Governor Charlie Baker left some listeners’ ears ringing after he declared himself no “virtue signaler” when asked why he doesn’t take the commuter rail in a radio interview Thursday.
The question came at the end of a brief discussion of Seeing Red, the Globe Spotlight Team’s three-part series this week on the region’s transportation crisis, during Baker’s monthly “Ask The Governor” appearance on WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”
Baker made the comment in response to information from the first report in the series: “Living a 10-minute walk from the Swampscott MBTA Station, Baker is driven to the State House. The Republican has never ridden the commuter rail as governor and did not ride the subway until a media event in September, more than 1,700 days after taking office.”
Cohost Jim Braude asked Baker whether he’s ever thought maybe he should take the train to the State House and see what everybody else deals with.
“I rode the commuter rail for a lot of years,” Baker responded. “I rode the T for a lot of years. And I talk to people all the time who ride both. Look, I live in Swampscott, OK, so I talk to people who ride the commuter rail; I talk to people who take Wonderland and the Blue Line in. I talk to people all the time who ride the public transportation system.
“I’m not a virtue signaler, I guess is what I would say,” Baker then told Braude, who responded with a “hoo!”
Cohost Margery Eagan said, “I like that,” referring to the politically charged term, which psychologists in a March New York Times op-ed defined as “feigned righteousness intended to make the speaker appear superior by condemning others.”
Baker then continued, “I think my job is to try to make the thing better. And given what we inherited on that thing, I’ll put our record up against any of our predecessors.”
Eagan and Braude indicated they liked the term “virtue signaler” and asked Baker whether it was original to him. The governor said he had “heard it somewhere else.”
Baker’s comment prompted more criticism than praise from transportation advocates and others online, including some who took his comment as a broad criticism of public transit.
Baker’s office did not immediately respond Saturday afternoon to a request for comment.
Once again there's no phrase quite as stupid and telling as "virtue signalling." Just say "virtuous." It's clearly what you mean.— Douglas O'Reagan (@D_OReagan) November 22, 2019
"I'm not a good person," said Gov. Charlie Baker about the fact he does not take the T regularly.
See how much better that is? https://t.co/5E5xVXGqoO
Charlie Baker using the phrase "virtue signaler" is hilarious from a guy who's made his Governorship on empty gestures to trick Massachusetts' most gullible people into thinking he's some kind of moderate.— Ben Moser (@benjaminmoser) November 22, 2019
If you wonder why transit, traffic & climate pollution have all gotten worse under Charlie Baker, here he is saying the quiet part out loud that solo driving should be the default & everything else is "virtue signaling"https://t.co/2VFBXvZ6qG— Miles Grant (@MilesGrant) November 22, 2019
Eagan had brought up the Spotlight reports near the beginning of the governor’s appearance, asking Baker whether he’d read the series.
“I’ve read some of it,” he told her. “I think it’s pretty comprehensive, and anybody who spends any time on the roads or on the public transportation system would probably have similar experiences to the ones they’re writing about. It’s a giant problem.”
But Baker said the problem is not his fault, pointing to a long history of state government failing to invest in infrastructure and transportation.
Baker also cited the region’s abrupt economic changes over the past five or six years that have put many more drivers on the road, including 300,000 new jobs, tens of millions of square feet of new development in Kendall Square and the Seaport District, and “100 million transportation networking company rides” since the rise of ride-sharing and on-demand delivery.
“And we had a public transportation system that hadn’t been invested in in forever,” he said. “We are absolutely playing catch-up across the board on this stuff, and that’s why we took such an aggressive position in investing in our public transportation system. And I’d be the first to say that work’s been done, but there’s a long way to go.”
Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.