Master of the game
BY SETH GITELL
In New York, the New York Observer trumpets Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who has earned a national reputation for litigating against investment firms, as a potential 2008 presidential candidate. The New York Times has Spitzer on the front page almost as often as President George W. Bush. Here in Massachusetts, Secretary of State William Galvin seems to want a piece of that.
Galvin’s been up on Beacon Hill since he joined the somewhat obscure Governor’s Council as a part-time aide in the early 1970s. In the course of that time, he’s gained a reputation as a master manipulator who always knows the smart play. His latest mission: transforming the way Wall Street firms convey investment advice.
Galvin’s participation in a civil lawsuit, which seeks $1.9 million in damages from Credit Suisse First Boston for failing to provide unbiased investment advice to investors in the state, fits right into his penchant for publicity-grabbing through quasi-bureaucratic means. While still a law student, Galvin played a major role in the redistricting of the House as a Beacon Hill staffer. Elected to the House in his own right in 1975, the future secretary of state took over the responsibility of creating the next redistricting plan. His claim to fame in those years was that he authored a controversial redistricting plan for Boston city councilors, changing the at-large body into one combining both district and at-large councilors. More recently, as secretary of state — and de facto lieutenant governor — he used gubernatorial absences, such as that of Paul Cellucci in 1998, to file legislation aimed at making health care more affordable.
The second-longest-serving statewide officer, Galvin has developed a strong strain of economic populism. In addition to directing his ire at health-care companies, Galvin, dubbed " the Prince of Darkness " on Beacon Hill, has used voting lists to make sure John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance contacted policyholders as part of its plans to go public. He’s also taken on public utilities.
None of this helped him when he sought the Democratic gubernatorial nomination throughout much of 2001, though. Unwilling to suffer the fate of, say, former Democratic National Committee chair Steve Grossman, who battled for several months only to drop out of the race, Galvin withdrew just prior to the Democratic caucuses in early February 2002. Taking a page from the writings of Chairman Mao, he retreated to fight again another day. It was a smart move. Now that he is entering the big leagues with the suit against Credit Suisse, he is the subject of news coverage on the front page of the New York Times business section and the topic of discussion on CNBC’s Kudlow & Cramer.
Democrat Shannon O’Brien and Republican Mitt Romney, meanwhile, are slugging it out with a number of ugly allegations and counter-allegations escalating daily. Yet neither has been able to capture investment-related voter angst. Neither can. O’Brien is hurt by her leadership of the state pension fund, which most recently lost $1.5 billion, and Romney is a former corporate raider who profited by taking over companies and firing workers. Regardless of who wins, Galvin will still be standing. If it’s Romney, Galvin will vie with Attorney General Tom Reilly for the title of most visible Democrat on Beacon Hill. But judging by Tuesday’s papers, he’s already won that.
Issue Date: October 24 - 31, 2002
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