Sunday, April 21, 2024

In a late-blooming attempt at campaign scandal, state Rep. Tim Toomey and his reelection staff sent out a flier last weekend warning that an outside Super PAC was making “an attempt to distort my record and divide our neighborhoods,” although the organization under discussion wasn’t a Super PAC and the distortion came down to a single issue: saying Toomey “voted against” a proposal to index the minimum wage to inflation, even though the vote never happened. (Toomey said on his blog, where the reference to a Super PAC has been corrected, that the mailing “contains distortions,” plural, of his record in the Legislature, but his campaign could point only to the one.)

Opinion boxIt’s a dispiriting end to a campaign season leading up to a Thursday primary, when Toomey – also a city councillor – goes up against activist and attorney Mike Connolly for the second time.

The organization Toomey was warning about seems to be Our Revolution, the movement springing from Bernie Sanders’ run for president, which has endorsed Connolly as well as Toomey’s longtime colleague on Beacon Hill, state Sen. Pat Jehlen.

090716i-connolly-curiousSanders fans will find a lot to like in Connolly, whose political life began by helping the Occupy Boston movement and working outside traditional campaign financing in his 2012 run against Toomey as “No Money Mike.” Instead of retreating after the loss, he took action as a private citizen (and, for a year, aide to city councillor Dennis Carlone) and spearheaded the movement toward making Cambridge buildings “net zero” on greenhouse gas emissions – successfully, despite resistance from the city’s bigger business interests and skepticism from many public officials. He fought for MIT to build housing for its students, instead of continuing to leave them loose to raise private market rents for the rest of us; he was right again on this issue, while the City Council punked out during negotiations with the institute. It was Connolly who pointed out how the council had irresponsibly left $3.9 million in “linkage” funds for affordable housing on the table. And it was Connolly again who pointed out that the housing solution being touted by officials needed rethinking, as Cambridge had already built or permitted more than the hoped-for levels of housing, without moving the needle on real estate prices.

In short, Connolly has driven civic discourse in Cambridge time and time again, and he’s been on the right side of the issues.

090716i-toomey-intrigueToomey’s done plenty as well – he’s been state representative for the 26th Middlesex District, which includes Eastern portions of Somerville and Cambridge, since 1992, and he’s been a city councillor since 1989. This election could move him into his second quarter-century as a state rep.

So by now he has a lot of accomplishments and a record of constituent service to run on, which makes his approach to this flier situation come off as exaggerated and desperate, including his own mailer filled with dire, mysterious language; a blog post about “Dark Money in Somerville and Cambridge” that similarly claimed “distortions” of Toomey’s record; another blog post that appeared after Cambridge Day asked for clarifications of what those distortions were, making it clear that there was one, despite the fact the headline on that post was again in the plural – “‘Mystery Mailer’ Distortions Revealed”; and two separate status updates on Facebook on subsequent days, referring to a “Super PAC” and “distortions.” This looks like a lot, late in the game, but there simply isn’t much to it.

Here are some takeaways from this alleged scandal:

bullet-gray-small There is a distortion of Toomey’s record in the anonymous mailer, likely copied from Connolly materials trying to build a voter case against Toomey. Asked the basis for such a misunderstanding about Toomey’s vote, the Connolly campaign failed to respond.

bullet-gray-small The mailer should not have been anonymous. That’s sleazy. (At best, it can be chalked up to a political organization that’s just finding its feet. At worst, the group would be proving Toomey correct.)

bullet-gray-small Our Revolution is a blatantly political organization, and that means it shouldn’t be designated a 501(c)(4), which is reserved for organizations focused on “social welfare” first with political activities as an adjunct. The group’s critics are correct about this.

It must also be said:

bullet-gray-small In addition to making a mountain of a mailing, the Toomey campaign was shady about its response and in answering for it – this is not a political organization just finding its feet, and there’s no reason the whole issue couldn’t have been explained in 30 seconds of telephone conversation.

bullet-gray-small This stuff about a “well-financed, shadowy group of anonymous donors” – meaning what remains of the Sanders revolution – is kind of ridiculous. Hail Hydra!

bullet-gray-small Anyone getting chills about Toomey’s warnings of influence from “special interests that do not represent our values or understand who we are” should shake it off with this reality check: In the Democratic presidential primary, Sanders got 46 percent of the vote in Cambridge, a whopping 57 percent in Somerville and 49 percent of the vote statewide. So those “special interests” represent about half of Toomey’s party.

Toomey also shouldn’t be chiding Connolly because he “still hasn’t let go of the negative campaign tactics”; Toomey is no stranger to these tactics on the actual campaign trail or in lawmaking, as any watcher of Toomey has seen from his actions in past state rep elections (notoriously, his 2012 smear that Connolly worked for a Hewlett-Packard division that provided suspect services to the government, before the Republican in the race pointed out to a debate audience that Toomey worked for the government itself) and in City Council actions, including spiteful delays of policy orders via the “charter right,” utter, willful hypocrisy over his use of “reconsideration” rules to block a revote he didn’t want taking place; and ability to make great leaps of political decisiveness independent of fact. He might be against a citywide development master plan because he believes it will cost $6 million instead of the $3 million stated by the city manager; he might act based on a belief that “every tree is significant” despite being told in provided materials that what’s being discussed is a term of art (a “significant” tree is one that measures more than eight inches in diameter at breast height, which every tree is not).

“When I was on the council with Tim, he pulled lots of parliamentary tricks to delay votes or obfuscate his rationale. He voted against many progressive environmental stances and didn’t do any homework on others,” former councillor Minka vanBeuzekom said in a response to Toomey on his Facebook page. (It brought a rebuke from politics watcher Robert Winters about her own use of parliamentary maneuvers, concluding that “Toomey generally knows the rules and how to use them when needed, even if you disagree with his motives.”)

In short, no voter should use this brouhaha to decide how they’re casting a ballot. Our Revolution – if that is indeed who sent out the initial flier – was wrong in saying Toomey voted against that minimum wage proposal; and Toomey’s response was overblown.

There are plenty of other ways to decide the 26th Middlesex District, with plenty of residents who think of Toomey almost as family and plenty of others who may want to extend to Connolly their thwarted electoral votes for a Sanders presidency.


While we’re at it, the Massachusetts Teachers Association’s endorsement of Toomey is bizarre. The growth of charter schools is a key issue for the association, but it opted to throw Toomey an endorsement despite his repeated votes against the MTA’s interests – not just in 2003 and 2014 on Beacon Hill, but in a spring statement from the City Council. Toomey used his “charter right” to delay the vote by one meeting, then voted “no” against keeping a cap along with councillors Carlone and Jan Devereux. Clearly Toomey has promised the association he would speak out against an upcoming ballot question authorizing as many as a dozen new charter schools.

The promise and endorsement are politics as usual, but the association doubled down on its mercenary behavior by creepily deleting an old retweet of something posted by Connolly. Whether the Toomey campaign asked for it and the association complied, or the MTA did it on its own, that’s some Soviet-level stuff we’re seeing.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday.