Angry response to Kerry Healey’s exploitation of racism in her attack ads on Deval Patrick

Dear Readers — the following is an email message I sent to all fellow faculty at Western New England College where I teach. I am including it here based on an invitation I received to share it with all readers of this Blog. I am reproducing it here without editing.

Mike Meeropol (econ Prof, Western New England College, Springfield, MA)

I am writing this e-mail because I am thoroughly disgusted with the effort to “Willie Horton” the candidacy of Deval Patrick for Governor of Massachusetts. I hope some of you inclined not to read this will force yourself to do so “¦ Even people who were not inclined to support Mr. Patrick for Governor should respond to the vicious advertising campaign.

First some background. In 1988, when Michael Dukakis was running for President, his opponents made a big deal out of the fact that a prisoner on furlough while serving a sentence in Massachusetts raped someone. The fact that this prisoner was on furlough from a Massachusetts prison was evidence that Michael Dukakis was “soft on crime.” Oh, I forgot to mention that Horton was black and the public knew it.

That campaign worked — Dukakis never recovered from being carefully, successfully painted as a “liberal” who would let the criminals out of jail.

Fast forward to 2006. Deval Patrick had a commanding lead over Kerry Healey after his impressive primary victory. Let’s go to the tried and true method of demonizing someone as a dangerous “liberal” who will let the criminals out of jail. This time, the criminals don’t have to be black because the candidate himself is black.

The Healey campaign has created two vicious advertisements which if carried to their logical conclusion want people to believe that Deval Patrick is a friend of cop-killers and rapists. Let’s start with the cop killer. The following is shamelessly cribbed from a Newsweek article:

Carl Ray Songer: Songer was convicted of murdering a Florida state trooper in 1973. Patrick handled the 1985 appeal as a lawyer with the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. (He argued that, in the penalty phase of the trial, the jury didn’t hear crucial arguments before it issued a death sentence.) The appeal was successful; Songer is serving a life term. This seems to be a clear-cut case of Patrick doing his job—and doing it well. Still, an ad for Healey confuses. Its tag line is: “While lawyers have a right to defend admitted cop killers, do we really want one as governor?” Grammarians will note the ambiguity of “one,” which makes it unclear whether the lawyer or the cop-killer is running for governor.

End of quote.

I hope you won’t mind my didactic pedantic addition to this discussion. The point is not that LAWYERS have a right to defend cop-killers. All accused AND convicted individuals have a RIGHT to an attorney — and thus lawyers have a DUTY to defend people — even convicted cop-killers. Does any sane person in the commonwealth or anywhere else think that because Deval Patrick (when he was working as an attorney for an organization) helped get a convicted murderer’s sentence reduced from the Death Penalty to life imprisonment he is a FRIEND of murderers?

Let’s move on to the newest Healey ad where Deval Patrick is seen on television complimenting a man who (at the time) he believed to be innocent of the rape charge for which he was convicted. The ad ends with a statement, “Has a woman ever complimented her rapist?” Again, we turn to Newsweek:

Benjamin LaGuer: LaGuer was a young, black man of Hispanic origin convicted in 1984 of raping a 59-year-old woman for more than eight hours. In calls and letters to prominent civic leaders and journalists, he said he was a victim of mistaken identity. Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel rallied to the cause, as did John Silber, then president of Boston University. Patrick wound up writing letters on LaGuer’s behalf to the Massachusetts Parole Board. And he wrote a check to help secure a DNA test for LaGuer (which confirmed his guilt). But when reporters asked about it, Patrick’s memory became hazy and he recalled writing only a single letter. A TV ad asks: “What kind of person defends a brutal rapist?” Patrick told reporters the attack was a “cheap shot”—but apologized at a campaign appearance “to anyone who feels we didn’t come forward with all the facts” about his efforts on LaGeur’s behalf.

End of Newsweek quote”¦

I actually find this a bit refreshing. Patrick didn’t try to stonewall on the fact that when first questioned about his work on behalf of this prisoner he stated he only wrote one letter when in fact he had written more. The most important point is, what was the substance of Patrick’s involvement in the case? He thought the man might have been a victim of mistaken identity. There are a number of tragic examples of rape victims absolutely certain that they have made accurate identifications and the charged individual is convicted. In the end, often years later, DNA tests have exonerated the convicted individual to the everlasting chagrin of the victim who knows two things — her mistake cost an innocent person years of his life and the real rapist went free perhaps to rape again. These things have happened and with the advent of DNA testing, we hope they will not happen again. [Please note — I am not talking about false accusations — I’m talking about good faith identifications by true victims.] So Patrick joined with others in advocating a DNA test for this convicted individual — and the test proved him guilty. Patrick ceased his involvement in this case immediately.

Let’s ask ourselves something. Didn’t Patrick provide a public service. Yes he initially thought this guy might be innocent. But he made money available to prove it one way or the other. Now we know for sure the guy is guilty and the possibility of nagging doubt hanging over the case — perhaps disturbing the victim and her family — can be finally put to rest. Kerry Healey’s ad is garbled. Does she want us to believe that Patrick thinks rapists are nice people in general? Does any sane person believe that Patrick will open the prisons and pardon every convicted rapist?

Third and final installment of the “Willie Horton, Mark II” campaign. Again, Newsweek

Bernard Sigh: The Boston Herald reported last Friday [Friday the 13th] that in 1993 Patrick’s brother-in-law, Sigh, was convicted of raping his wife, Patrick’s sister, and was now an unregistered sex offender living in Massachusetts. The story is true: Sigh served a short prison sentence, reconciled with his wife and moved to Massachusetts. Patrick told reporters the couple are now deacons in their church and counsel other couples. Most distressingly for the family, Patrick said, their two young children were unaware of their parents’ history. The Healey campaign denies having any hand in the story.

End of Newsweek quote.

You know what? I believe that neither Kerry Healey nor any official in her campaign planted the story. But someone who wants Kerry Healey to win planted that story. And it’s disgusting politics.

I am sorry to have bored you with this nonsense. As a pedantic economist I would be much happier arguing about the merits of income taxation vs. property taxation, charter schools vs. public schools, etc. etc. However, I think it is essential that the residents of Massachusetts send a very clear message that such campaign tactics will not work. I not only am going to vote for Deval Patrick (I did in the primary) but I’m going to work at persuading others to do it (which I wasn’t planning to do) because I am so angry and disgusted at the effort to pander to the ignorance and racism that infects and frightens too many of our fellow citizens.

I particularly want to urge independents and Republicans who might be reading this (and I urge Democrats who share these arguments with acquaintances and family members who are independents or Republicans) to call the Healey campaign and tell them you are turned off by their disgusting campaign. That would be a great public service.

[Even if in the end you want to vote for Healey because you support her policies it would a good thing to call and complain about the campaign — though I personally think the best way to punish her campaign is to vote against her — vote for one of the other candidates if you still don’t want Patrick”¦]

Thanks for reading — again my apologies for the length of this post

Mike