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
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."
Michael Crowley can be reached at email@example.com.