William F. Weld’s return to Boston seven weeks ago seemed a twilight turn for the restless executive – a soft landing spot with a comfortable lobbying office, in a town where the waiters call him governor and his wry humor resonates with a certain generation.
That may be the case.
But another possibility has emerged. Maybe the man who had longed to be senator, ambassador, literary wit, and governor of New York has a sixth act in him. Maybe the timing, so elusive in recent years, is right again.
Consider what Weld now has before him: A Senate seat held by John F. Kerry, his one-time rival, that looks likely to open, and a Republican brand in need of a jolt.
Sure, Senator Scott Brown is the front-runner for the GOP nomination. But if there is anyone else in the GOP mix, it is certainly Weld.
Maybe the new ideas Massachusetts Republicans are seeking are really the old ideas. Maybe the next Bill Weld Republican is Bill Weld.
Weld, in an interview, said nice words about Brown and Charles D. Baker, his former cabinet secretary, who he expects will run again for governor. He downplayed a run of his own. But he playfully talked about stirring the pot.
Asked if he might run if Kerry’s Senate seat opens up, the closest he would come to a denial was, “I don’t think so.”
Not exactly Shermanesque.
His friends said they doubt he will run, and a poll released Thursday showed Brown would have a commanding lead in a primary. But like Weld, the friends didn’t rule it out. And some noted that a little speculation never hurt anyone, especially in the lobbying and corporate deal-making world, where Weld now works, splitting time between the Mintz Levin law firm, and its lobbying arm, ML Strategies.
“If you work at a major law firm with an important public strategy group, you certainly want people to know you’re back in town,” said Paul Cellucci, Weld’s lieutenant governor and successor. “That’s Business 101, if not Politics 101.”
Cellucci said he isn’t betting on Weld running. Then he said he has lost a lot of wagers betting on what Weld will do. “Look, he ran for governor of New York,” Cellucci said, recalling Weld’s 2005 effort as if it were a dare.
“He enjoys the political intrigue,” Cellucci said.
Weld said people frequently ask him to run for office again. But he doesn’t think they mean it. “They’re saying it to be nice,” he said. “What they’re saying is ‘We had fun when you were governor.’”
“I think it’s a symbolic feeling of warmth,” he added.
Weld’s return to Boston came with a nudge from his friend and confidant of three decades, Mark E. Robinson, who saw Weld impress a large crowd of politicos in late April, at an event honoring his former fund-raiser, Peter J. Berlandi.
Robinson made a pitch over dinner. “I thought he was leaving a lot of equity on the table by staying in New York,” he said.
He said that equity comes from the Weld brand, a mix of unorthodox political views and a whimsical sensibility.
“He has all the vices people like,” Robinson said. “He hunts. He drinks. He gambles.”
In New York, Weld had an international legal practice. He traveled to Oman, Ecuador, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia, working on mining and gas projects. Congressional records show he and his firm were paid more than $850,000 since 2008 to lobby on behalf of New Balance, Sony, CNX Gas Corp., Raytheon, and Elemental Innovations, a defense contractor.
He also wrote novels and threw parties.
Virginia Buckingham, a former campaign manager and top aide, said she attended spirited soirees at Weld’s five-bedroom apartment on East 61st St., with real estate mogul Mortimer B. Zuckerman and other “folks about town.”
His 2005 bid for New York governor sputtered on the launch pad. He was hobbled by news that Decker College, a Kentucky school in which his investment firm had a minority stake, declared bankruptcy. Hundreds of students were left with nowhere to go, prompting state and federal fraud investigations. Weld was never implicated.
Though something of a socialite in New York, Weld never cut the towering figure there that he did in Boston.
“New York can be a noisy and anonymous place which, I think, was good for sometimes,” Buckingham said. “But home is home.”
Weld announced in October that he would be joining old friends, including Stephen P. Tocco, a former top aide in his administration, at ML Strategies and Mintz Levin.
He has begun stepping into the public eye, expounding in the Boston Herald on Whitey Bulger and other news, even defending Beacon Hill Democrats against state and federal patronage investigations.
Robert Durand, a former Democratic state senator who once jumped into the Charles River with Weld to show that the river was cleaner, said Weld loves the game.
“You always want to be a player,” said Durand, who still goes fly fishing in the Adirondacks with him every spring.
But Durand, Tocco, Buckingham, and Berlandi doubt that Weld really wants to give up his nights, weekends, vacations to shake hands from Springfield to Attleboro.
None would rule it out, but Berlandi, the former fund-raiser, said most of the people he used to tap for Weld’s campaigns have either dropped out of politics or have died.
Michael S. Dukakis, the Democrat who preceded Weld as governor, made a long snorting sound when asked if Weld should run for Senate. Dukakis, the outspoken liberal, has been the antithesis of Weld, politically and stylistically.
“I don’t think he’s serious,” Dukakis said. “What is Weld serious about? Anything? He comes, he goes. He drops in. He disappears.”
Weld enjoys talking about the past. Yet he protests any notion that he is becoming a purely nostalgic figure.
“No, I want to be an active figure,” he said. “I like doing things. I’m having a great time. Tocco and I have spent the last six weeks charging around and it’s really fun.”
Last week, Weld, an inveterate name-dropper, and his wife were eating dinner at Rialto, in the Charles Hotel.
“This must be governors’ night,” the host told him.
Then the owner, Richard Friedman, a prominent Democratic donor, and his wife came to the Welds’ table, with Deval and Diane Patrick, the governor and his wife. Weld joked about endorsing Patrick for president in 2016. They all laughed.
“We had a wicked time,” Weld said.Noah Bierman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.