It is 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning when Massachusetts Governor Democrat Deval L. Patrick ’78 strolls into the Knights of Columbus Center in West Roxbury, Mass. for a meet-and-greet with AARP members from the neighborhood. Wearing khaki slacks, a blue button-down shirt, and a brown leather jacket, his gait is easy, and a smile lights his face.
The first African-American governor of Massachusetts, Patrick comes from the South Side of Chicago and was educated primarily in Massachusetts, at Milton Academy, Harvard College, and Harvard Law School.
Patrick is a short, attractive man. He is the sort of man with whom older women—who were moments before complaining about how he has done little to improve Social Security—want to be photographed. He is the sort of man who does the electric slide while exiting the building.
At the Knights of Columbus Center, those gathered are mindful that it is ten days before election day. A poll from the previous week shows that Patrick is five points ahead of his opponent, Charles D. Baker ’79. Pundits say the G.O.P. is poised to take the U.S. House of Representatives, if not the Senate.
Two years ago, Massachusetts was a powerhouse of support for U.S. President Barack Obama. Earlier this year, however, the state elected Scott P. Brown, a Republican, as its newest senator. National disappointment with Democratic leadership appears to be running high.
But Patrick, who is fighting to defend his incumbent position as governor, appeals to the room of senior citizens, asking them to allow him to finish his work begun in his first term, which centered around public education, health care coverage, and job creation during a time of economic crisis.
EDUCATING A GOVERNOR
Those who have known him the longest say that they always recognized Patrick’s leadership potential.
“I could see a great future for him,” says Sondra J. Brigandi, Patrick’s neighbor from the South Side of Chicago who has known him since he was seven years old.
In 1970, Patrick, who was born two years after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, landed a spot at the elite Milton Academy, thanks to a program called “A Better Chance” that helps send gifted students of color to top schools.
At a time when the wound of racism stung the nation, Patrick impressed his classmates as a “consensus builder” who sought to bridge racial divides.
“Patrick made friends very easily and across all kinds of boundaries,” says Daniel Gregory, a Milton friend who has financially supported Patrick’s governorship campaign. “He brought people together, no matter what race you were, what religion you were.”
George Chase, another Milton classmate, says that the “very sincere” and “very genuine” attitude Patrick had when talking with other people may be one reason why “everyone liked him [and] respected him.”
What Patrick has done as governor in the past four years “reflects the personality he had in high school, which was his patience,” says Chase, who adds that he had seen Patrick’s potential. “He always seemed like someone who had incredibly high ambition...He was always serious about what he was trying to accomplish.”
From Milton, Patrick went on to Harvard, where the English concentrator continued to win over friends among both faculty and students with his amiable character.