ONE OF THE mysteries of this yearís statewide elections is the lack of interest in the treasurerís race. Since Enron imploded last year, weíve seen the unthinkable: not one, not two, but a number of billion-dollar companies that employ tens of thousands of people have gone bankrupt, or nearly so, under the weight of accounting or trading scandals. WorldCom. ImClone. Tyco. Adelphia. Arthur Andersen. In this climate, youíd think there would be great interest in who will oversee the $50 billion Treasury come January. There isnít. But there should be. And not just because the job is so crucial to the state. The three candidates running for treasurer ó Republican Dan Grabauskas, Democrat Tim Cahill, and Green James OíKeefe ó each offer distinct visions for the office. The one put forward by the Republicans is unquestionably the best, and that is why the Phoenix enthusiastically endorses Dan Grabauskas for treasurer.
Grabauskasís management skills can be described in 10 words: he shortened the lines at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. When Grabauskas was appointed registrar in 1999, the agency was a bureaucratic backwater. Employees were surly. Lines were long. The registry experience was so unpleasant that an entire industry of runners flourished. Why suffer when you could pay someone else to stand in line for you? Enter Grabauskas. He instituted a deli-counter-like system of taking numbers for service and put up time clocks that provide estimates of how long the wait will be. He premiered a registry Web site that answers consumer questions and gives real-time estimates of line waits at various registries, so you can check before you leave your house or office. He also launched an audit of operations that uncovered two cash-for-title rings. Procedures for handling cash were implemented to make it much more difficult for such schemes to succeed in the future.
Before taking the helm of the registry, Grabauskas was the director of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, where he honed his skill in making government work for taxpayers ó who are, after all, the consumers of state services. Grabauskas also has an appealing good-government pedigree: in 1995 and 1996, he served as an election observer in Nigeria and Bulgaria and trained democratic reformers for the International Republican Institute in Lithuania.
Grabauskas wants to bring this experience to the Treasury to streamline the office, which oversees the lottery and state pension fund, collects revenues such as taxes, distributes "lost" property, and funds the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Perhaps most important, he supports the current safeguards built into the Pension Reserve Investment Management (PRIM) board that prevent the treasurer from politicizing pension-fund investments. Unlike Democratic candidate Cahill, who wants to take a hands-on role in making investments ó a scenario ripe for political-influence peddling ó Grabauskas understands the value of avoiding even the appearance of conflicts of interest. Toward that end, he wants to strip away the secrecy of the PRIM boardís decision-making processes by opening its meetings to the public. He has also proposed publicizing state finances ó revenues collected, pension-fund returns, local aid distributed ó online. And if anyone can improve upon the lottery reforms implemented under State Treasurer Shannon OíBrien, itís Grabauskas.
One last note about Grabauskas. Heís openly gay. We mention it as an afterthought because it is. That said, there are only a handful of openly gay statewide elected officials in the country. By virtue of his election, Grabauskas would be a leader in the gay and lesbian community here and nationally. Itís a task the appealing registry reformer is up to.
Political contests donít often offer the combination of an incumbent so inept that defeating him becomes an end in itself, and a challenger so appealing that electing him becomes something of a mission. But thatís what we have in the race for the position of Suffolk County district attorney. Itís not quite good versus evil, but itís close.
When former Suffolk County district attorney Ralph Martin stepped down last year to go into private practice, Governor Jane Swift appointed City Councilor Dan Conley to fill out the remainder of Martinís term. In less than a year, Conley has squeezed out the management team Martin put in place, which had pioneered a community-based style of prosecution that saw gang-bangers and drug dealers swept off the streets and sent to jail during the 1990s. Who has Conley brought in? Political loyalists. Itís a style of leadership that harks back to the prosecutorial incompetence exercised so expertly by former Suffolk County DA Newman Flanagan.
Running against Conley for the office is Eddie Jenkins, an attorney who has run for political office twice before ó first in 1990, against Flanagan. Largely motivated by disgust with Flanaganís handling of the infamous Charles Stuart murder case that polarized Boston along racial lines, Jenkins won 38 percent of the vote against the entrenched incumbent. In 1993, he ran for an at-large seat on the Boston City Council and finished fifth. He co-founded 1000 Black Men, which mentors at-risk youth, with Northeastern Universityís Joseph Warren. Jenkins is not only committed to continuing the combination of targeted prosecution and intervention that cut the legs from beneath Bostonís criminal youth gangs, but he knows how to do it. Jenkinsís vision for the office is one that promotes alternative-sentencing plans and takes a more proactively supportive approach to dealing with nonviolent offenders. It is a vision that is not only better from a social-policy perspective, but from an economic one as well. Alternative sentencing is less expensive per offender and reduces the need to build more prisons ó and with proper post-sentencing support systems in place, it results in offenders re-entering "civilian" life far less likely to re-offend. The Phoenix enthusiastically endorses Eddie Jenkins for Suffolk County district attorney.
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