Reporter’s Notebook: On the economy: How much control does a governor have?

When the state’s labor department announced employment numbers in May, Gov. Deval Patrick’s press office acted quickly, sending out a press release exactly 23 minutes after the department detailed the numbers.

“With 19,000 new jobs in April, Massachusetts had the single biggest monthly gain in 17 years,” Patrick said his press office’s release. “We are on the mend and on the move.” He added: “The significant gains we’re seeing in the construction, scientific, financial and manufacturing sectors show that our strategy is working.”

When the numbers haven’t been as impressive, the Patrick administration has sought to distance itself from them, saying they’re the result of a recession on a global scale that is outside of the governor’s control. (The latest numbers were due out this morning, August 19.)

Which leads to the question: How much control does the governor have?

Very little, according to Northeastern University economist Barry Bluestone. That goes for the Legislature, too. National and international events are more likely to affect the unemployment rate and jobs numbers.

But what the governor, lawmakers and mayors can do is set the stage for “long-term prosperity,” something that won’t show up in month-to-month numbers, and probably won’t be apparent until after the election, Bluestone told the Reporter.

“There I would give very high marks to the current governor,” Bluestone said, stating that Patrick has put in place programs to reduce red tape that companies have to fight through, reduced some business taxes, and maintained the state’s tax base in order to keep government running.

A side note: Bluestone, who disagrees with Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker’s negative assessments of the regulatory climate, is upfront about his work with state agencies and the Democratic governor’s re-election campaign. That doesn’t make Bluestone, a well-respected economist, wrong. He says he has “great respect” for Baker and has had him in to teach classes. With Patrick, “I think the governor’s doing a terrific job under difficult circumstances,” Bluestone said.

Patrick’s challengers still have plenty of ammo, from the drapes and the Cadillac at the start of his term, to the disastrous hiring of Big Dig guru Jim Aloisi to direct the transportation secretariat, and the attempted placement of state Sen. Marian Walsh, a Patrick supporter, in a long-vacant job at a state development agency.

And voters will likely still blame him, as his challengers do, for the weak economy, because he’s the state’s chief executive. As Commonwealth magazine noted in its summer 2010 issue, “This phenomenon explains why Baker rolled out the simple campaign slogan ‘Had enough?’ this spring. And if Patrick offers some evidence of economic improvement, Baker will presumably respond, ‘not good enough.’ ”

Bad blood from campaigns past
It’s no secret there’s bad blood between Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral and Boston City Councillor At-Large Stephen Murphy, who campaigned against Cabral for the sheriff’s job in 2004. And this week’s suicide of the alleged “Craigslist killer” again brought that bad blood out into the open.
“What is wrong with the system there that he wasn’t under a more kind of vigorous supervision?” Murphy, chair of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee and a Democratic candidate for state treasurer, asked reporters. Murphy noted that Philip Markoff, who killed himself last weekend in his Nashua St. jail cell, had been on suicide watch in the past.

Cabral, who is running for re-election, shot back in a phone interview with New England Cable News: “Between the councilor’s brain and his mouth, there is no crossing guard. It’s incredibly irresponsible to talk about things of which you know nothing.”

Cabral, who is running for re-election, said her office books 10,000 people into that jail every year. There are 57 serious suicide attempts a year, she added. Markoff had previously been on suicide watch for three weeks, and then evaluated by a psychiatrist and deemed ready to rejoin the prison population, Cabral said.

The edge of Boston?
Readers of the Washington Post this week were treated to a front-page story on one of the nation’s more interesting gubernatorial races. The Tuesday story opened up with an anecdote from the “edge of Boston” – Gov. Patrick signing a bill at the Freedom House. Except that the Freedom House is in Grove Hall, which is hardly the “edge of Boston.”

The article also pushes the idea that the 2010 governor’s race is a “test case” for Barack Obama and the 2012 election. While Massachusetts is more liberal than most of the U.S. and its economy is doing better than the nation’s, “White House officials think Patrick’s campaign will help decide whether a style and approach he and Obama share will continue to be successful.”

The article obligatorily points to the well-known similarities between the two: Harvard Law grads from Chicago raised by single mothers who share strategists and are talented campaigners.

But many of the similarities are superficial. Obama, a community organizer, came into the White House with legislative experience on the state and federal level, while Patrick did not have any when he was sworn in as governor.

When it comes to having political ears, Patrick and Obama are clearly quite different. As one of numerous examples, Obama did not have to jettison his chief of staff – he has Rahm Emmanuel, whose knowledge of the White House and Capitol Hill runs deep – and quickly racked up accomplishments early in his term.

Try again, Post.

Endorsement Corner: Lawton picks up backing from unions, former councillor
Former City Councillor Gareth Saunders is backing high school teacher Barry Lawton’s bid for state representative, Lawton told the Reporter this week. Saunders served on the City Council, representing District 7, from 1994 to 1999, and has flirted with running for mayor. Chuck Turner currently holds the seat.

Lawton, one of four candidates running for the Fifth Suffolk seat, has also been endorsed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 888, SEIU Local 615, and the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts.

The other candidates running to replace former state Rep. Marie St. Fleur include Carlos Henriquez, a former City Hall aide, and frequent campaigners Althea Garrison and Roy Owens.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Material from State House News Service was used in this report. Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop.