THE GOVERNOR’S State House digs just underwent “a museum quality” makeover.
It cost $11.3 million, ran $2 million over budget, and brings Deval Patrick’s interior decorating muse full circle.
When Patrick first took office, he was criticized for spending $27,000 of taxpayer money on new curtains and furniture. As he exits eight years later, he leaves behind a renovated suite that features historically accurate crown moldings and paint color, along with six plasma screen TVs and the equipment necessary for not-yet-installed facial recognition security cameras.
A Boston Globe news story says the makeover shows respect for the building’s history and tradition, by “marrying its 1798 heritage with modern necessities.” A Boston Herald headline calls it “Deval Deluxe.’’ There’s truth to both sentiments.
The Bullfinch green paint and white ribbon-pattern moldings described by the Globe restore the office to the elegant atmospherics of 216 years ago. Sensible upgrades include temperature control, wireless Internet capability, sprinklers, and blast resistant windows. But the new vibe also features luxurious touches that have nothing to do with historic accuracy, such as marble counter tops, a new, high-tech “situation room” reachable via spiral staircase, and sensors that can detect if a room is occupied. Those sensors may not go off very often, given the frequent travels of a lame duck governor.
Renovation is invariably controversial when it involves public money. Anticipating complaints about cost when she undertook her famous White House makeover, Jackie Kennedy raised money by selling guidebooks published by a newly created White House Historical Association. Nancy Reagan raised $1 million from private donors to subsidize her own White House renovation.
Back in 1988, then Senate President William M. Bulger spent $160,000 to restore his office to historic splendor. The decor included a $41,000 English carpet that must have given the Irish-American politician great pleasure to step upon.
Another State House renovation uproar erupted after Patrick was elected in 2006. The media firestorm over the $10,000 damask drapes Patrick put up in his office played out against a $1.3 billion budget deficit faced by the new governor, who won office with a populist message.
Patrick appreciates history and has a sensitive eye for choosing symbols that reflect his place in it. When he took office as the Bay State’s first black governor, his hand was on a Bible once owned by John Quincy Adams, the nation’s sixth president. It was given to Adams by slaves from the ship Amistad whom Adams had helped to free. But when symbols like drapes work against him, he can be slow to react. After stubbornly defending his new décor, Patrick finally paid for the window coverings himself.
After chiding Patrick over the curtain expense, then House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi launched his own office upgrade project from a defensive crouch. He put out a press release which proclaimed “House Speaker Begins First Renovation in 20 years, DiMasi Committee Paying for Majority of Costs.”
The often petty-sounding criticism over renovations reflects taxpayer ambivalence about paying for accessories that many can’t themselves afford. On one hand, shabby, dingy surroundings reflect poorly on the elected officials who inhabit them. On the other hand, how much elegance do the people’s representatives really need?
“It reflects the elitism that is so characteristic of him,” David Tuerck of the conservative Beacon Hill Institute told the Boston Herald about Patrick’s latest design adventure.
There won’t be much criticism of Patrick’s new quarters coming from Beacon Hill. After all, the House and Senate are each proposing $20 million chamber renovations, all in the name of preserving history.
At a Wednesday event held in his newly-upgraded quarters, the governor defended the renovations and explained that structural reinforcements required for the floor drove up costs.
“It’s great to have a security system that’s secure, a heating system that heats, and a cooling system that’s cool, and, it turns out, a floor that isn’t going to collapse out from under us,” said Patrick.
Somewhat ironically, he was signing a bill which calls for more oversight of public housing authorities, which provide lodging for low-income tenants who no doubt feel the same way about basic amenities as the governor. But it’s much harder for them to scrape together taxpayer money to pay for them.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.