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Report: Patrick has governed for the 'good of the whole'

Kenneth J. Cooper | 5/4/2012, 1:41 p.m.

Governor Deval Patrick has “actively represented black interests,” while retaining broad political support around the state, according to new research conducted for University of Massachusetts Boston.

In conducting the original research, Ravi K. Perry, a political scientist at Clark University, examined Patrick’s initiatives, executive orders, proposed legislation and appointments to determine his responsiveness to the needs of the state’s black residents.

During Patrick’s first term, for instance, Perry calculated that the governor on average adopted one policy or program that impacted black residents of Massachusetts every other month. One example cited is a $1 million grant made in 2010 to revitalize Freedom House in Grove Hall.

Perry, who is also president of the Worcester NAACP, reports that and other findings in the 2012 issue of the Trotter Review, published by the Trotter Institute at UMass Boston:

  • Through August 2011, 13 of Patrick’s 60 executive orders were related to black interests, including ones reinstating an affirmative action policy that former governor Mitt Romney had rescinded, creating the Governor’s Anti-Crime Council and establishing the Massachusetts Supplier Diversity Program.
  • Of 70 pieces of legislation that Patrick introduced in his first term, 15 served black interests. Three of those bills passed. One financed low- and moderate-income housing; another aimed to prevent home foreclosures.
  • Last year, nearly 15 percent of senior managers in state government were minorities. Patrick by then had appointed more than 200 blacks to state positions as staffers or members of commissions.

“Patrick has actively represented black interests,” Perry concluded, “not exclusively, but in episodes of significance.”

Perry found that the governor has been able to serve the seven percent of the state’s population that is black, “without alienating the majority of his constituents,” because “he detailed how his proposed initiatives benefitted all citizens.”

Patrick has followed a strategy of “universalizing black interests.” Finding a middle ground between black officeholders who are often described “as either focusing on politics that transcend race or as making black issues central to their agenda,” Perry determined from his research.

Patrick’s approach to governing may reflect a larger trend, from Perry’s perspective: “Twenty-first-century African American politicians such as Patrick may be increasingly adopting the governance strategy of universalizing black interests as interests that matter for the good of the whole.”

Patrick and President Obama are often described as belonging to a new generation of African American politicians, even though both are Baby Boomers, who have come to predominate in the ranks of black elected officials.

Perry rejected the conclusion of some political analysts that Patrick, a former attorney for the NAACP-Legal Defense and Educational Fund, is a “deracialized” politician who has tried to avoid race as an issue.

“Universalizing the interests of blacks is not a ‘deracialized’ approach,” the political science professor wrote.

The review of Patrick’s record from the black perspective has two shortcomings that Perry acknowledged. He did not analyze the governor’s annual recommendations for the state budget or the actions taken under executive orders that affected black residents.

With most of Patrick’s time in office since 2007 coinciding with tough economic times, further research on his actions to reduce black rates of unemployment or home foreclosures could contribute to assessing his tenure.

The governor did propose and sign legislation intended to reduce foreclosures in general. How many black homeowners may have benefitted was beyond the scope of Perry’s research.

How much in federal stimulus funding has been invested in predominantly black neighborhoods is another question. Some examples of such spending are known.

In 2009, Patrick announced two awards of stimulus money for mass transit and health services in Boston’s black communities.

More than $100 million was allocated to improve bus services and replace the entire fleet for Route 28 from Mattapan to Ruggles Station. Another $11.5 million supported the construction of a new, larger building for the Mattapan Community Health Center.

In 2010, Codman Square Health Center received about $8 million to expand its facilities.

That same year, $4 million was awarded to the Museum of Afro-American History to complete restoration of the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill.

Perry has provided what may be the first research-based assessment from a black perspective of the nation’s first African American governor to be reelected.


Kenneth J. Cooper is editor of the Trotter Review.