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Major League Baseball’s All-Star game is over. David Ortiz has had his number retired. Those of us who follow sports love talking about who we think is the greatest. Since many players put on their uniforms at different times, there is no way to prove who was the best. But that does not stop us from arguing about it.
Who would I want on my baseball team, David Ortiz or Carl Yastrzemski? Yaz.
Is LeBron James better than Michael Jordan? No.
Has there ever been an athlete who played harder and smarter than Larry Bird? Never.
In some ways, politics is like sports. Political campaigns are played in public in front of cheering and jeering fans. We love to see our candidates win and we hate it when they lose. And, at least at the federal level, there are millions of dollars involved.
So, looking back over the past 40 years or so, whose numbers should be retired and lifted to the rafters in City Hall?
I should add a couple of notes about my choices. First, if I selected someone in a particular category, that person could not be considered for another category – although they might easily deserve consideration.
Second, I did not consider political viewpoints – only effectiveness in office. So whether I agreed or disagreed with a position they took, the question was, were they effective? In baseball terms, did they drive in runs?
Here are my picks.
District City Councilor: Paul Clancy
No one has been more effective at representing and protecting his district than Paul Clancy. Clancy was a forceful speaker and well respected by his colleagues. When he spoke on behalf of his district, he almost always had my support as well as the support of the other mayors he served with.
All-Star Runners-up: Janice Nadeau, Mike Perotto and Barbara Haller. All three were dogged in fighting for their districts. And all three did not worry about ruffling feathers when they were doing their job.
At-Large City Councilor: Bob Hennigan
A former city solicitor, Bob was always one of the smartest people in the room. He certainly was the most knowledgeable. He and I seldom agreed on issues, but he was a tenacious defender of the Plan E Charter and someone who had everyone’s respect.
All-Star Runner-up: Dennis Irish. Willing to work behind the scenes, Dennis was an effective and highly principled member of the City Council.
State Representative: Charlie Buffone
I have to admit a bias here. I went to work for Charlie when I graduated from college. In my 40 years of public service, I have never met a public figure who was more compassionate. He helped anyone and everyone who asked for help. People came to see him who lived miles away from his district. It never mattered. If he could help them, he would. He asked nothing in return.
All-Star Runner-up: Billy Glodis. No one fought harder for his district. When I was mayor, I remember a time when a well-known lawyer came to see me on behalf of Robert Kraft. Mr. Kraft had a business in Billy’s district. Before the lawyer could explain Mr. Kraft’s request, I told him I was opposed to the request. When he asked why, I told him that Billy Glodis was against the plan. It was that simple. When it came to protecting the families of his district, Glodis was never wrong.
State Senator: Dan Foley
Dan could deliver the goods to the district better than anyone. UMass Medical School and hospital, countless school buildings and other projects are all the result of Dan’s advocacy. When Dan left the Senate, he left a hole that has never been completely filled.
All-Star Runners-up: Harriette Chandler and John Conte. Never one to seek the spotlight, Harriette has risen to the rank of majority leader and has earned a reputation for effectiveness. John was probably the smartest political insider I ever saw.
U.S. Congressman: Joe Early
Except for an angry speech on the floor of the House (“they ran like rats”), Joe could have been congressman for as long as he wanted. Joe was a seasoned veteran having worked his way up through the ranks at the Statehouse and then Capitol Hill. Not a fancy talker or charmer, he was one of those unique candidates who had the respect of almost everyone.
All-Star runner-up: Jim McGovern. A hyper-partisan, McGovern has been a strong voice for liberal causes. He has also delivered the federal dollars needed to support local projects.
U.S. Senator: Ted Kennedy
Arguably the most effective U.S. senator in the past 50 years for the entire country, there was almost nothing Ted could not do. When we needed grant money for Union Station, we turned to Ted. When we needed a place to solve the differences in a very contentious nurses strike at St. Vincent’s Hospital, we went to Ted’s office. I never minded that he called me “Mayor Menino” more than once. He always answered my calls and delivered. Besides, my mother just loved him.
All-Star runner-up: John Kerry. Always in Ted’s giant shadow, Kerry was a hard-working, articulate and effective senator. And he paid attention to Worcester.
City Manager: Francis McGrath
City managers are supposed to be above politics. In reality, a good city manager is the smartest politician in the room. That describes Francis McGrath. A true gentleman, Franny never lost his cool – even when Jordan Levy was pounding him with a sledgehammer.
And he never held a grudge. With two exceptions (Arthur Chase, Konnie Lukes), I think he got along with everyone, including those who constantly disagreed with him.
All-Star Runner-up: Sorry, McGrath was in a class by himself.
More Mariano: Learning a thing or two from Francis McGrath
Mayor: Joe Tinsley
I know some of you wiseguys were expecting me to put my own name here. Sorry.
Joe Tinsley was mayor when the mayor was selected by the City Council. He could never have been elected by the public. But there was no one more adept at making city government work. When I was first elected to the City Council, I would sit and watch Joe in action. It was like taking a master class.
All-Star Runners-up: Tim Murray and Jordan Levy. These guys were polar opposites. Tim is an insider and Jordan relishes being an outsider. But both were effective. Tim’s fingerprints are all over the explosion of new development in downtown Worcester that is happening today, and Jordan worked with former City Manager Jeff Mulford to turn an eyesore into Medical City.
County Official: Tony Vigliotti
Our Register of Deeds took an antiquated office and brought it into the 21st century. His office runs flawlessly.
All-Star Runner-up: Sheriff John Mike Flynn. Mike was not really a Worcester guy, but he was one of the finest human beings I have ever met. I loved him.
School Committee Member: Phil Niddrie
Like most School Committee members, Phil was very low-key. But he pushed initiatives that opened up schools after hours and was a key player in the selection of superintendents.
All-Star Runners-up: Janet Slovin, Jay Tierney and Shirley Wright were all very effective School Committee members.
Best Campaigner: Gerry D’Amico
How does anyone ever get elected when his name is not even on the ballot? Ask Gerry D’Amico. In 1976, he ran a campaign for the state Senate that people still talk about. A terrific speaker and a tireless campaigner, Gerry ran spectacular campaigns. Aided by guys like Paul Pezzella and Paul Giorgio, Gerry came within a whisker of securing the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. His principled “profiles in courage” vote that angered the state teachers union kept him from winning that office.
All-Star Runner-up: There really is not a second place here. But, I will give a nod to Gary Rosen, whose tireless campaigning, all by himself, has caught the attention of many Worcester voters – and many motorists who had to swerve to avoid him standing in the middle of the street.
Contrarian: Paul Leahy
Paul Leahy almost never agreed with anyone – except Jordan Levy on occasion. If there were 50 people in the City Council gallery speaking in favor of a proposal, Paul would stand and speak against the proposal.
But unlike almost every other contrarian I have ever met, he was an incredibly funny and nice man. Everyone he served with liked him. Once during a City Council meeting, we made each other laugh so hard, we had to run into the hallway to avoid making a spectacle of ourselves.
* * *
These are my picks for the best to ever serve in office from, and for, Worcester. There have been many other great elected officials who have served the city who probably could have made this list.
Now, if you really want to have a conversation and you want to know who I think the worst elected office holders were, you will have to buy me lunch.
Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He comments on his hometown and global issues that impact it every Sunday in Worcester Sun.