Looking the gift horse in the mouth

When I think about the way the city works, I often pretend I moved to Worcester five years ago.

If I’d moved to Worcester five years ago, I’d have no idea who Ed Augustus was.

So — for those of you who need a refresher — here’s a quick recap of the career of Ed Augustus.

Career

When Ed Augustus ran for School Committee in 1989, he was just 24 years old, but already had more natural political savvy than Worcester had seen in a long time.  He began working at the Worcester County Sheriff’s office in 1987, and would work there until 1993.  He had already worked for then-Sheriff John “Mike” Flynn’s 1986 campaign, and had worked on other campaigns as well.  He had already been a delegate to the Democratic State Convention three times.

From a Telegram article in 1989:

Augustus spent more than any other candidate in the School Committee race –  $1,000 came directly from a corrections officers group, for instance – and ran a high-visibility campaign. Augustus had helped Flynn in 1986 and Flynn returned the favor.

“Anybody who is good to me and qualified, I hope I have enough savvy not to forget somebody,” Flynn said.

Augustus served on the Worcester School Committee for two terms, from 1990-1993.

In that time, he continued to work at the sheriff’s office, and also worked on various campaigns, including serving as the Worcester coordinator for US Rep Joe “Early’s unsuccessful re-election campaign against former Republican congressman Peter I. Blute of Shrewsbury.” [quote from the T&G]

Augustus stepped down from the School Committee in September 1993 in order to work at the Department of Education in Washington, D.C.  He held various posts there over the course of about five years, including chief of staff to the assistant secretary for intergovernmental and interagency affairs and northeast coordinator for the National Performance Review. While in the chief of staff position, he oversaw “a staff of 120, a $20 million budget and 11 regional offices across the country.”

Augustus remained politically active, and in 1996 he took some time off to work on Senator Kerry’s re-election campaign.

He left the Department of Education in 1998 to be Jim McGovern’s campaign manager in his re-election race for US Representative, and served as McGovern’s chief of staff from 1999-2004.

He left McGovern’s office in 2004 to campaign for state senate, and served as state senator from 2005-2009.

He decided not to run for re-election in 2008, and he worked for a bit more than a year (from 2009 to early 2010) as the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-California.

He left Children’s Defense Fund in 2010 to be Jim McGovern’s campaign manager.

And from 2011 to the present he has worked for the College of the Holy Cross as Director of Government and Community Relations.

Political allies

This brief resume does not really describe who Ed Augustus is.

He’s someone who’s often on the good side of a successful politician, and someone who’s a very successful political organizer.

He picked a powerful ally in Sheriff Flynn.

In that very first School Committee election, when he was just 24 years old, Augustus raised $16,000 — more than twice that of any other School Committee candidate — and “was endorsed by a number of well-known local figures, including Sheriff John M. Flynn, former Sheriff Theodore Herman, former state Sen. Thomas P. White, former state Sen. John P. Houston, state Rep. John J. Binienda, the International Brotherhood of Corrections Officers Local 254, the union to which he belongs, and the Ward 7 Democratic Committee.”

Augustus was a quick study.  By the time he ran for re-election at age 26, he had 400 volunteers working for him.  On a Worcester School Committee campaign.

Augustus has lent support to (or otherwise been associated with) nearly every major Democratic candidate in the Worcester area: Jim McGovern, Tim Murray, Rick Rushton, Stephen Abraham, James Leary, among others.

And when Augustus had some legal difficulties in 2007 about whether his legal residence was in Worcester or Boston, he called on none other than the ultimate insider, Michael Angelini of Bowditch and Dewey.  (This particular gentleman is worthy of his own blog post, and perhaps I will write one after consulting with my attorneys.  Until then, it’s just better to imagine that Metallica dedicated a whole album to Angelini and that the man seems to operate on absolutely no sleep.)

What’s so bad about the guy, anyway?

Proponents of Ed Augustus’ candidacy for city manager — and make no mistake, it’s a candidacy — would like to put anyone who questions his qualifications on the defensive.

But it’s those who keep telling us he’s the “right leader to move Worcester into the future” — even though it’s only supposed to be a nine-month position — who need to tell us why he’s right for the job.

If I were going to campaign for elected office, Ed Augustus would be a wonderful choice for campaign manager.  If I were then elected, he’d be an equally great choice for chief of staff.  He obviously knows how to run a campaign and how to run an office.

But at some point, one’s qualifications to run a city have to be more than not wanting to disassemble the government and not having a bipolar diagnosis.

When Augustus served on the School Committee, he recommended a former campaign worker, Joseph M. Foley Jr., to serve as a long-term substitute in the Worcester Public Schools, despite Foley’s not having been certified as a teacher.  He opposed “a suggestion to require written notification to the board when relatives of local elected officials or top school administrators are recommended for school jobs or promotions” and also “opposed a committee review of school hiring policies.”

This very situation is what has me worried about Augustus’ bid for city manager, and about the push for strong mayor we will see in the near future.

When we consider someone’s political connections to be “qualifications”, that is an insult to everyone who works hard for this city without desire for political gain.

When we are presented with a candidate whose resume is not nearly as impressive as his political experience, how can we then expect any candidates with actual management experience to take this position seriously?  They will surely know that the fix is in, and that who you know is more important than what you can do.

I don’t have a problem with Ed Augustus.

I have a problem with a system that looks at the most important position in this city as a prize to be given to whomever a favor is owed.

If our elected officials continue to place more value on their friends than the oaths they made, if they look at the obligations of political favors to be greater than the obligations to the people of this city —

and if we, the citizens, do not ultimately ask why “pretty good” makes someone’s friend qualified to oversee a city whose budget is over half a billion dollars —

then we deserve whatever comes our way.

Suggested reading:

“Sheriff’s loyalists wield political sword in elections”, by Bob Bliss, Telegram and Gazette, 19 November 1989

“Augustus announces candidacy”, Telegram and Gazette, 2 July 1989

“Early, Augustus will duel if Chandler doesn’t run”, by Shaun Sutner, Telegram and Gazette, 9 January 2002

“Augustus seen as good fit for governor’s chief of staff”, by Shaun Sutner, Telegram and Gazette, 11 November 2006

“Augustus writing campaign strategy”, by Kimberly Newton, Telegram and Gazette, 14 October 1991

“Augustus’ vote, tax break in question; Worcester senator, Boston home”, by Shaun Sutner, Telegram and Gazette, 30 November 2007

“‘Something bad’: Favoritism has no place in school hiring”, Telegram editorial, 9 November 1992

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One thought on “Looking the gift horse in the mouth

  1. […] a new Manager would be hired on the spot: a couple councilors suggested that they should hire Ed Augustus, former state senator and Democratic insider, right away. Many Councilors were happy with the idea; […]

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