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

Malone ranger

Part 2

by Michael Crowley

"Jeez," Malone likes to say. As in, "Jeez, we're doing some things that are changing people's lives."

It's a small habit that says a great deal about his persona. Malone has struck a deft balance between everyman and officeholder, one that allows him to crack wise with a knowing grin one moment and discuss policy without sounding buffoonish the next. Although he clearly has a deeply ingrained sense of conservatism, he softens his rhetoric with a gentle speaking style and a fuzzy political vocabulary rich in wonkish buzzwords.

Malone's dual qualities are likely a reflection of his upbringing. The son of Italian immigrants, a smart jock from working-class Waltham, Malone was one of few kids from Waltham High to pass through tony Phillips Andover Academy (as a post-graduate) and then Harvard.

Malone, 42, still has an athlete's tall, solid build, and he presents a likable face with Italian charm: dark eyes and thick, arching eyebrows. His grin crooks slightly around one side of his bulbous nose, and when he talks -- and he talks slowly, calmly -- he has a way of squinting conspiratorially, making you feel like you and he are tuned in to a special wavelength, as if he's letting you in on a little secret. On the stump, it's magic.

Beneath his gentle manner, however, Malone is something of a political Rambo, running through enemy territory, firing in all directions, dodging explosive counterattacks by his multiplying enemies.

"Joe Malone," says a restrained Senate president Tom Birmingham, "is not the most popular person on Beacon Hill."

Malone learned fast the reality of Republican politics in Massachusetts: he worked on a failed congressional campaign in 1980, and then managed two fruitless US Senate bids by party elder Ray Shamie before running a 1988 Senate campaign of his own against Ted Kennedy. Not much more than an asterisk in the polls, Malone did earn praise for resisting the urge to utter words like "Chappaquiddick."

With a deep store of party goodwill, Malone turned against the powers that be in his 1990 campaign for treasurer. He blasted Bob Crane, the retiring Democratic incumbent of 27 years, for cronyism, saying the office shouldn't be "an employment agency or a patronage mill for political employees."

Almost immediately after his blowout victory, Malone's tactics had Beacon Hill's elders choking on their cigars. He abolished the State House bank and ended interest-free loans for legislators. Soon he forced companies looking to do bond business with the state to disclose the names of their lobbyists. No cow was too sacred. Malone became a term-limits leader, and railed at Democratic dinosaurs, saving his choicest denouncements for former Senate president William Bulger: "dictatorial," "vindictive," "a petty man."

Malone appeared especially heretical in contrast to his predecessor. Like Bulger, Bob Crane ("Cranie") was a symbol of the untouchably popular, old-style operator that defined the state legislature of old.

But sometimes the good fight can go bad. In 1991 Malone charged that then State Senator Henri Rauschenbach (R-Brewster) had a private interest in a pension investment he had been lobbying Malone to make, touching off an investigation that led to a trial. Weld, Cellucci, and many other Republican leaders stood by Rauschenbach, who was ultimately acquitted. Senate Minority Leader Brian Lees (R-East Longmeadow), declared Malone a "cheap-shot artist."

More . . .

Michael Crowley can be reached at mcrowley@phx.com.