.   He still had a year or so to go on his State Representative term but he had to move out of the posh Speaker's Office and took a desk in the State House basement amid the exposed pipes with other freshman reps.
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Harvey Rowe and I went to visit him down there, and I felt really bad to see him in those surroundings that were obviously meant to embarrass him, but he was his genuine self and was pleased that we had taken the time to look him up.
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A while ago, I ran into Bob Fennell, State Rep from Lynn who told me that the job isn't like it used to be.  "You really can't do anything for anybody," Bob said, lamenting a time when guys like McGee would cut through the red tape and make the system work.
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I always felt that I made a contribution in Lynn... at the Lynn Housing Authority, when I got grants to rehab all of the units, eliminated the graft and corruption from the budget and spending,  and brought fairness back into the process of getting a public housing unit.    After three years, that agency had been turned around, was being touted as a model for the State,  and I entered entrepreneurial business, which is a whole other story.
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Maybe I wouldn't have had the opportunity to get that job without asking for Speaker McGee's sponsorship.   He didn't know me at the time.  I was the Deputy Director at the Lynn Community Development Department and had never even shaken his hand.   But I asked for his help and he gave it.
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And it makes you wonder how many other people in his wide sphere of influence around Lynn and Massachusetts are thanking him in their prayers for the opportunities that he tilted for them as well.
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Thank you for helping me Mr. Speaker.
They don't make them like you anymore.  
RIP.

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