`Patrician' Politics in Mass. Governor's Race

Republican Weld, Democrat Roosevelt are centrists who want to show voters their differences

IF they were peas, William Weld and Mark Roosevelt would have sprouted in the same gilded pod.

William Floyd, one of Mr. Weld's ancestors, signed the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Roosevelt's great-great-grandfather Theodore is the mustachioed fellow on Mount Rushmore.

Not only do these silver-spoon baby boomers sport matching degrees from Harvard Law School, they're also related: Roosevelt's cousin Susan is Weld's wife.

Taken alone, these similarities suggest that Weld and Roosevelt might be spotted trading stock tips aboard some 75-foot yacht. In reality, however, they're far more likely to appear on television in Boston, trading rhetorical barbs.

A family feud? No, it's the Massachusetts gubernatorial race, in which Weld, the incumbent Republican governor, and Roosevelt, a Democratic state senator, are the front runners.

``It's like something out of the 19th century,'' says Dennis Hale, associate professor of political science at Boston College. ``Back then, everybody in politics went to the same prestigious schools and knew each other.... Weld and Roosevelt share many of the things that rich patricians share.''

Among them are a striking number of conservative positions. Weld and Roosevelt advocate the death penalty, the ``three strikes and you're out'' concept for repeat felons, school choice, and restrictions on welfare.

Ideas not a whit apart

But their views also coincide on support for gay rights, abortion rights, and stricter environmental safeguards. In addition, Roosevelt says he and Weld ``see eye to eye'' on the need to improve the climate for business in Massachusetts.

``Roosevelt is a centrist Democrat and Weld is a centrist Republican,'' says Lou DiNatale of the McCormack Institute at the University of Massachusetts. ``They're not a whit apart in ideology. Their differences are more attitudinal than substantitive.''

Boston lawyer George Bachrach, a fellow Democratic candidate, says: ``If you want all these things in a governor, you've already got them'' in Roosevelt.

While acknowledging the privileged backgrounds he and Weld share, Roosevelt dismisses the similarity as ``coincidental.'' He contends that he doesn't have any of his own money to spend on the campaign (Weld pumped $1.1 million of his own into his narrow win over John Silber in 1990), and plays down the appeal of his famous name.

``I suppose [my name] makes people remember me more easily,'' he says, ``but in this state, of course, the magic name isn't Roosevelt.'' He notes that his cousin, James Roosevelt, was soundly beaten by Joseph Kennedy in a 1986 Congressional bid.

Roosevelt adds that his background is not a hindrance to his ability to understand the underprivileged. ``I don't think what side of the tracks you're born on dictates what's in your head or your heart, or what you do with your life,'' he says.

Indeed, most analysts see a possible Weld and Roosevelt pairing as at worst an anomaly and at best a positive sign. ``This is an example of two people who came into the state and have made a commitment to it,'' Mr. Hale says, noting that Weld hails from New York and Roosevelt from Washington, D.C. ``They both could have chosen different, more financially lucrative careers, but devoted themselves to public service in Massachusetts. It would be unfair to label them as wealthy opportunists.''

Mr. DiNatale disagrees. ``It's hard for working-class candidates to come through the system and still be whole,'' he says. ``The common element, the Horatio Alger element of politics, is increasingly missing in these contests.''

He says that in the Massachusetts Senate contest, leading Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Edward Kennedy both benefit from established names and vast resources. ``If you don't come to the table with your own money or at least a franchise name, you don't have a shot,'' he says.

If Roosevelt wins the Democratic nomination, he faces an arduous battle to topple Weld, who has remained popular with a ``steer, not row'' management style, tax cuts, and a string of balanced budgets. Weld's fund-raising efforts have netted an estimated $6 million since he took office in 1990. Roosevelt's initial endorsement by the Massachusetts Democratic Party is only a marginal boost amid continuing signs of an economic upturn and mounting attacks from Mr. Bachrach and state Sen. Michael Barrett, Roosevelt's more-liberal democratic rivals.

A personal message

Chewing on a candy bar in a crowded restaurant booth, Roosevelt reiterates his principal message: Bill Weld is an ``indifferent, aloof, uncaring, passive, inactive, and desperately lazy'' governor.

``In one two-week period he had to admit he didn't know that two-thirds of the state's bridges were in disrepair, didn't know that second-degree murderers are allowed out on furlough, and he couldn't name the companies that had moved to the state and left the state since he took office,'' Roosevelt says. ``I can't even imagine what he'd be like in a second term. I think he works about four hours a day now.''

Roosevelt, who has built a reputation as an effective if dogged state legislator, paints himself as less affable than Weld, but far more serious. He says he is ``a bit of a workaholic'' who would rather try something and fail than do nothing. The Weld campaign contends that Roosevelt voted for higher taxes 40 times and represents the same crime-coddling, free-spending activism that threw the state budget into crisis in the late 1980s and turned voters against then-Gov. Michael Dukakis.

Roosevelt counters that Weld's inattention leads to rampant ethical lapses by his staff and lost opportunities to bring jobs to Massachusetts. He says the state's taxpayers pay an incalculable ``mismanagement tax'' because of Weld's obliviousness.

Roosevelt underlined this point during a recent campaign appearance at a shelter for homeless families that he says costs taxpayers $1,500 to $2,500 a month per family. In a blunt, almost prosecutory fashion, Roosevelt interrogated the residents, at one point asking a welfare mother - to her displeasure - if her three children shared the same father.

``Why does that matter?'' she asked. ``I think it does,'' the candidate retorted, showing no sign of the kind of easy compassion that marked the campaign of another activist Democrat, President Bill Clinton. When asked if he considers himself a populist, Roosevelt changes the subject.

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