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The Boston Globe

Metro

Yvonne Abraham

Dobelle and Regan: Two of a kind

It’s a match made in heaven.

Evan Dobelle is the Westfield State University president in trouble for crazy lavish spending on clothes and trips with money that should have gone to student scholarships. George Regan is the hard-charging Boston PR veteran who represents him. They’re both say-anything guys. They both believe the best defense is not just a good offense, but a conflagration. They’re made for each other.

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As his abuse of funds at the public college has become clearer, Dobelle has dug in deeper, not just denying wrongdoing, but attacking those who have tried to get to the bottom of his extravagance. And Regan, instead of pulling his client back from the edge of self-immolation, has been busy throwing kerosene on the flames.

Regan has been pitching a truly ludicrous narrative that Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland, a former president of Northeastern University, has been trying to push Dobelle out because he wants Dobelle’s job. Regan called Freeland “emotionally unhinged.”

Actually, it’s Regan who sounds unhinged. His claim that Westfield State board chairman Jack Flynn is trying to get rid of Dobelle so that he can, in Regan’s words, “make the school into a State Police diploma mill” is absurd. And it achieves what one might think impossible — making Dobelle look even more arrogant, his immediate departure even more vital.

Regan clearly believes his salvos will deflect attention from Dobelle’s profligacy — or at least make the state pay more to get rid of him, just as in 2004, when the University of Hawaii paid dearly to cut Dobelle loose for his lavish ways.

It’s also vintage Regan. There are 7 million stories in the Naked City, and most of them are about him. Talk to the legions of people who have had contact with Regan over the decades, and they’ll tell you hair-raising stories, of dropped dimes, of lawsuits threatened because employees dared to go work elsewhere, and of rivals who became bitter obsessions (pictures of one enemy found their way onto Regan’s toilet paper).

Sometimes, the pit bull approach backfires. A couple of years ago, a Theatre District nightclub shut down during the weekend of the Harvard-Yale football game because a party there hosted by black Ivy League alumni had attracted too many black patrons. Regan, representing the club, responded thoughtfully: “There were a lot of people in line known to police and security circles as bad people, OK? They probably couldn’t spell the word ‘Harvard.’ ”

Nice. Eventually, club owners apologized publicly and paid a $30,000 fine. “Could I have chosen my words a little better?” Regan said Wednesday. “Probably.”

And then there was the episode in 2006 when a “grass-roots” group called Coalition for an LNG Solution, supposedly made up of neighborhood activists fighting gas tankers landing in Everett, was unmasked by the Globe as a Regan operation, a cover for a client proposing another LNG terminal in the harbor.

So many stories, so little space. “What other atrocities have you got me down for?” Regan joked. “Rwanda? Drones? I fight very hard. We’re aggressive, that’s why people hire us.”

At least Regan has a sense of humor. But his tactics can be toxic. He’s going to the mat for Dobelle, fighting for everything he can get his client. But there are casualties here — the economically struggling Westfield State students Dobelle sensitively referred to as “throwaway kids.” And the public college system in general, whose reputation is dragged further into the dirt every day Regan and Dobelle drag this out.

There’s way more at stake here than a payday for two scrappers.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com
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