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Candidates with vision
Reich on crime and prevention; Steve Grossman's legacy

THE RACE FOR governor is won in the suburbs. So common sense dictates that candidates for the state's top office focus on issues that have the broadest appeal among affluent and middle-class voters. A glance at State Police statistics shows that crime is on the rise. A closer look reveals that the engine driving this disturbing trend is urban-based. And while rising crime rates corrode our larger sense of community, they strike hardest among indigents, immigrants, new citizens, the working poor, and the increasingly hard-pressed blue-collar classes. These are the very people our GOP executives both in the White House and on Beacon Hill have ignored.

Enter former US secretary of labor Robert Reich, the we-try-harder candidate who currently ranks second in public-opinion polls. Among the things that have characterized the Reich campaign to date is a willingness to get out in front of issues. And so it is with crime. As we go to press, Reich is preparing to give an important speech on crime and - most important of all - crime prevention. Fittingly, Reich will reveal the details of his thinking at the Codman Square Health Center, in Dorchester - in the heart of Boston's largely minority neighborhoods, which are suffering grief and apprehension in the aftermath of recent murders. (See "Deadly Force," page one.)

Reich wants to keep guns out of the hands of felons and gang members. That doesn't sound very dramatic until you ponder the bizarre fact that state legislative leaders, who have received more than $10,000 from the National Rifle Association, allowed the House to vote to make it easier for child molesters, street thugs, and other felons to carry concealed weapons. Perhaps common sense will prevail in the Senate.

To crack down on guns and gangs, Reich would take several steps. These include increasing penalties for weapons trafficking; creating a felon-in-possession law that locks up crooks caught with even a single bullet for a minimum of five years in prison; putting more prosecutors in the courts; and increasing funding for community policing.

Perhaps most important of all is Reich's commitment to stopping the revolving door between prison and lives of crime. Unlike the state's last three Republican governors, whose "lock 'em up and throw away the key" approach to crime would make President George W. Bush proud, Reich wants to do something proactive at a time when too many people want to brush complicated problems under the rug or solve them with solutions so simple as to be draconian. Reich wants to better supervise all offenders leaving county houses of correction and state prisons. He also wants to hold criminal-justice agencies - including the Department of Correction, Houses of Correction, the Probation Department, and the Board of Parole - accountable for reducing recidivism.

Not surprisingly for someone who once served as the nation's top labor official, he understands the correlation between the spike in crime and the lack of economic opportunities. In fairness, so do the other candidates. But Reich can be particularly persuasive on the subject.

A full outline of Reich's plans wasn't available as we went to press. But we are encouraged by his suggestions and his sense of timing. However he fares in the election, he has served the citizens of cities like Boston, Brockton, Lawrence, Lowell, and Holyoke well by putting his commonsensical and workable proposals on the table. He has also served the Commonwealth as a whole by raising the level of public discourse.

THE BITTERSWEET truth is that Steve Grossman would have been a much more effective governor than he was a candidate. In fact, of all the candidates in the race, he may well have made the best chief executive this state has seen in a long, long time. But ever the high-class realist, he stepped back last Friday. (Perhaps his withdrawal will spur the remaining Democrats in the race to set their sights on GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney rather than sparring among themselves.) Though Grossman is now out of the race, there are lessons to be learned from his campaign.

Steve Grossman gave voice to outsiders. He consistently reached out to ethnic minorities, such as Boston's Cape Verdeans and Lawrence's Latinos. Grossman won the support of Vermont governor Howard Dean, who presided over his state's legalization of gay civil unions. While Reich ultimately was the first candidate to support gay-marriage rights, Grossman set the standard for inclusiveness by campaigning heavily among gays, lesbians, and others not fully integrated into the political, legal, and economic fabric of the Commonwealth.

He was also the embodiment of Paul Tsongas's legacy of creative fiscal discipline. His campaign was dedicated to finding ways for the state to save money while improving the quality of life. The best example of his shrewd fiscal thinking was his plan for the state to purchase prescription drugs in bulk. Since the proposal - which Grossman estimates could save as much as a $150 million a year - was unveiled, most of the gubernatorial candidates, including Mitt Romney, have endorsed it. Even if his savings estimates are high, as some suggest, the failure to implement this plan will in the long run cost Massachusetts billions. It would be a fitting tribute to this most public-spirited of citizens if whoever is elected governor pushes for its adoption.

It's sad, but we believe true, that Grossman suffered in the arena of public opinion because he was so serious about waging an intellectually based campaign. In the wake of his exit, we would all do well to remember that we're choosing a governor, not a TV anchorperson.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]

Issue Date: July 18 - 25, 2002
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