See Jane govern
Jane Swift is a cabinet appointment away from becoming governor. But a
fresh look at our 34-year-old lieutenant governor suggests she isn't yet ready
for prime time.
by Seth Gitell
Sometime during the media firestorm surrounding Lieutenant Governor Jane Swift's version of the Checkers speech, it became obvious that we know
almost nothing about her. Okay, that's not entirely true. We know that she's 34 and will turn 35 in February. We know she has a 15-month-old daughter named Elizabeth. We know that Elizabeth has just started blowing kisses. We know Elizabeth is taken care of during the day by her dad, Charles Hunt III -- who drops Elizabeth off at the State House when he wants to go for a run. Um, wait a minute -- we were talking about the lieutenant governor, weren't we?
Okay, we know that Swift used a state-police helicopter
to beat traffic on the Mass Pike and get home to her husband and baby in North
Adams for Thanksgiving. We know that she has used her aides to serve as Mary
Poppinses for Elizabeth. Oh, and one other thing: we know that Swift is a step
away from becoming governor -- should George W. Bush get elected president and
appoint Governor Paul Cellucci to a cabinet position, as many have speculated
But a look at the reams of copy written about Swift since Cellucci selected her
as his running mate shows that no one seems to know much else about her. The
media coverage during Swift's campaign for lieutenant governor focused almost
exclusively on the fact that she was pregnant. The phenomenon prompted an
opinion piece by that barometer of mainstream feminist opinion, Ellen Goodman,
who in June 1998 penned a column headlined MUST WE FOCUS ON SWIFT'S PREGNANCY,
NOT HER POLITICS?
"There's no question the primary interest of the public was that this was a
woman running for a very high office and she would be a working mom in the
future," says Janet Jeghelian, Swift's opponent in the GOP lieutenant-governor
race. "It was difficult to run against someone in that position when you can't
replicate it yourself."
Few stories have closely examined Swift's rapid rise to power. Nor have they
made much of her bruising 1996 congressional run against Representative John
Olver -- a race so bitter that Olver complained afterward to the Federal
Election Commission and sponsored a bill that would ban the practices some
believed the Swift campaign had used against him. Few reporters discuss her
family background or her two siblings; we rarely hear that she comes from
Northern Italian stock, that her father is a plumbing and heating contractor,
or that her middle name is Maria. Only one piece notes that Swift met her
future husband while campaigning. And none seems to have mentioned that she's a
stepmom to Hunt's twentysomething son. Her political accomplishments, too, get
short shrift (see "Swift's Politics," right).
To be sure, this is partly because the lieutenant governor's position is not
the highest-profile political job around. Paul Cellucci didn't attract all that
much attention when he held her seat, and neither did Evelyn Murphy. We knew
about Ed King's number two, Thomas O'Neill, mainly because he was Tip O'Neill's
son. But still, Swift, who declined to be interviewed for this story, has a
damn good chance of becoming governor without having to campaign for the
office. And we should know more about her. A lot more.
When Jane Swift left the state senate in 1996, she had voted with liberal
Democrat Lois Pines (D-Newton) 774 times out of 1244, according to a computer
analysis of Swift's voting record by Michael Segal's Advance Research Group. By
contrast, Swift voted with Senate President Thomas Birmingham 584 times and
against him 637 times.
Don't start calling Swift a progressive, however. Stephen Collins, the
executive director of the Massachusetts Human Services Coalition, says Swift
consistently got bad grades during her time as a legislator. Collins's group
rates lawmakers on 10 votes of concern to the human-services community. Swift
scored her highest grade -- a 60 -- in 1992. The next year she scored only a
20. The other years her grades ranged from 30 to 55. "Her scores are fairly
consistent with a Republican state senator," says Collins. "It would indicate
during her tenure as a state senator that I wouldn't call her a champion of
working people or working mothers. The record would indicate that these issues
were not her highest priority. They weren't the worst scores, however."
During her farewell address to the Senate, Swift mentioned her support for
dairy farmers. She recalled the time she brought a cow to the State House and
gave free Ben & Jerry's ice cream to members. Swift was praised for her
advocacy of regional schools, agriculture, and jobs for her district. Her
colleagues gave her a standing ovation.
The dairy-farming issue represents the kind of pure regional advocacy that has
consumed much of Swift's energy. She was outraged that the Berkshires often got
left out when it came to state funding. In 1995, she wanted the state to start
reimbursing local communities for the costs of natural disasters and storms.
She told one legislative committee: "We joke now that if we get hit with a
snowstorm or wind or rain, we hope it will hit Boston too. It's unfortunate,
but it's the only way we'll get assistance."
Jane Maria Swift was born February 24, 1965, to
Jack and Jean Swift of North Adams. The family is Roman Catholic; Jack is a
plumbing contractor, and Jean is a Catholic-school teacher and former Girl
Scout leader. Jane is the second of three children.
Like many successful politicians, Swift was blessed with luck. Her father, a
politically active Berkshires Republican, served on the North Adams Housing
Authority and forged lasting political alliances within the state GOP that have
helped Swift to this day. For example, Jack Swift was a close political ally of
Jack Fitzpatrick, the proprietor of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, who held
the same state-senate seat that Jane Swift would later win. And when
Fitzpatrick stepped down in 1980, he was succeeded by his former aide Peter
Webber, who would play a crucial role in Swift's career.
As an American-studies major at Hartford's Trinity College, where she studied
after graduating from her hometown Drury High School, Swift interned for Webber
and made quite an impression. "She was very talented, very mature, very
capable," Webber recalls. "That's why when I had an opening on my staff three
years later, I recruited her as a legislative aide."
Swift was working at G. Fox, a Connecticut department store, when Webber
called her back to the Commonwealth in 1988. It was the beginning of a rapid
rise. Quickly asserting herself in Webber's office, Swift became the point
person on mental-health issues, a particular interest of the senator's. She
helped create the Children's Trust Fund, which raises private money to fight
child abuse -- a forerunner of "compassionate conservatism." Soon she was
Luck again had a hand in her next move. As the 1990 election approached, Webber
decided not to run for re-election. When he informed his staff of his decision,
Swift expressed interest in running. "Jane stepped forward," Webber says. "She
was enthusiastically interested in winning the seat." A campaign strategy
rapidly took shape. With rumors flying around the district that he would step
down, the senator called a dramatic press conference in Pittsfield. Webber and
his family shared the stage with the Swift family. He announced that he would
not run again, but was throwing his full support behind Jane Swift.
Even more significant, the Republican electoral machine that had produced,
supported, and nurtured Fitzpatrick and Webber would now belong to Swift, who
hoped to become the youngest woman ever to be elected to the Massachusetts
Only Sherwood Guernsey stood in her way. Guernsey, a Democrat, had been serving
as a state representative, and he saw his chance for a bigger job when Webber
stepped down. But his timing was as unlucky as Swift's was lucky. As loyal a
Dukakoid as there ever had been, Guernsey campaigned for Michael Dukakis around
the country during the Massachusetts governor's 1988 presidential race. If
Dukakis had won that election, who knows? Guernsey might have ended up in the
White House. Instead, he found himself fighting for his political life against
a brash, ambitious 25-year-old.
Guernsey says that Swift successfully outflanked him by presenting herself as
more liberal on social issues than she really is. "She tried to portray herself
as a guardian and friend of the elderly," he says. "She has done nothing to
Despite Guernsey's best efforts, Swift won the election. And the Republican
contingent that she joined on Beacon Hill was not the ineffectual, weak bunch
of today. These were the glory days of Weld-Cellucci, when there were enough
Republican votes in the Senate to override the vetoes of the Democrats. In this
environment, the young Jane Swift had an immediate impact.
Swift threw herself into two key legislative issues that still resonate today.
She represented the state GOP's interests in negotiations over education
reform, going up against such Democratic powerhouses as state rep Mark
Roosevelt and Senate President Thomas Birmingham. And she had to support
local-aid cuts -- cuts that affected her district, with its impoverished farm
towns, more than other parts of the state. "Those were very, very tough times
for a new member having to cut," recalls senate minority leader Brian Lees of
East Longmeadow. "The toughest thing was to cut local aid. She had to stand up
and make some tough decisions."
But in the midst of this harrowing political environment, Swift was able to
hone her talent. Intensely ambitious, she found she could compete with
more-experienced colleagues by combining her intelligence with hard work. Plus,
as one political veteran recalls, the quick-tongued young senator "could zing
questions like the best of them." (Birmingham did not respond to queries about
his experiences with Swift during the educational-reform effort. Perhaps he is
saving his arrows for a future gubernatorial battle?)
Even though Jane Swift has apologized for
using state aides to baby-sit her daughter Elizabeth, and for having used a
state helicopter as a taxi to get home to North Adams over the Thanksgiving
holiday, that's not enough for some critics. Many Democrats are calling for
Swift to reimburse the state for the cost of the helicopter ride. But instead
of writing a check -- as her nemesis Peter Blute did for the cost of the
Nauticus voyage -- Swift has referred the matter to the state ethics
It's unclear what standard the commission will use to determine whether Swift
has to pay the money back. The helicopter ride falls under Section 23 of the
state's conflict law, which reads, in the relevant section: "No current officer
or employee of a state, county or municipal agency shall knowingly, or with
reason to know . . . use or attempt to use his official
position to secure for himself or others unwarranted privileges or exemptions
which are of substantial value and which are not properly available to
similarly situated individuals."
A state publication titled "Avoiding 'Appearances' of Conflict of Interest"
notes that a city official who used a computer in the mayor's office to work on
his wife's accounting business would be in violation of the ethics law. In
1995, the commission levied a $500 fine against Edward J. Kennedy Jr., a
Middlesex County commissioner, for using a county photocopy machine for his
political campaign. It's possible that the ethics commission could liken
Swift's use of the helicopter to that instance.
Marc Perlin, an associate dean at Suffolk University Law School, says that the
ethics commission will consider "the extent that use of a helicopter is made
available to high officials in the state." Governor Cellucci told the
Phoenix last week that he and Swift each used the helicopter twice
during 1999. "The statute would not make it improper to the extent other people
at her level also have access to these things," Perlin says.
If Swift is found liable in the helicopter matter, the commission could order
her to reimburse the state for the cost of the trip and fine her the maximum
under the law -- a total of $2000.
Swift also faces liability for using her aides as baby sitters. In 1990, the
commission found that then-Speaker of the House George Keverian had violated
the conflict-of-interest law for using State House maintenance workers to
renovate his Everett home. (Keverian paid the employees for the work.) But the
commission did not fine Keverian.
Whatever the commission decides, it's doubtful that the issue will go away.
Democratic political consultant Michael Goldman has been circulating buttons
that read QUEEN JANE 'AIR' PAY BACK THE FARE . . . !
During this time, Swift became a voice for a disaffected region -- the
Berkshires. State Senator Stanley Rosenberg, a Democrat, recalls her opposition
to a measure, proposed in response to a tragic accident in Eastern
Massachusetts, that would have tightened the rules on truck-borne snowplows.
The fight symbolized the kind of non-ideological battle that mattered most to
Swift's constituents; many residents of the Berkshires saw their winter
livelihoods threatened. On this issue, Swift was tenacious -- and victorious.
"She had guts enough to be heard on the issues whether it was popular or not,"
says former state senator Mary Padula of Lunenburg, who became something of a
mentor to Swift. "She backed up her stands with a lot of fortitude. She fought
and she brought home the bacon. Sometimes legislators will file bills, but few
follow them through the whole process time and time again. That's how minority
members get something through: they try and try and try."
By 1996, Swift found herself at a crossroads. After serving three terms, she
had risen to assistant minority leader. She could cast her lot with the state
GOP and stay in the Senate, or she could take a risk and run for Congress. She
chose the latter. Two years after the Gingrich revolution, in the biggest
political gamble of her life, she challenged US Representative John Olver for
the First Congressional District, which stretches all the way from the New York
border to north and east of Worcester. Again backed by the Fitzpatrick-Webber
machine, Swift found she could raise money. Olver, the incumbent, raised
$650,888.30 during 1996; Swift, the challenger, collected $594,976.35. During
the important summer months, Swift outraised Olver, $94,157 to $80,155.
In this race, though, she faced more scrutiny than ever before. Ironically,
given the position she now finds herself in regarding her use of the state
helicopter, Swift had been scrupulous about following ethics rules. During
speeches she had often joked that when her husband-to-be lavished her with
chocolates and flowers, she had to make sure the gifts were under the
Commonwealth's official $50 limit. But on April 15, when Swift was in Westfield
campaigning against raising taxes, someone asked her whether she took the tax
deduction provided to state legislators who live more than 50 miles away from
their state capitals. Swift became flustered; she did take the
deduction, which lowered her annual taxable income by $50,000, according to the
Boston Globe. The tax break is legal, but it is seen as a boondoggle.
The controversy made the local dailies, and the Globe later reported
that Swift was one of 40 legislators who took advantage of the loophole. Swift
overcame the early storm, although the issue briefly came up again when she was
vying to become lieutenant governor.
Thanks in part to the efforts of Padula, who ran the eastern half of Swift's
congressional campaign from the "war room" in her Lunenburg house, Swift at
least found relatively smooth sailing in that part of the district. The two
women were a good match, Padula says: "We're both obnoxiously assertive. We
don't take no for an answer. In that respect I didn't have to teach Jane
anything. She's pretty assertive on her own."
But there was trouble in Swift's home base -- the western part of the district.
During the waning days of the campaign, more than 500 senior citizens received
phone calls warning them that Olver would slash Social Security and Medicare.
Such allegations are often made in the form of leading questions in a campaign
tactic known as "push polling." Swift denied any involvement in the calls, and
they have never been linked to her.
Still, the incident stung Swift. At one event in October, a group of senior
citizens and Olver supporters surrounded her and her husband, protesting the
telephone calls. The episode is thought to have put Olver over the top in the
district. Later, he sponsored the "Voters' Right to Know Act," aimed at
preventing push polling.
Even though Swift came up short, her performance amazed political insiders. In
the same year that John Kerry trounced William Weld in the Senate race, she
lost by only a few hundred votes. This earned her a reputation as a rising
political star. She was featured in a publication called the Women's
Times, and Glamour magazine named her one of "Eleven Women Who Could
Change the Country."
The perfect storm
Jane Swift is running second only to Hillary Clinton in the ability to make the
wood -- the front-page headline of a tabloid. When news broke that Swift had
used her aides as baby sitters and had taken a state-police helicopter home to
North Adams, the press had a field day. On January 6, the Herald
ran a photo of an imperious-looking Swift with the headline GET OVER IT, BOYS!
On January 12, it was EXPLAIN, JANE: SWIFT AIDES WHO HELPED WITH BABY
DUTIES GOT PROMOTIONS. On January 13 -- after the mea culpa -- the
Herald proclaimed: JANE ERRED: SWIFT ISSUES APOLOGY FOR HELICOPTER, BABY
FLAPS. Though less colorful, the Boston Globe has been no less
aggressive in following the story. Plus, the saga made network television.
NBC's Today show expounded on it -- as did the tabloid show
Extra. As the Phoenix went to press, there was talk that a
reporter from the Washington Post Style section was also on the scene to
sound off on Swift.
This is not the first time Swift has captured the local and national
spotlights, however. When she announced that she was pregnant just as she was
seeking her party's nomination for lieutenant governor, it touched off a
perfect media storm. In May 1998, the New York Times ran a dispatch
headlined A PREGNANT CANDIDATE DISCOVERS SHE'S AN ISSUE. The Washington Post
weighed in a month later with a Style piece headed BIRTH OF A CAMPAIGN;
JANE SWIFT IS PREGNANT. SHE'S HOPING NOVEMBER WILL BRING HER TWO BLESSED
EVENTS. Swift told the Post she was surprised at her ability to make
news: "I thought this was a one-week story -- 'Jane Swift's pregnant, isn't
that wonderful.' " She also figured that the helicopter/baby-
scandal would die down quickly -- which is exactly what allowed it to spiral
out of control.
Earlier in her career, Swift easily squelched questions about having taken a
legal tax deduction offered to local legislators who live more than 50 miles
away from their state capital. She also denied allegations that she'd had
anything to do with anonymous phone calls questioning John Olver's commitment
to Social Security when she ran against him for the US House of
Most political observers say Swift should have apologized sooner for using her
aides as baby sitters and the state-police helicopter as a taxi. And, they say,
it should have been a much bigger apology, with the governor present and a
representative from a women's organization by her side. But the way it went
down made Swift seem even more frazzled.
Nevertheless, she's certain to learn from the incident. If she figures out how
to control the media, the type of interest they've displayed could help turn
her into a national figure.
Following her strong performance, she joined the Republican administration on
Beacon Hill. First Weld appointed her director of regional airport development
at Massport. And in December 1997, Cellucci (then the acting governor)
appointed her director of the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and
That appointment didn't meet with universal approval from long-time GOP-ers,
though. Earlier in the year, Swift had tangled with Paul Babeu, a fellow young
Republican from her hometown. Babeu, a county official, had challenged
Democratic incumbent John Barrett to run for mayor of North Adams. He defeated
Barrett in a primary, but Swift endorsed the Democrat, who then won the
election. Some familiar with the race say that Swift picked Barrett, who
remains loyal to the lieutenant governor, because Babeu was too right-wing. Yet
Babeu, who was an ally of former treasurer Joe Malone, says he is pro-choice
and pro-gay-rights (though he concedes that he was pro-life at age 18). Babeu
blames Swift for his defeat.
The intricacies of North Adams politics are somewhat hard to appreciate from
our vantage point in Boston. But one interpretation of the Babeu episode is
clear: Swift saw an opportunity to eliminate a potential Republican rival, and
she took it. It was a similar story when, earlier this year, she seized upon
Massport head Peter Blute's seaborne cavorting to eliminate a more seasoned
Republican rival. Certainly, this bloodlust for fellow Republicans has won
Swift no friends in GOP ranks. Although the lieutenant governor's political
potential is still viewed with relish among the party die-hards, many state
Republicans revile her. Part of this animus, to be sure, stems from the old Joe
Malone faction. Still, there are many who quietly think that Jane Swift cares
more about herself than about her party.
Whatever mixed feelings Swift may evoke from party stalwarts were not enough to
dim her appeal for Cellucci and his team. By the winter of 1997-'98, they had
been twice disappointed in drafting a candidate for lieutenant governor. First,
Suffolk County district attorney Ralph Martin turned them down; then Charles D.
Baker Jr., another strong candidate, bolted the administration to become
president and CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Inc. (Some said at the time
that Baker had wanted to be Cellucci's number two and was miffed at being
overlooked as the first choice.) Regrouping, Cellucci's people concluded that
they needed an attractive candidate, preferably a woman. For the third time in
her career, Swift benefited from good timing. And this time she did her best to
display loyalty. No sooner did Cellucci draft her than she changed her position
on the death penalty (she now says she supports it), assault weapons (she now
opposes a ban), and increasing the minimum wage (she supported it, then opposed
it; subsequently Cellucci embraced and signed an increase).
For what it's worth, Swift may have changed her mind about another issue, too.
In 1993, during a Senate debate of an amendment that would have restored cash
assistance to poor pregnant women, she said it didn't strike her as
particularly responsible to get pregnant when you couldn't already support
yourself, let alone a child. According to a State House News Service account of
the debate, Swift said that there were already all sorts of programs out there
to help mothers. Now that Swift has a child of her own, and finds herself
calling on the services of her aides to "keep it all together" as a working
mom, it appears she's discovered that even responsible women may need extra
Jack Swift, who's said to be one of Swift's closest confidants, won't say much
about the political trauma his daughter has been through in recent days. "I
agree with the statement that she made yesterday, and we're very proud of our
daughter," he says of the lieutenant governor's apology. "Jane spent six years
in the Senate, and you should speak to the senators on both sides of the aisle
-- there's a pretty good consensus on how she did there. She has our full
support, and we're very proud of her."
Swift's closest friends will tell you that the real Jane Swift is kind and
loving. That she was deeply saddened by the loss of a friend to breast cancer
at the age of 32. That she is struggling with being a mom and a lieutenant
governor. And they will also tell you that Swift is getting a raw deal -- not
just from the press and the Democrats, but from the governor. Swift is ever the
loyal soldier, they say, and if Cellucci had asked for an apology, Swift would
In fact, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the babysitting/chopper scandal
is that it showed the limits of the administration's loyalty to Swift. When
things got hot, Cellucci's top advisers -- such as Rob Gray -- distanced
themselves from her. They may even have planted the stories in the Globe
and the Herald saying that she had failed to take advice. These stories
were warning shots to Swift, showing her that Cellucci's people were willing to
make her look bad if she refused to apologize.
It's too early to say whether Swift has sustained permanent damage, but it's
significant in itself that this is the biggest political test she's had to
endure so far. If she were made governor tomorrow, her experience would have to
rank her as a lightweight. (By comparison, when Cellucci was made acting
governor, he had two decades in state government under his belt.) Swift's
allies may love to say the lieutenant governor has been "underestimated," but
the fact is that Swift emerged from the milk-pail culture of Western
Massachusetts with every political advantage -- especially the backing of a
party machine (and thus an ability to raise money). Swift's old Senate district
comprised some 45 communities, each with its own political leaders. That means
that someone with a modicum of talent, name recognition, and organizational
support would naturally have had a tremendous advantage over someone known in
just one of these towns. And that's what Swift had the minute Webber announced
his support for her at the Pittsfield press conference in 1990. It didn't hurt,
either, that she benefited from political alliances forged by her father. She's
also a Republican in a heavily Democratic state, she's young and assertive, she
faced less competition in the Western Massachusetts bush leagues than most
politicos have to contend with (her challenge of Olver was her first race of
any consequence), and her pregnancy during her first statewide run shielded her
from scrutiny. When such a pol is plopped onto center stage, you have to ask:
what's not to underestimate?
In spite of her flaws and her lack of seasoning, Swift's colleagues from the
state senate insist she's pretty good. They praise her for having done her
homework during her stint as a state legislator. They go on about how
articulate and how sharp she is. But isn't that the way public servants are
supposed to be? The praise Swift gets for asking tough questions and speaking
well in public sounds an awful lot like the praise mediocre students get for
having perfect attendance. If she's competent according to the current
standards of state government, perhaps we should be asking why we expect so
little from our public servants.
All that said, we did learn something else about Swift from the recent scandal:
she is tenacious. And if political history has taught us anything, it's that
victory often goes to the most persistent -- even if they stumble once or
Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]phx.com.