To paraphrase General MacArthur, old city councilors never die, they just fade away. And for councilors, the preferred fade is into a better paid, even more obscure political post.
It’s no surprise, then, that recently deelected Boston councilors Stephen Murphy and Charles Yancey are eyeing runs for Suffolk County register of deeds.
What self-respecting pol with scant career prospects wouldn’t want that gorgeous gig?
The office, where an army of devoted and/or tenured clerks record real estate transactions, is the perfect place to close a career on the public payroll.
First of all, the job pays $124,000 a year — way more than the measly $99,500 Murphy and other councilors fought for so hard last year.
Second, if you can avoid assaulting employees (like ex-Suffolk register of probate Patty Campatelli) or stealing $100,000 from the copying machines (Middlesex’s John Buonomo), register jobs are super-obscure affairs to which almost nobody pays attention, even on Election Day. Not like those trying spots on the council, where pesky reporters track whether you’re actually showing up for work. Win that first election, keep your nose clean, and you’re pretty much in for life.
More good news: Being a councilor is great training for being register of deeds because, just like a councilor, a register has no actual power. You’re presiding over a record-keeping system run by career clerks who live for details. It’s possible to be a good boss, or a bad one, but you only have so much control.
That’s because the secretary of state is really in charge. Bill Galvin has been supervising most Registry of Deeds offices since the late 1990s. His outfit calls the shots — gathering up fees, awarding contracts, even deciding who gets hired.
“We run the registries effectively,” Galvin said.
The downside to this lack of heft for the elected register is that it’s harder to do patronage hiring, if that’s your thing. The upside: Less work!
Former Boston city councilor Mickey Roache gave up the plum position in December, after 13 years. Galvin can appoint his replacement, but can also choose to wait for the results of a special election in the fall. So far, he has opted to wait.
A bunch of people have pulled papers to run.
“There is this sort of gold rush on,” he said.
It almost goes without saying that perennial candidate Doug Bennett is among the aspirants. And there is Yancey, of course, who told elections staffers he might run for Congress instead, as if this was a realistic option.
And Murphy, who really wants it.
“He has made several efforts to get appointed” to the position, Galvin said. “I made it clear he was not going to be appointed.”
Yeouch. Murphy, whose wife works in Galvin’s elections division, said on Friday that he did seek to be appointed — “It’s preferable to being elected, I suppose” — but he never spoke with Galvin directly, since the secretary did not return his call.
If he appoints anybody, Galvin said, it would be a professional with an appreciation for what real estate records are about. Ideally, he added, he or she would be an attorney who could also win an election.
But you have to wonder why register of deeds should be an elected position in the first place. Maybe it made sense hundreds of years ago, when land titles were big, disputed, political affairs, and when great power resided in the office. But now, when those who head the records repositories have so little autonomy, shouldn’t the job be held by a consummate bureaucrat, rather than a good campaigner?
Of course, precisely because registers are politicians — with connections among the legislators who would decide their fate — that will never happen.
So there the candidates for this lofty office will be, near the bottom of your ticket this fall, and forevermore. Most folks will vote for the person whose name seems most familiar, and not give it another thought.
And as long as he or she can behave, the victor will be sitting pretty — for an awfully long time.