March 13 - 19, 1 9 9 7
[Governor's Race]

Malone ranger

Known as a bad-boy outsider, State Treasurer Joe Malone wants to be acknowledged as an innovative executive. Will he be able to outsmart his enemies and ride into the governor's office?

by Michael Crowley

For Joe Malone, becoming governor in 1998 will be as easy as one, two, three.

One: after months of hedging, Bill Weld decides not to run for a third term.

Two: Malone survives the payback of his bitter political enemies and beats out a better-connected Paul Cellucci to win the Republican nomination.

Three: somehow, Malone overcomes a solid Democratic campaign -- most likely the fearsome Joe Kennedy machine -- in an upset that rocks the state and makes national headlines.

Along the way, Malone must contend with the fact that few people know who he is or what he does. Why should they reward him with the state's highest office?

For a lot of politicians, odds like these are enough to call it quits, surrender the dream, dive under the desk for a nervous breakdown.

Enter Treasurer H. Ross Malone.

Lieutenant Governor Paul Cellucci
Attorney General Scott Harshbarger
Rep. Joe Kennedy
State Treasurer Joe Malone

"We've got some nice visuals around here," Malone says, producing a stack of charts from a corner of his State House office and grinning slightly at his own hokiness. "In a business where there's a lot of `he said, she said,' these are the facts."

Malone's football-player hands hoist the window-sized posterboards one by one to illustrate his skillfully spun tale of cost-cutting, efficiency, and innovation at the state treasury. DOWNSIZING OF LOTTERY WORKFORCE. The bars shrink. ADMINISTRATIVE EXPENSES IN LOTTERY. A thin line slopes downward.

"I don't know of any agency in government that could hold up a chart like this," Malone says, his dark eyes lingering in admiration on the plunging blue line that illustrates SPENDING LEVELS FOR TREASURY ADMINISTRATIVE, BANK FEE AND RETIREMENT BOARD ACCOUNTS.

Malone is probably best known in state politics for his brash -- some say shamelessly self-promotional -- attacks on the Beacon Hill political culture. As a Republican in a Democratic empire, he has crafted an image as a system-bucking outsider that has infuriated establishment pols who think him a headline-hunting pain in the ass.

Says one GOP legislator: "It's apparent to me that if he had to run over his own mother to get ahead he'd do it without any problem."

But Malone knows that a run for governor will take more than his trademark napalm blasts against career legislators. So for six years he's been pushing the traditional limits of the treasurer's job to show he can get things done as an executive. From budget cutting and streamlining to the extracurricular creation of new good-government programs -- and his politically ingenious proposal this week to use pension funds to bail out the Big Dig without a hike in tolls -- Malone feels he's answered the question he asked himself in 1991: "What are you gonna do within this little world of the treasury to make a loud statement?"

The result: Malone has added an element of executive leadership to the winning personal touch and the provocative-outsider act that have made him one of the state GOP's brightest stars, and a real threat to become governor in 1998. But Malone's burning ambition runs up against some daunting obstacles. Right now, he is trapped in political limbo, waiting for Bill Weld to decide whether to run for a third term. His enemies harbor old grudges from his showy outsider stunts. His management of the state lottery is under new scrutiny. And Malone is still trying to articulate a convincing political vision that rises above poll-tested boilerplate GOP rhetoric.

This is Joe Malone's political moment of truth. And though some Beacon Hill insiders are chattering about the intriguing possibility that Malone would replace Cellucci for a 1998 Weld-Malone ticket, Joe Malone sees his political future in three words: governor or good-bye.

More . . .

Michael Crowley can be reached at