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Back in Boston, Obama Goes To Bat for Fellow Harvard Alum

Gives Boost to Deval Patrick '78 on the night before state convention

By Paras D. Bhayani, Crimson Staff Writer

Gubernatorial candidate Deval L. Patrick ’78 called in one of his biggest guns last Thursday night when he played host to fellow Harvard Law alum Barack H. Obama, a Democratic senator from Illinois.

The event was an effort to whip up support for Patrick’s outsider bid just a day before the start of the Massachusetts Democratic Convention.

Obama introduced Patrick to an adoring crowd of 2,000 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. But first, the Illinois senator basked in the crowd’s love, pausing to shake hands with the crowd that swelled on either side of him. Upon reaching the podium, he exclaimed, “It’s great to be back in Boston.”

“I spent three years in a library in Boston, making sure I actually graduated from law school,” Obama said, though he later admitted that it was actually in Cambridge.

“Then, years later, I came back to Boston to give a little speech,” he added, referring to his much-praised keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He said that his message in the speech had appealed to people because, like Patrick, it was “visionary and hopeful,” not “pandering and cynical.”

Obama also said there were many similarities between Patrick’s run for Massachusetts governor and his own underdog candidacy two years ago in the Illinois Democratic senatorial primary.

Like Patrick, he said that he faced the party’s “favorite son” who had previously won a statewide race—a reference to Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, one of Patrick’s opponents—and that he had been underestimated due to his lack of name recognition and fund-raising.

“Above all, everyone said that Illinois voters are just not going to elect a black man born in Hawaii with a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas with a completely unpronounceable name,” Obama said. “But there were some people who did believe—and one of those guys was also a Harvard Law School graduate who came from a modest background.”

He said that Patrick was one of his earliest financial backers when he ran for the state senate.

“When I first called him and asked for a contribution, he said ‘I’ll do anything I can,’” Obama said. “When I explained how Illinois has no campaign finance limits, he scaled that back a bit.”

And when Obama ran for Senate in the last election cycle, Patrick donated $1,000 to Obama more than four months before the primary.

After the introduction, Patrick took the stage, echoing Obama’s call for the need for “visionary leadership,” outlining what he said should be the priorities of the governor, and attacking what he what he deemed the “yawning failure of leadership on Beacon Hill.”

He pointed out that Massachusetts is the only state that has lost population the past two years, and several large corporations that once called the state home have moved elsewhere.

One company that has scaled down operations in Massachusetts is Ameriquest, which closed nine Massachusetts branch offices. Patrick currently sits on the mortgage firm’s board of directors, though he has announced his intention to resign in July.

Patrick criticized proposals to roll back the state income tax, saying it would be catastrophic to local finances because cities and towns would be forced to raise property taxes. Reilly wants to cut the income tax rate from 5.3 percent to 5 percent.

Patrick also said that Massachusetts was losing ground to North Carolina and California in biotechnology research. He drew strong applause when he took a shot at Gov. W. Mitt Romney, saying that the governor had refused to fund stem cell research with state money and because he was too concerned with “playing politics.”

And after listing the failures of past state governments, Patrick delivered one of his best-received lines of the night, asking rhetorically, “Are we seriously going to consider an insider candidate who has presided over so much of the calamity in our lives?” The ambiguous line was aimed either at Reilly or Lt. Gov. Kerry M. Healey ’82, the presumptive Republican nominee, who Patrick would race in the general election if he were to win the primary.

Before the rally, Obama and Patrick took questions from reporters at a small press conference. When one reporter asked Obama how his endorsement would help Patrick, Obama replied that he is simply “a good warm-up act” for the gubernatorial candidate, and that the reason that over 2,000 campaign supporters were expected at the rally was “because of the excitement about Deval.” Patrick added later that “you know your campaign is on fire when your warm-up act is Barack Obama.”

As he enters the convention this weekend, Patrick, a former Dunster House English concentrator, is coming off a strong week. He picked up the endorsement of two congressmen—Rep. John F. Tierney and Rep. John W. Olver—and announced that he has raised over $470,000 in the month of May and $3.7 million over the course of the campaign. Both numbers are Massachusetts primary fundraising records.

Patrick is expected to win the official endorsement of the state central committee this weekend, which requires support of two-thirds of the convention delegates. Candidates who receive the backing of 15 percent of the delegates win a spot on the Democratic primary ballot. In the primary race this September, Patrick is expected to face both Reilly and Christopher F. O. Gabrieli ’81, a former Eliot House resident and the 2002 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.

Apart from Obama, Patrick had some additional Harvard Law School support on Thursday night. Listed with their spouses as event sponsors were Boskey Professor of Law Lani C. Guinier ’71, Professor of Law Heather K. Gerken, who is departing for Yale in the fall, and Professor of Law David J. Barron ’89, a former Crimson president.

According to regulatory filings, all three also donated money to Obama, the first black president of the Harvard Law Review and a University of Chicago senior lecturer, during his 2004 senatorial campaign.

—Staff writer Paras D. Bhayani can be reached at pbhayani@fas.harvard.edu.

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