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Monday, December 7, 2009

Pagliuca leans on O'Brien, but not enough

BOSTON - There was no better Massachusetts political figure and operative than the late Lawrence F. O'Brien. O'Brien was my first boss at the NBA when he was in the final years of his commissionership (1975-1984) after a long and successful career as a politician.

For those not aware, O'Brien was the main strategist and campaign manager for John F. Kennedy's 1952 Senate election and later JFK's 1960 national campaign manager for the Presidency of the United States. O'Brien would later lead the Democratic National Committee and it was indeed his office that the Watergate burglars broke into that became the focus of the 1972 scandal that eventually brought former President Richard Nixon to his forced resignation.

The NBA championship trophy was named after O'Brien stepped down as league Commissioner in 1984 after a nearly a decade of NBA stewardship during a very difficult time in pro basketball history (ABA merger, massive changes in free agency, wide drug abuse, regular franchise failure and the like).

Taking a page from the Massachusetts politician's NBA legacy, Senatorial candidate Steve Pagliuca has been making campaign stops throughout the Commonwealth with the 2008 NBA championship symbol, the O'Brien Trophy, displayed in its splendor.

As the special election nears and Pagliuca trails in the polls, the Boston Herald studied the political move and compared it to the Red Sox assistance with their 2004 World Series Trophy to assist the failed Presidential campaign of John Kerry.

I have been surprised by the fact that more Massachusetts politicians do not follow the famed O'Brien Campaign manual of 1960 and utilize its foundation with the obvious need to update and activate with the online and new media tools of 2010.

The special election to fill the seat of the late Senator Edward Kennedy will be tomorrow. Polls show Martha Coakley as the front-runner with U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and Alan Khazei all trailing. Khazei was recently endorsed by the Boston Globe and is gaining momentum but time is obviously short and the campaign trail shorter.

I am leaning toward a vote for Khazei but still consider myself undecided. I like Pagliuca a lot and admire his business sense and work with Bain and the Celtics but I am not sure I can vouch for his political agenda.

See this story:

Steve Pagliuca’s golden ticket
Celtics co-owner takes trophy on campaign

Lagging in the Senate polls and seeking a shot of team spirit, Celtics [team stats] bigwig Stephen Pagliuca is trotting out the crowd-pleasing NBA Championship trophy in what rival front-runner Martha Coakley’s camp mocked as an eleventh-hour desperation play.

The NBA said it doesn’t have a problem with Pagliuca flaunting the treasured trophy for political purposes. “It’s not an issue for us,” NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre said last night. “Steve’s an owner of the Boston Celtics, and the trophy belongs to the Celtics.”

But Corey Welford, campaign spokesman for Coakley, the attorney general, said, “We know it’s a different sport, but it seems like a Hail Mary to us.”

Respected national political analyst Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, agreed, saying, “When you’re well behind in the polls, most people will forgive a desperate play or two. This is one of those three-point shots from a long way off.”

The C’s co-owner is taking his team’s trophy on the road for three days heading into Tuesday’s Democratic primary as he travels the Bay State aboard his “Jobs Express” bus starting today.

“The last couple of days of the campaign are about generating excitement and reinforcing some of the most positive things about any campaign and any candidate,” said Pagliuca campaign spokesman Will Keyser. “One part of Steve’s biography is the fact that he’s the co-owner of the Celtics and he helped bring a championship to Boston.”

Pagliuca’s road trip includes a stop to meet Boston Bruins [team stats] fans at the TD Garden tonight and a visit to Champions Sports Bar in Springfield tomorrow.

He’ll make stops in Dartmouth, Fall River, Wrentham, West Roxbury, Dedham, Holyoke, Longmeadow and Worcester as well.

Republican consultant Charlie Manning called it a “smart political move” and noted that Red Sox [team stats] owner John Henry and general manager Theo Epstein brought the World Series trophy to New Hampshire when campaigning for Bay State Sen. John F. Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign.

“I think just as many people will come out to see the Celtics championship trophy as they would to see Steve,” Manning said.

Tens of thousands of frenzied Celtics fans flocked to the Hub to cheer on the team in June 2008 after they won their first NBA Championship title since 1986. The players soaked up the adoration on board a fleet of duck boats as they wound their way through the city during a victory parade.

That type of support could certainly lift Pagliuca politically as he struggles in a race to succeed the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy that, according to recent polling, has Coakley leading, followed by U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and Pagliuca tied with City Year co-founder Alan Khazei at the back of the pack.

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