Marathon bombing unanimous choice as State House story of the year

By 
Matt Murphy, State House News Service
Dec. 27, 2013

There were tales of human tragedy and political triumph, long-sought justice and a ferocious debate over taxes. But at the end of 2013, no story captured the public interest and left a more indelible mark on the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts than the bombing of the Boston Marathon finish line.

The marathon bombing and its aftermath, which claimed the lives of four and severely injured scores more, topped every ballot cast for top story of the year by the scribes who spend their days on Beacon Hill chronicling the ups and downs of Massachusetts politics and government.

While the events at the marathon may have colored 2013, other storylines demanded significant attention and word counts, including the state's second U.S. Senate race in as many years and the end of an era - The Menino Era - at City Hall.

Public health officials cautiously moved toward implementing a medical marijuana law and welfare, gun safety and compounding pharmacy reforms generated much debate, though no final action at the State House, and the federal government shut down. All of these storylines received votes, but none managed to crack the Top 10.

The 2014 governor's race also got a jump start with five Democrats, two Republicans and two independents making moves for the corner office when Gov. Deval Patrick leaves a year from now, but that will more likely be a top story contender next year. The arrival of winter has also brought back memories for cold reporters of Winter Storm Nemo dumping so much snow on the region that Gov. Deval Patrick felt compelled to take the extreme step of banning road traffic for a period.

But for now, the following is the top 10 list of 2013 political stories, as ranked by Massachusetts state government reporters and scored based on cumulative points:

1) Boston Marathon Bombing (90)
2) City Hall Transitions from Menino to Walsh (56)
3) Kerry's Installment at State Gives Rise to Markey, Clark (54)
4) Casino Developers Navigate Turbulent Local Waters (50)
5) Taxes Increased to Pay for Transportation (34)
6) The Trial of James "Whitey" Bulger (32)
7) Tech-Tax Repeal (26)
8) Sen. Rosenberg Has the Votes (26)
9) Lt. Gov. Tim Murray Resigns (23)
10) ObamaCare (17)

COUNTING DOWN THE TOP 10:

10) OBAMACARE MEETS ROMNEYCARE
The introduction of the Affordable Care Act to Massachusetts was supposed to be smooth. The state already ran an exchange called the Massachusetts Health Connector and had a high rate of insured thanks, in part, to the health care reform law signed by former Gov. Mitt Romney that included an individual mandate and was used as a model for the federal reform. As the rollout of the ACA and the accompanying web problems with the federal exchange became a major headache for the Obama administration, the president chose Boston and Faneuil Hall to address the country and defend his signature accomplishment that was dragging down his poll numbers. But as the deadline for signing up for new ACA-compliant plans approached, Massachusetts health officials began to encounter their own problems, namely the fact that the website developed by CGI didn't work. While the woes of the healthcare.gov website have been a major national storyline this year, the state's similar troubles are still coming into focus and promise to be an ongoing issue into the new year.

9) LT. GOV. TIM MURRAY RESIGNS
Before 2013, many insiders still expected Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray to be a gubernatorial contender in 2014 despite the damage his brand suffered after a bizarre early morning car crash in Sterling and his political ties to the now convicted former head of the Chelsea Housing Authority Michael McLaughlin. But in May, Murray announced he was calling it quits to become the executive director of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, leaving his political partner Gov. Deval Patrick without a number two. Among other things, Murray's departure meant it became the governor's job to wrangle the Governor's Council and left the administration without a tie-breaking vote for judicial nominees. It also meant that when Patrick travelled out of state - which he has done with increasing frequency - Secretary of State William Galvin now assumes the role of acting governor. As Murray settled into his new job in his home city, the former Worcester mayor also cut a deal with Attorney General Martha Coakley resolving her investigation into unlawful campaign donations solicited for Murray by McLaughlin. Murray agreed to a $10,000 personal fine and the forfeiture of $50,000 in campaign contributions to the state. Murray's political committee also paid a $20,000 civil fine.

8) ROSENBERG BECOMES SENATE PREZ IN-WAITING
Senate President Therese Murray has another 15 months before term limits will require her to relinquish her position as Democratic leader of the Senate. And though she has given no indication of plans to leave in the near future before that deadline arrives, Senate Majority Leader Stanley Rosenberg saw his opportunity in the late summer to sew up the support he believes is sufficient to become the next Senate president. The succession battle came to a head in late July as lawmakers were preparing to recess for the month of August. The rounding up of votes previously had been taking place quietly behind the scenes, a contest between Rosenberg and Ways and Means Chairman Sen. Stephen Brewer. But within a matter of days, the largely collegial struggle between Rosenberg and Brewer for control of the Senate sped up, culminating with Rosenberg announcing he had the support and Brewer declining to put up a fight. If his support holds - Rosenberg wouldn't divulge numbers - the Amherst Democrat would become the first openly gay leader of the Senate in Massachusetts history. His record also suggests that the Senate could be in store for a more liberal leader than it has grown accustomed to with Murray.

7) TECH-TAX REPEAL
After a lengthy debate over the first half of the year about how to pay for desired transportation and infrastructure investments, lawmakers realized quickly that they had a significant problem on their hands with regard to the mix of taxes used to finance its $500 million plan. The business community - particularly the high-tech industries - revolted against the Legislature's decision to extend the state's 6.25 percent sales tax to the purchase of software design services, previously exempt from the tax. Under intense pressure from groups like the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and the Massachusetts High Technology Council and the threat of a 2014 ballot question to repeal the tax, Gov. Deval Patrick and Legislative leaders relented, and in the process admitted that perhaps they had not understood the full economic picture and impact of the tax when they included it in their financing package. The September repeal of the month-old law blew a $160 million hole in the transportation financing plan, but so far leaders have insisted it can be covered by surplus revenues from other sources.

6) THE TRIAL OF JAMES "WHITEY" BULGER
Closing a chapter in Boston's history many thought might never be resolved, reputed South Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger went on trial and was convicted in a Boston courtroom of 11 murders, drug trafficking, racketeering, money laundering, extortion, and other crimes. At age 84, Bulger received two life sentences plus five years and now sits in an Oklahoma prison cell far, far away from the Santa Monica apartment where he spent much of his time eluding authorities for 16 years as one of the most wanted men in America. For many reasons, the Bulger story echoed from the streets of South Boston to Beacon Hill, where his brother William Bulger presided over the Senate while Whitey built a reputation in Southie and eventually fled to avoid an indictment. Families of the victims of Bulger's crimes endured harrowing retellings of their murders in open court while Bulger sat silently, save for a few outbursts at witnesses, as his attorneys tried to dispute the characterization of their client as an F.B.I. informant and murderer of women.

5) TRANSPORTATION AND TAXES: THE GREAT DEBATE
Gov. Deval Patrick set the tone for the 2013 legislative year when, in his State of the Commonwealth address in January, he outlined an ambitious plan to overhaul the state tax code by raising the income tax, lowering the sales tax and eliminating a number of tax exemptions to generate $1.9 billion in new revenue for transportation and education spending. The proposal landed with a thud on the desks of Legislative leaders, but did enough to spark momentum behind more moderate tax increases to fund the state's transportation system. While Patrick tried to pressure lawmakers into seeing his vision for transportation, including the use of maps to tempt lawmakers with the projects they'd be giving up in their district, House and Senate leaders went to work crafting their own plan. The $500 million proposal, which escalates to $800 million over five years, called for raising the gas tax 3 cents, raising tobacco taxes by $1 per pack of cigarettes and applying the sales tax to software services. Patrick was never enthralled with the proposal, and actually vetoed it over concerns that it would not guarantee enough new revenue, but the Legislature had the numbers to override. Fast forward to December and the Legislature has already repealed the software tax and opponents of indexing the gas tax to inflation are pushing a ballot question in 2014 that could strip that funding stream from the plan as well.

4) CASINOS
Since 2010, the slow march toward expanded casino gambling in Massachusetts as occupied a spot in the top stories of the year. This past year has been no different. With the first licenses due to be awarded in early 2014, aspiring casino and slot parlor developers have realized that convincing lawmakers of the economic potential of casinos might have been easier than swaying voters. As familiar names in gambling tried to line up their bids for single casino licenses in eastern and western Massachusetts, it proved to be far more complicated than simply securing the land and identifying the financing. Voters in East Boston, Palmer and Milford, to name a few, all rejected the idea of casinos in their backyard. MGM Resorts now stands alone as the sole bidder for a license to bring a casino to Springfield, while Steve Wynn moved on from Foxborough and will be a finalist in eastern Massachusetts to build a casino in Everett. Wynn Resorts faces competition from Mohegan Sun, who together with Suffolk Downs, resurrected the track's plans for a casino by relocating the development to Revere after that city enthusiastically embraced the idea of a casino while East Boston voters said no to a Suffolk Downs gambling mecca. The Mohegan Sun-Suffolk Downs partnership was born out of necessity after Suffolk Downs dropped Caesars as its gaming partner over concerns that the Gaming Commission might find the Las Vegas giant unsuitable to hold a license in Massachusetts. With no end to the offshoot storylines emanating from expanded gaming, the Patrick administration also renegotiated a gaming compact with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, who wants to build a casino in Taunton, but it remains unclear how long gaming regulators will wait for the tribe to get federal land in trust. Gov. Patrick is also suing the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe to block the tribe from building a casino on tribal land on Martha Vineyard. While the administration says the tribe forfeited its gaming rights in exchange for the land, the tribe says that is not the case.

3) KERRY TRADES CAPITOL HILL FOR FOGGY BOTTOM; DOMINOES FALL BEHIND
Last year, President Barack Obama's December nomination of John Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state came just in time to climb to number eight on the press corps top stories of the year, both for its news value and its potential to generate more. This year was a realization of that potential. Confirmed by his former colleagues in the Senate, Kerry took quickly to the job of the nation's top diplomat crisscrossing the globe and helping to reach historic deals in Syria and Iran to possibly curtail nuclear weapons proliferation. Back in Massachusetts, U.S. Reps. Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch battled it out on the Democratic side for Kerry's seat, while former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown's lengthy flirtation with running again gave way to a GOP field that included newcomer and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez, former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and former state Rep. Daniel Winslow. The Markey-Gomez general election showdown was no Warren-Brown showdown from a year ago, but it was still worth watching. Markey prevailed giving Massachusetts two senators with less than two years cumulative experience in the U.S. Senate, a body governed by seniority. As for the seat Markey held for 36 years, state Sen. Katherine Clark, of Melrose, emerged from a crowed Democratic field and easily defeated her Republican in Congress to join U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas as one of two women now representing the state in Congress. And though he didn't win the primary, state Rep. Carl Sciortino treated voters to the political ad of the year by introducing the world to his Tea Party dad.

2) CITY HALL TRANSITIONS FROM MENINO TO WALSH
Twenty years turned out to be enough for Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, whose decision not to seek a fifth term sparked the first open mayoral race in Boston for a entire political generation. City politics, often in the backseat relative to doings under the Golden Dome, suddenly occupied the preeminent position for barroom banter and front page placement. Twelve would-be mayors threw in for the preliminary election, including members of the City Council who put their careers on the line and outsiders looking for way into City Hall. Dorchester State Rep. Marty Walsh, a longtime labor leader, and former teacher and City Councilor John Connolly emerged from the field after pitched debates over Walsh's ties to unions, Connolly's singular focus on education reform and the role the city's majority minority community should and would play in selecting the next mayor. On his way to victory, Walsh lined up support from his former rivals Charlotte Golar Ritchie, Felix Arroyo and John Barros helping to make inroads into the minority neighborhoods that would help him defeat Connolly and fulfill a long-time ambition to succeed Menino. Amidst all the campaigning and transition planning, Menino enjoyed a retirement tour replete with tributes and retrospectives on the impact he leaves behind on the city before he begins his next chapter at Boston University.

1) BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING
One of the most celebrated days on the Boston calendar - Marathon Monday - was defiled horrifically in mid-April when twin bombs packed into pressure cookers and loaded into backpacks were detonated near the finish line of the iconic road race on Boylston Street. What followed were the tragic stories of lives and limbs lost to an act of terrorism and inspirational tales of first-responders and average spectators rushing into the immediate aftermath of the bombings to save those injured but still alive. Richard Martin, 8, Krystal Campbell, 29, and Lu Lingzi, a Chinese graduate student at Boston University were killed in the blasts. The days that followed the bombings will be remembers by Bostonians for generations. After authorities released photos of the suspected bombers taken by surveillance video near the scene, a massive manhunt unfolded that started with the suspects - Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - stealing a car and murdering an MIT police officer Sean Collier. Tamerlan was killed during a shootout with police in Watertown, but Dzhokhar escaped leading to the manhunt that taught Bay Staters the meaning of "shelter in place" with Gov. Deval Patrick ordering everyone to stay indoors while cops searched door to door for the suspect. Found hiding and wounded in a boat in a Watertown backyard, Dzhokhar awaits trial in federal court of charges of using a weapon of mass destruction, which carries potential death sentence. While Boston recovered from the terrorist attack, the country railed behind the city, Obama visited to help grieve, dollars poured in to support the victims and survivors displayed resiliency as they recovered from their wounds, in many cases learning to walk again on new prosthetic legs. Celebrating their World Series championship, the Red Sox stopped their duck boat rally to pay tribute to the victims and survivors at the finish line where the city's new motto was born: Boston Strong.

PRESS SECRETARY OF THE YEAR
Her title may be deputy, but Gov. Deval Patrick's loyal press aide Bonnie McGilpin can call herself the 2013 press secretary of the year. McGilpin joined the administration in early 2011 as deputy press secretary for the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development after working as a press deputy for the governor's 2010 re-election campaign. A Northeastern University graduate from Westfield, McGilpin joined the governor's main press team in October of that year and remained the constant through a Cabinet shakeup that saw Patrick's communications director and press secretary jobs change hands. Several others press contacts received votes this year both within the administration and from the Legislature, on both sides of the aisle, but McGilpin easily topped the poll. Perhaps due to the governor's prominence in the political debate, McGilpin's victory marks the third time in the past five years someone from within the governor's press shop has earned the title.

IN MEMORIUM: Former Gov. Paul Cellucci, 65; The Boston Phoenix, 48.