From weed to Ivy.
Just a few years ago, Bill Delahunt, the former Massachusetts congressman, was trading on a political friendship with the state public health commissioner to win licenses to run three medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts. Today, as acting director of the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics at Harvard, Delahunt is the force behind a mind-blowing slate of visiting IOP fellows — and not mind-blowing in an entirely positive way.
On the ultra-progressive front, the IOP just announced that Chelsea E. Manning will be the first transgender person to join a group of visiting fellows that traditionally features your average out-of-work experts and pols. That follows an earlier announcement that Corey Lewandowski, the Donald Trump acolyte known for bullying the press and selling influence on behalf of the president, was also named a fellow.
Delahunt took over as interim director of the IOP in September 2016, when then-director Margaret A. Williams left to work for Hillary Clinton. He became acting director last May. After that, the Globe reported that Carmen Ortiz, the former US attorney who put Whitey Bulger in jail for life and took on the Massachusetts political establishment, didn’t get a fellowship because Delahunt quashed it. Those who did make the cut include “Morning Joe” hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski; former White House press secretary Sean Spicer; the former head of the NAACP; the former governor of Kentucky; and assorted other consultants and politicos.
“This diverse group of policymakers, journalists, political advisers and activists provides a robust platform for dynamic interaction with our students and the larger Harvard community,” said Delahunt in a statement announcing the group that included Lewandowski.
With Lewandowski, “dynamic interaction” is an understatement. The Lowell native and onetime Trump campaign manager is best known for yanking the arm of a female journalist at a Trump campaign event when she tried to ask the candidate a question. Lewandowski was charged with a single count of misdemeanor battery — later dropped — and Trump ultimately fired him.
Since then, he has been a cable TV talking head and cofounded a lobbying firm, Avenue Strategies, that he exited after a liberal watchdog group raised questions about his failure to register as a lobbyist. He enjoyed prominent billing in a recent New York Times magazine article headlined, “How to get rich in Trump’s Washington,” which outlined his journey “from obscure New Hampshire political operative to celebrity power broker.” According to the Times, “When journalists or other visitors came to his office, on Pennsylvania Avenue a few blocks from the White House, he would point out his window to where, he claimed, he could see the president’s bedroom.”
Because of character, not ideology, Lewandowski’s landing place at Harvard feels wrong — and the announcement that the latest group of IOP fellows includes the former US soldier born as Bradley E. Manning doesn’t change that. Manning, who was convicted for giving WikiLeaks access to classified and other sensitive documents, said after her sentencing to 35 years in prison that she had a female gender identity and wanted to be known as Chelsea. After a commutation by President Obama, she was released last May.
Inviting Chelsea to Harvard doesn’t justify Corey. The rebuff of Ortiz also raises questions — especially since one possible reason was her indictment of Cambridge defense lawyer Tim Flaherty, the son of former House Speaker Charles Flaherty and a former prosecutor who worked under Delahunt, who served as Norfolk County district attorney for 22 years. Delahunt, a congressman from 1997 to 2011, is also chairman of the Delahunt Group, described on the IOP website as “a premier public policy and government affairs consulting group.”
Absent, of course, is any reference to the controversy that erupted back in 2014 when he was head of a company pushing to sell medical marijuana. He ended up leaving in the haze of headlines about a shady license selection process.
Now he — and Lewandowski — are at Harvard.
What a long, strange trip — no hallucinogens required.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.