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Shirley Leung

Elizabeth Warren has billionaires shedding tears. Who are business leaders backing instead?

Senator Elizabeth Warren has made “Billionaire Tears” a campaign slogan.

With Elizabeth Warren stepping up her attack on the super wealthy through a new CNBC ad and selling a “Billionaire Tears” mug on her campaign website, it raises the question: Has she alienated and annoyed the Boston business community?

Pore over the federal campaign contribution filings of some key Boston business leaders who have previously donated to Democrats, and the answer seems clear: Yes, she has — a lot. Warren may be the hometown senator, but she’s not their presidential candidate of choice.

Local corporate titans will tell you that Warren has become too progressive to be electable and that her unflinching support for Medicare-for-All feels more like a pipe dream than a plan.


The good news for Warren: No one has emerged as a candidate the business community can rally behind.

The bad news for her? Former governor Deval Patrick just might become that candidate for both the working and capitalist classes across the United States.

Joe Biden should have been that centrist candidate for the Boston business crowd, but there is doubt the former vice president can defeat President Trump so their money has been sitting on the sidelines.

Consider how this list of bold-face types has been donating:

■  Boston hotel developer and big Hillary Clinton supporter Dick Friedman has only given to California Senator Kamala Harris, complete with a fund-raiser at his Martha Vineyard’s home.

■  Boston advertising legend Jack Connors is putting his money and energy behind electing Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.

■  Suffolk construction honcho John Fish has given money to Biden and Harris, but now is enthusiastically backing Patrick.

■  PR maven Colette Phillips has written checks to Harris and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, but she is now Team Patrick.


■  Dan O’Connell, former Patrick economic secretary and former CEO of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, donated to Biden but now supports Patrick.

■  Vertex founder Josh Boger has given to Buttigieg, Harris, Warren, Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, and former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper. Now Boger has his eye on Patrick.

His candidacy “would bring some real advantages to the process,” Boger said in an e-mail. “He would make a great president, and I believe he could win.”

Enthusiasm for Patrick is as much about a discontent in the business community for Biden and Warren as it is about his candidacy.

Fish told me he has a “tremendous amount of respect” for Warren but “I don’t think the electorate today is interested in fighting a war . . . People are actually exhausted.”

He said Patrick has what it takes to become the party’s nominee and beat Trump. Fish said he’s looking for a candidate who can restore a sense of decency and professionalism to politics.

“Deval Patrick has those characteristics,” he said.

Phillips said she had hoped Biden would be the voice of moderation to bring the country together. Instead all she can think about is how he has been showing his age and “stumbling and bumbling” on the campaign trail.

Phillips sees Patrick as the centrist who can win back the White House. “Deval can be the person to re-energize the Barack Obama coalition,” said Phillips. “That’s how he won Massachusetts and became the first black governor.”


If the businesspeople seem awfully comfortable with Candidate Patrick, it’s because he’s one of them, having spent much of his career in the private sector.

The Harvard Law school graduate has been a partner at two Boston law firms, as well as serving as general counsel at Texaco and later at Coca-Cola. After two terms on Beacon Hill, he went to Bain Capital, serving as a managing director and starting the Boston private equity firm’s first social impact fund.

Not everyone is switching allegiances. Connors, who held a big-ticket fund-raising dinner for Buttigieg in June, is a fan of the 37-year-old Harvard grad and Rhodes Scholar, who would be the nation’s first openly gay president.

“It’s time to turn things over to the next generation,” Connors, 77, told me.

Connors thinks Buttigieg is a compelling political leader — bright, honest, and thoughtful. Connors also believes the 2020 race will be won from the middle, and Warren is too far left.

As for Patrick’s late entry into the 2020 race, Connors said: “I wish him well. I am going to stay with Mayor Pete.”

Boston venture capitalist Jeff Bussgang called Patrick “incredibly talented” and someone who should not be underestimated. Still, Bussgang remains all-in on Warren, despite her anti-capitalist rhetoric.

“I’m capitalist to my bones. The current system does not reflect the best of capitalism,” said Bussgang. “She is very well positioned to win. She speaks so eloquently to the needs of the middle class voters.”


Warren is making a political calculation that she doesn’t need the billionaire class to crack the toughest glass ceiling of all — and so far it has been an effective strategy, based on her rising poll numbers.

To win, Patrick will need a lot more than the support of business leaders locally and nationally but having well-heeled and well-connected supporters can’t hurt.

Plenty of them remain undecided, including Linda Whitlock, a Boston business and civic leader who is an active Democratic donor and was a major fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton and Obama.

Whitlock has been writing checks to several campaigns, including those of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, Biden, Booker, and Harris.

She plans to donate to Patrick’s campaign but hasn’t decided which candidate stands the best chance of unseating Trump. And that’s the primary quality she is looking for — regardless of age, race, gender, or policies.

Whitlock believes a shakeup in the Democratic field is just beginning, not only with Patrick but with the potential entry of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Some candidates will also drop out in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Whitlock will be closely watching poll numbers and other data points.

“I want to see who will be left standing,” said Whitlock.

At least for business leaders who are Democrats, the 2020 race is now so much more interesting and the latecomers might get them fully engaged. No more crying billionaire tears.


Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.