joan vennochi

After hostage release, John Kerry and Scott Brown compete for credit

The Rev. Michel Louis, (seated left), Lissa Alphonse, and Egyptian tour guide Hithem Mohamed rested at a police station after they were released by their kidnappers in Egypt.
The Rev. Michel Louis, (seated left), Lissa Alphonse, and Egyptian tour guide Hithem Mohamed rested at a police station after they were released by their kidnappers in Egypt.

A man of God needed help, along with a woman who was taken hostage with him.

Rescuing them was “not a Democratic thing. It’s not a Republican thing. It’s a Kingdom thing,” said the Rev. Matthew K. Thompson, after the Rev. Michel Louis of Dorchester and Lissa Alphonse of Everett, were released by their Egyptian captor on Monday.

But in the kingdom of Massachusetts, it’s also a power and glory thing.


First, there were joyful prayers of thanksgiving. Then, there was grappling over who, besides the Creator, should get credit for the rescue.

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That honor went to Republican Senator Scott Brown. “He made this happen,” said Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, who was with the Louis family when Brown’s office called with news that the captives were safe.

Rivers’s assessment did not sit well with aides to US Senator John F. Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who had worked since Friday to get the Americans released. The sly minister, who loves stirring the political pot, especially on Brown’s behalf, said he was contacted by Marie St. Fleur, a former state representative and longtime Kerry supporter; she let him know “how upset the Kerry people are.”

And upset they were. Said a source familiar with Kerry’s role, “to hear that Brown ‘got it done’ was bizarre.” The source, who did not want to be named, described Brown’s involvement as minimal: a Brown staffer was in touch with the State Department’s Operations Center over the weekend, and on Monday, the State Department provided that staffer with an e-mail update. “For those who work here, that’s like calling the Capitol operator to see if the Senate is in session, and then saying that Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid are working with you,” the source said.

According to a chronology put together by Kerry’s office, a son of the kidnapped minister called Kerry’s office on Friday. Kerry’s team worked on it over the weekend. As part of the effort to get the hostages released, Kerry spoke twice by phone with US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson and offered to meet with Egyptian officials. Brown also reportedly spoke once with Patterson.


On Monday, after the hostages were released, Kerry also arranged a satellite phone call so relatives in Massachusetts could speak directly with their loved ones. That day, Kerry also spoke with family members in Massachusetts.

For Kerry, waiting so long to make that call to relatives was probably a mistake. Brown had been talking to them since Friday, when the hostages were taken. That’s when Thompson and Rivers called Peter Flaherty, a Brown senior adviser. Flaherty then called Brown, who quickly got in touch with family members and gave them his cell phone number.

“I’m not saying Kerry didn’t do anything,” said Rivers. “But they heard from Brown within an hour. It’s not my fault Scott Brown gives his cellphone number out.”

Asked to provide detailed information about what Brown did personally, spokesman John Donnelly said: “Senator Brown is thankful to American and Egyptian officials, and Senator Kerry’s office, for the team effort in securing the release of the hostages. They are safe and will soon be reunited with their families.”

In recent weeks, Brown’s staff has been left to walk their boss back from statements that make him sound a little silly, such as his talk of meeting with kings and queens and being called “all the time” by Hillary Clinton.


But in the hostage case, Brown is not the one taking credit; others are giving it to him. Both Brown and Kerry put out statements heralding the end of the crisis. Beyond the issue of which senator did what, this saga showcases Brown’s understanding of the power of retail politics. Giving out his cellphone number was a personal touch that resonated with worried relatives.

Brown is also working the African-American community for votes this November. He met privately with Rivers, Thompson, and other ministers earlier this month. (So did Elizabeth Warren, his opponent.) When relatives of the hostages called upon them for help, Rivers and Thompson called upon Brown.

“He saw the opportunity and he got all over it,” said Rivers. “Scott Brown was the first guy to the party.”

For Brown and the hostages, there was a happy ending. Praise the lord and pass the political ammunition.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter@Joan_Vennochi.