For all the hypocrisy he brings to the table when it comes to prosecutorial excess, Bill Weld said what a lot of Massachusetts movers and shakers were thinking.
Tim Cahill’s crime was politics as usual, Weld told the Boston Herald in a recent interview; pursuing the former state treasurer on political corruption charges was a mistake on the part of Attorney General Martha Coakley, the former governor said.
Weld’s view prevailed. After seven days of deliberation, a jury could not reach agreement on convicting Cahill and a mistrial was declared.
The outcome was a setback for Coakley, who is frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for governor or Senate. At the same time, it gave a lift to Weld, who with one interview started speculation about a possible relaunch of his political career.
Of course, it doesn’t take much to be a big fish in the very small pond that still describes Boston. And, it helps that the Massachusetts Republican Party is a very small puddle.
Weld twice won election as governor, making him a huge success story by Bay State Republican standards. Still, the buzz about Weld reentering the political fray is a puzzle to anyone who thinks hard about it. Is Weld — who fled the governor’s office in long-ago 1997 — really the GOP’s best bet for the future?
Weld sounds so yesterday with his talk of Mazola and castor oil, the phrases he used to describe what lubricates politics. His class-based jokes about his Mayflower origins are as musty as the moth-eaten sweater that must be hanging somewhere in his Cambridge manse.
But Weld’s hypocrisy is most irksome to those who remember his climb up the political ladder in Massachusetts.
As a young, ambitious US attorney, Weld relentlessly pursued Boston Mayor Kevin White without ever gathering enough evidence to charge him with any crime. Yet all these years later, he was quick to criticize Coakley for pursuing Cahill.
As a gubernatorial candidate, Weld also railed against Beacon Hill cronyism. As governor, he became best friends with then-Senate President Bill Bulger — the brother of James “Whitey” Bulger, the alleged crime boss who was protected by the FBI during the same years Weld held court as US attorney. Weld told the Herald he knew nothing of Whitey Bulger’s arrangement with the FBI, but wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Bulger had received an immunity deal. That’s what Bulger claims as he faces trial on 19 counts of murder.
As governor, Weld set the standard for losing interest in the job while always making enough time to play squash. He conjured up a platform against crime, welfare, and taxes to run unsucessfully for Senate against John Kerry in 1996. He left office in 1997 in hopes of winning an ambassador’s post. After those hopes were thwarted, Weld decamped for a New York law firm. From there, he launched an unsuccessful run for governor of the Empire State. As he learned, it’s harder to be a big deal in the Big Apple.
Now he’s back in Boston, working at the firm of Mintz Levin. Some, like my colleague Scot Lehigh, believe he’s the best hope Republicans have for winning a Senate seat in Massachusetts. The case for Weld: He’s a social liberal and a fiscal conservative who endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.
For those willing to forgive Weld’s past laziness, hypocrisy, and state of perpetual bemusement, maybe that’s enough of a launch pad — if Weld can get past his generational problem. At 67, he’s four years older than Warren, who went by “Granny” in the Herald during her recent showdown with Republican Scott Brown.
In so many ways, Weld is ancient political history. Many voters won’t remember what Weld did to White or, for that matter, won’t even remember the former mayor who died in January.
But, with his usual knack for self-serving commentary, Weld found a way to put himself back in the news. In the small, small world of Boston politics, he made a splash in a way that could never happen in the big city.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at Joan_Vennochi.