Will integrity fly in Massachusetts?
On the face of it, the issue seems routine enough: the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport, which runs busy Logan International Airport and the Boston seaport) will probably announce the name of its new director by the end of this week.Skip to next paragraph
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But this is Massachusetts, where everything is political and nothing is routine. Did you imagine that America had outgrown its sordid traditions of lame-duck patronage, machine politics, and hardball chicanery? Listen, then, to the following sorry tale - whose (perhaps upbeat?) denouement is unfolding even as you read it.
It begins with outgoing Gov. Edward J. King. A pro-business Democrat, he once headed Massport. He worked singlemindedly to develop Logan into one of most active airports in the world. But he rode roughshod over community groups, sparking antagonisms that still smolder. When a former governor appointed enough supporters to the seven-member Massport board in 1974, the new majority dumped him.
The board then hired David W. Davis. Davis, by most accounts, was a fine director whose staff made Massport a decent place to do business. It also made a pile of money, and was entirely independent of state funding. And Davis managed to accommodate the interests of the community groups - partly by abandoning some development plans dear to King's heart.
Normally, offending your predecessor hardly matters. But shortly after being bounced, King defeated then-governor Michael S. Dukakis. King's dislike for Davis, a Dukakis ally, was profound. So when, last July, he appointed his fourth supporter to Massport's board, retribution was certain.
It was not, however, swift. The 4-3 King majority on the board finally voted Davis out in October - and would instantly have voted in a pro-King director, except for a public outcry demanding a nationwide search. In the meantime, however, something else had happened: King had lost the September gubernatorial primary to Dukakis, who will come see-sawing back into the governor's chair next January 6.
Into this cross-fire, then, wades a 14-member group known as the Executive Search Advisory Committee. Its charge: beat the nation's bushes and find the best director available for Massport. It has only advisory powers. But, as committee member and community activist Bernice Mader notes, the Massport board would be ''very, very ill-advised to appoint somebody if the majority of the committee did not approve.''
For this committee is one of the most potent ever assembled in Boston. It comprises representatives from business, airlines, community groups, unions, women's groups, and minorities. It includes such luminaries as Richard Hill, chairman of the First National Bank of Boston - the kind of man who (as a colleague says), if he merely hints that he needs to talk to some South American government, finds its officials in his office the next morning. Nor has it been idle. A list of more than 100 candidates assembled by an executive search firm has been winnowed to six - three local names, and three outsiders.
So far, so good: there is, at least, a process. But nothing, remember, is routine in Massachusetts. The board decided that each of its own members could add one name to the list of finalists. Members of the pro-King majority added two - names which, says one insider, the executive search firm had earlier twice rejected as unqualified.
And that, as they say, is where the shooting started.
Why? Three reasons:
1) These are the last days of the King administration. Massport's directorship pays $75,000 a year - and King's supporters need good jobs, fast. ''Their carriage,'' quips one anti-King board member, ''turns into a pumpkin January 6.''