Deval Patrick’s solid local legacy will only grow

Gov. Deval Patrick: A local legacy that will endure.Gov. Deval Patrick: A local legacy that will endure.There’ll be a groundbreaking ceremony in Mattapan on Monday (Dec. 22, 10 a.m. at Ryan Playground, River Street) to begin work on the long-awaited expansion of the Neponset Greenway. The construction, which will include a segment in Dorchester near the gas tank, will be paid for with an estimated $16.8 million in state dollars. It’s all happening because Gov. Deval Patrick committed to making it happen in 2013.

The governor uses the Greenway and lives within a stone’s throw of the connection that will be built into Milton and Mattapan. When it’s completed, he won’t be our governor any longer, but it will be one of many reminders of the good works done for Dorchester and Mattapan on his watch.

The Patrick years have brought investments to the two neighborhoods that were elusive under his Republican predecessors. The Fairmount Line, which had long been eyed for growth and modernization, has actually been built-out and modernized by his administration. The impacts of that state investment – not just new stations and train schedules – will be measured in jobs and homes, too. Already, the Fairmount corridor is starting to buzz with new projects, including the Cote Ford site in Mattapan and the Maxwell parcels in Uphams Corner.

“I think growth requires three things, at least in our strategy: It requires a good school, an innovative environment, and good infrastructure,” Patrick told the Reporter in an interview at his State House office this week. “That has been our focus. We’ve invested at historic levels and that’s not just money,” he said. “Starting with finishing Ashmont Station and with all the new Red and Orange line cars that are coming, to all the new stations that have opened or will open on the Fairmount Line, the new stop on Blue Hill Ave., that’s the unglamorous stuff. But it makes a difference in people’s lives. It is practically important in terms of improving quality of life and ease of getting around. But it’s symbolically important for folks to know that their government is paying attention to them and to their needs.”

Patrick had to step up locally in ways that were not expected of previous governors, particularly when it came to addressing crime in city neighborhoods.

“I think there is a different set of expectations of me than of most governors, maybe any other governor beforehand. It had to do with two things: One, we ran a grassroots campaign and so there was a different kind of relationship with the voting public and even the non- voting public, with me than with some governors.

“And two, I’m black. I think to tell you the truth, I didn’t get that right away when it comes to the issue of violent crime in neighborhoods. I didn’t appreciate that there was more expected of me and different things expected of me as governor on those issues in particular. But I got it – and I got it the hard way, too. But I got it.”

Patrick was at his best at times of crisis. He exhibited a sense of calm, steady, and competent leadership that instilled confidence from the top down. Winter storms; the massive pipe rupture in 2010 that left much of the region without drinking water for two days; a tornado in western Mass.; and, of course, the Marathon bombing.

He has taken his lumps for fall-downs, too. The failures at the Dept. of Children and Families; a health connector website that sputtered and took too long to fix.

But Patrick’s record of achievement chalks up far more wins than losses, particularly when you consider the global recession that hit in the middle of his first term. Massachusetts has seen recovery and growth that has eluded other states thanks – in large part – to Patrick’s leadership.

The governor is widely seen as a likely presidential candidate – not in this present cycle, but perhaps four years from now. He has certainly kept that door open, but he clearly is headed for a private sector job, perhaps one in academia, in the near term.

“It’s possible,” Patrick said of a future run for office. “I’m not being cute. I didn’t run for this job to get another job. I ran for this job because I felt like it hadn’t been done in a long time. For six or seven of the eight years, your brothers and sisters in the media have been forecasting that I’m on my way out the door for greener pastures or some other political opportunity or what have you. And I stayed to the end, as I said I would, and I have been doing the job to the end, like I promised I would. And I’m going back into the private sector, as I promised I would.

“And whether there’s something else depends on a lot of things. Whether my wife and I have enough time to get re-acquainted, whether we’ve caught our breath, and whether I think there’s another position where I could make a contribution and the timing seems right.”

Patrick is going to miss skipping the security line at the airport – yes, that’s “a thing” if you’re governor of Massachusetts. But he is also craving a level of anonymity that has been elusive since he emerged as a public figure in 2006.

In our talk, he recalled a rare trip to the Home Depot in Quincy this past summer – without his security detail.

“I had a free weekend morning. I was home in Milton and Diane had a list of stuff she wanted me to do, and some of it was at Home Depot. I thought: I know where all this stuff is. And I decided not to call the State Police [detail]. I jumped in the truck. I had on a t-shirt, blue jeans, flip-flops, my hat, and a pair of dark glasses. I go in the store and I’m outed right away by the manager in the first aisle. ‘Welcome governor! How can we help you!’

“I had seven encounters in the store. One was in the checkout lane with one guy who was really angry. Not threatening, but loud and angry.”

The man was upset by Patrick’s decision to welcome a group of Mexican migrants to the state for temporary asylum. The governor had spoken passionately about the moral responsibility to help these children – even though they were here illegally.

“He said, ‘Governor, I couldn’t disagree more. I think it’s wrong!’ Everybody in line knew who was mad. But there were six other people in the store who stopped me, and, to a person, they all whispered, ‘You’re doing the right thing.’”

Patrick earned that level of respect and admiration from this electorate. He didn’t talk down to the voting public, he didn’t oversimplify issues, and he believes that “if you trust people with the information, they’ll get it and they’ll make the decision. Doing that means I sleep well at night and I can look myself in the mirror,” he told the Reporter.

That’s a good start to a legacy that will stand the test of time, especially in our neighborhoods.