Romney’s running scared
BY SETH GITELL
If you had read either of Boston’s daily papers on September 3, you could be forgiven for believing that Republican gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney wasn’t invited to the Greater Boston Labor Council’s Labor Day Breakfast at the Park Plaza. LABOR TO ROMNEY: GET LOST – GOP HOPEFUL TURNED AWAY FROM BREAKFAST blared the Boston Herald’s page-three headline. Romney " was not invited, " reported the Boston Globe.
But both papers omitted a relevant point: invitations also weren’t sent to Democratic gubernatorial candidates Shannon O’Brien, Warren Tolman, or even Robert Reich — the former head of the Department of Labor under President Bill Clinton! The only official invitees, according to the event’s organizers, were those whom the AFL-CIO officially endorsed. Of the gubernatorial candidates, only Senate president Tom Birmingham holds that distinction. Therefore, he was the only candidate officially invited to the event.
But that fact isn’t stopping the Romney campaign from making political hay out of the situation. " We were locked out, " says Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom. " Union members know what it’s like to be locked out. Mitt Romney has a pro-labor agenda, the centerpiece of which is a proposal to tie increases in the minimum wage to the cost of living. "
When informed that no Democratic candidates besides Birmingham received official invitations either, and that Romney himself muffed a chance to receive the AFL-CIO’s endorsement by failing to respond to a union questionnaire mailed to him on April 16 and by failing to attend the group’s labor forum in May, Fehrnstrom simply stands by his version of the facts and points to the anti-Romney rhetoric (Labor Council president Lou Manderini Jr. described the Republican as " no friend " of labor) that pervaded the breakfast. " By their actions and by their words, the leadership of the AFL-CIO made it clear they didn’t want Mitt Romney at their event, " he says.
But whether the AFL-CIO wanted Romney at the event or not is irrelevant. What matters is whether Romney had the guts to show up. Unlike previous GOP candidates for governor, he didn’t. Both Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci attended past labor breakfasts. As Republicans, both politicians went out of their way to woo labor support. Weld, for example, braved the lion’s den by throwing back pints at the Eire Pub in Dorchester and venturing into South Boston for the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast — the home turf of then–Senate president William Bulger.
By contrast, Romney’s campaign thus far has been a well-orchestrated, hands-off affair that prevents the candidate from getting dirty. The GOP candidate probably would have been booed at the labor breakfast, so he stayed away and let his handlers position him as running against Big Labor, which isn’t a bad place to be in a race that will depend on suburban-independent voters — who are not necessarily sympathetic to union concerns. The whole affair suggests one looming weakness in Romney’s campaign. Although he’s held in disfavor now, Weld charmed the Bay State by mixing it up with union guys and Beacon Hill pols. He could dish it out as well as take it. So far, Romney is terrified to engage and allows his aides to concoct seductive fictions to satisfy the electorate — such as the myth that he was locked out of the Labor Day breakfast. His success will hinge on how long such tactics hold up.
Issue Date: September 5 - 12, 2002
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