Martha Coakley calls Medford home, and so it was the logical place for her to kick off her three-day, 18-city-and-town gubernatorial announcement tour. The message of that swing: This is not the listless, coast-on-your-laurels candidate who lost a winnable race to featherweight Republican Scott Brown in 2010.
No indeed. The new Coakley will be a candidate who campaigns until the last dog dies.
Or dozes off. For as her dull and largely content-free campaign roll-out suggests, the specter of 2010 isn’t Coakley’s only problem. This is a campaign about little beyond her notion that she should be the next governor.
Start with her campaign video. It would have worked well as a tourism ad, certainly; its picturesque images made one ache for the Cape. But as campaign fare, it was a sugary diet of empty-calorie cliches. To wit: “But what we really have are the strongest, the toughest, and most resilient people in this nation . . . ordinary people with extraordinary courage, people who you’ll see in the grocery store or at your kid’s game or in the next cubicle over at work or at church or the beach.”
Or at Petco if they need flea and tick medication for their pooch. Or refilling their wiper fluid if it’s run so low that only an anemic little trickle issues forth when they try to clean the windshield. Or just stopping by a coffee shop to get a cup of joe before they go about the extraordinary-disguised-as-ordinary tasks of their daily lives.
Which sets the stage for Coakley’s Medford event. She was supposed to greet voters in Dempsey’s Breakfast & Lunch, which is just the sort of coffee-brewing, fat-chewing breakfast spot a Medford resident might well frequent, even if she were a high elected official, if she wanted to keep her finger firmly on the pulse of the people.
Alas, when the Medford resident in question strode purposefully across the street to the small plaza Dempsey’s fronts on, she made her way instead to the door of adjacent Dino’s Pizzeria. Dino’s was closed; like Bertie Wooster, Medfordians evidently prefer eggs and b. when it comes to breakfast fare.
Fortunately, Medford Mayor-for-life Michael McGlynn was on the scene and quickly guided the confused candidate to Dempsey’s welcoming portal. (Why the mix-up? Well, two of Dempsey’s regular patrons told me they had never seen the attorney general there before.)
Are these substantive criticisms? Let’s put it this way: They are the sort of quibbles that grow larger in a vacuum. And Coakley’s kickoff was just that: vacuous. Take, for example, her expatiation on the state’s business climate. “I am a big believer that there is room in this state for businesses large and small.”
Or her comments on education, the subject that will apparently be her gubernatorial raison d’etre. Coakley wants to “modernize” our schools so everyone can compete in today’s economy. Fine, but how? The only thing that approached a specific was her general embrace of an extended school day.
If done right, a longer day can pay big rewards, particularly for underprivileged urban kids. But it’s also very expensive. Consider: Massachusetts currently spends about $14 million to fund extended-day programs in 19 schools. The state has more than 1,500 traditional public schools.
So how would she pay for a longer day?
“We have to have a balanced approach to look at,” Coakley said. “What are the revenues, how do we keep those revenues up by turning the economy around. We are going to take a look at everything, I think, will be on the table, in terms of how we pay for it, not just through taxpayer dollars but through private-public partnerships and what are those investments that we in Massachusetts are ready to make.”
Now, I understand that, after her dismal 2010 race, Coakley wants to show she’s an indefatigable meet-and-greet machine. Thus her stress on barnstorming the state and “talking to folks.”
But it’s not enough just to talk. To be persuasive as a gubernatorial candidate, one actually has to have something to say. You would think Coakley would have fleshed that out before she declared her candidacy.
She didn’t, and that failure robbed her announcement of something vital: The power of a compelling rationale.