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BOSTON--In recent weeks, one Richard E. Fenton has appeared at several debates for gubernatorial candidates, pitching himself as an outsider who would reform the state's judicial system.
Fenton, who is homeless, is the most unusual of candidates. He says he is running for governor because he has been a victim of manipulation by the Massachusetts legal and judicial establishment.
Those who have known Fenton for more than 40 years says his life story is tragic. Some claim he is emotionally unstable.
"He's mentally ill," says William H. Mann, the former police chief in Medfield, Mass. "We took him to a mental institution (Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass.)--when he had his first breakdown, he acted up here." Mann says Fenton was moved with the consent of his father and his brother.
Karen Kubick, public affairs director at the hospital, confirmed yesterday that Fenton received outpatient care during the 1960s, but she could not specify the type of treatment he received.
Since then, Fenton, who makes court reform his main concern, has had numerous problems with the law. The candidates says he has defended himself in more than 100 court appearances.
Fenton says his legal troubles began when he was a photojournalist in Medfield during the 1950s. At the time, one of Fenton's high school friends, Wade Henderson, committed suicide after shooting his mother-in-law.
Fenton insists to this day that Henderson was murdered and says the Medfield police attempted to cover up the murder. But Mann, the police chief, disputes that.
"I don't know [Henderson's wife], and Wade killed everybody in his family," Mann says. "I was not even in the police department at the time."
In May 1960, Fenton says police records indicate that he attempted to commit suicide by jumping into the Charles River. Fenton contends that he was the victim of police harassment in this case.
"The officers who took me to the river bragged about killing Wade Henderson and his mother-in-law," Fenton says. "I was accepted to law school--I wasn't going to commit suicide."
Fenton says he was "railroaded to a psychiatric ward" after the apparent suicide attempt.
But Fenton insists he is completely sane--more sane, in fact, than those who criticize him.
"They had created a stigma about me," he says. "I escaped from the [mental institution]; they're so stupid."
From this point onward, Fenton has been in front of judges on numerous occasions, ranging from divorce proceedings to property questions to drunken driving charges.
Most recently, Fenton appeared in West Roxbury District court to defend himself on charges of threatening his landlord's wife.
Fenton says he "is being cheated out of due process" and has been accused of violating a domestic relations charge that doesn't apply to him.
"They were trying to avoid going to Boston housing court," Fenton says.
In that case, a judge issued a one-year restraining order barring Fenton from returning to the room he rents at 22 Tappan Street in Roslindale.
Robert G. Newhook, who says Fenton was a "roommate" in his single-family dwelling, alleges that Fenton threatened his wife.
"He scared her and screamed at her and yelled at her," Newhook says. "He flew off the handle, so my wife was hiding from him in the house."
Newhook compares Fenton to a typically quiet man who one day "hacked up a whole family with an axe."
Fenton grew up in Medfield, a suburb 30 minutes south of Boston, and graduated from Boston University before serving in the Korean War.
When he returned from the Korean War, he opened a photography shop in Medfield and worked as a journalist for the Franklin Sentinel and the Milford Daily News.
Fenton says he became interested in "police corruption in Medfield" during his time as a journalist. He says his subsequent investigation led him to leave Medfield.
"I had my civil rights violated by the police," he says. "I wanted to get out of the community."
Fenton says that since leaving Medfield, he has not been able to hold a steady job. He has worked as a bus driver, freelance photographer and short-order cook.
Fenton also has been homeless since December, when he was barred from his Roslindale residence. He says he has spent the past for months "going from shelter to shelter."
"Shelters are deplorable," he says.
Fenton says his working-class background is an asset to his campaign.
"There's been an increase in white-collar crime, but for the last 16 years there's been a lawyer in the governor's office," he says. "Put someone in from the people."
And Fenton says his dealings with government bureaucracy make him the ideal gubernatorial candidate.
"Walking 300 miles is no credential for government," says Fenton, in a reference to a walk across Massachusetts last summer by gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Michael J. Barrett '70 (D-Cambridge). "Experiencing corruption in government is a credential for governor."
Fenton says the judicial system is particularly corrupt and inefficient.
"Let [the other candidates] walk in my moccasins to know what it's like to go to a clerk of court in Dedham who is an alcoholic," he says. "Let him go to a judge who falls asleep without listening to evidence."
Fenton proposes overhauling the court system.
"If you believe our justice system works well, you and I have a different set of values," he says. "In the [state] justice department, they're all political appointments."
In keeping with his populist ideas, Fenton also proposes ending the Massachusetts sales tax, noting that the tax was instituted by a Republican governor.
"If we can drop tariffs to Mexico and Canada, why can't we drop tariffs to the people of Massachusetts?" Fenton asks. "That hurts business and the selling techniques of salespeople."
Fenton also opposes the graduated income tax, saying it will only hurt the middle class.
The candidate says he would like to return responsibilities for welfare programs to the cities and towns.
"All politics is local," he says.
In order to improve educational opportunities, Fenton says he would like to abolish "no parking" signs.
"If people try to go to Harvard, all the streets are lined with no parking signs," he says. "That is an obstacle to people's getting a good education."
While Fenton opposes homosexuality and abortion on moral grounds, he says people have a right to treat their bodies as they please.
"My sex is private," he says. "I will defend the fact they have their positions, but I don't agree with it."
So far, Fenton has run a very low-key campaign, speaking at city and town Democratic committee meetings and handing out business cards to people he meets.
"I'm running as a citizen on a working man's paycheck," he says.
In order to appear at the June Democratic convention, Fenton needs to obtain the signatures of 10,000 registered voters by next Tuesday.
All three of his Democratic opponents--former state Sen. George Bachrach (D-Watertown), state Sen. Michael J. Barrett '70 (D-Cambridge) and state Rep. mark Roosevelt '78 (D-Beacon Hill)--have already announced that they have obtained their required signatures.
Fenton says he doesn't know whether he will gather his signatures but that he feels the petition requirement is wrong.
"Do they really want a poor man to run for office?" he asks. "If I don't get my signatures, my cause will not end."
And Fenton says he has no qualms about supporting one of his opponents.
"I respect the other candidates," he says. "I feel I can support any one of them."
He'll probably have to. Fenton is the longest of long shots to win the Democratic primary. "If he becomes governor," Newhook says, "I'd be quite surprised."
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