A Case of First Impressions

If you have been reading the newspapers in Massachusetts lately, you will note that the honeymoon for our recently elected governor, Deval Patrick, is coming to a close. His campaign generated tremendous enthusiasm, particularly amongst the politically disengaged. There was excitement about his call to launch a new era in Massachusetts politics. He vowed to respect all political views and he inspired many to think that maybe this time would be different. Maybe this time we would elect a governor who really had our best interests at heart. Maybe this time someone could take over at the State House and show us how progressive politics can mix well with business friendly practices.

That may still happen and as a huge supporter of Deval, I still believe he can turn things around. But he has made life very difficult for himself by not paying more attention to the symbolism of his early acts as the first African American governor in the Bay State.

His missteps are instructive for anyone starting a new job. When you start a new position, your superiors will be watching you. Do you enthusiastically embrace all new assignments or complain about short deadlines? Do you make an effort to learn more about the colleagues around you or do you talk about yourself and gossip about other lawyers in the office? Do you respect the opinions of the support staff who have been in the organization far longer than you have (and who will probably be there long after you are gone) or do you try to establish early on that you are the one who went to law school and therefore more knowledgeable about all aspects of the practice?

Deval Patrick’s missteps were not particularly egregious. For a state car, he chose to drive a Cadillac rather than the Ford that his predecessor, and Presidential aspirant Mitt Romney, used. He invested a whopping $27,000 in redesigning his office. He hired a secretary for his wife, a partner at the law firm of Ropes and Gray, to the tune of $72,000 and he made a call on behalf of a sub-prime lender which he claimed was in his role as a private citizen (he had previously been on the board of this mortgage lender and he had no financial interest in the matter.)

Personally, I do not think that any of these acts amount to much. I don’t think this signals that the new governor is going to recklessly spend the Commonwealth of Massachusetts into bankruptcy. I’m not particularly comfortable that this governor would believe that he is entitled to act as a private citizen once he is elected to office; but I’m willing to let him learn from his mistakes (he has already given the appropriate apologies for making the phone call and for choosing the Cadillac and the $12,000 drapes–and he has promised to reimburse the Commonwealth for some of his “excesses”.)

The problem for Deval Patrick, is that he is now on the defensive. He made the critical career error of not paying more attention to first impressions. He may surprise us all (and I hope he does), but he is now fighting an uphill battle that would have been a lot easier had his first media coverage focused on his bold new initiatives. If he had chalked up some successes in his early days, than his superiors (the public who put him in office) would be far more willing to cut him some slack.

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