Working Hard on Hardly Working

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, weighing a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, has been busy positioning himself on hot-button social issues such as human cloning in order to avoid alienating potential supporters within the national GOP.

But Massachusetts is Massachusetts: Raise your political profile, and prepare for some Beantown brickbats. Yesterday the Boston Globe landed one with a juicy bit of shoe-leather reporting, a genre far too rare these days.

Reporters Sean P. Murphy and Connie Paige tailed the director of the state Department of Labor, Angelo R. Buonopane, recording his work habits (or lack of same). And just what does this $108,000-a-year Romney appointee do?

Globe reporters, on 19 days during February and March, tracked Buonopane’s comings and goings. On eight of those days, the reporters were able to record, down to the minute, each time he arrived at his Washington Street office, and each time he left. On the other days, reporters were able to observe him for part of the day.

The average hours worked for the eight fully documented days was two hours and 51 minutes. The longest he worked was four hours and five minutes. Lunches were especially long: always at least two hours and sometimes more than three. On two of the eight days, Buonopane left at lunchtime and did not return.

A typical workday, according to Murphy and Page, saw Buonopane leave the office in the late morning and return 40 minutes later carrying a bag from Filene’s Basement. He then took a two-hour, 12-minute lunch at his North End home, headed back to the office for 37 minutes, and went home again. Total time worked: three hours, 14 minutes.

Write Murphy and Page: “Buonopane seldom comes to work for more than a few hours, and takes frequent vacations — seven-and-a-half weeks last year, and three-and-a-half weeks in the first three months of this year. Last week, a spokesman for Secretary of Economic Development Ranch C. Kimball, to whom Buonopane reports, could not provide a description of Buonopane’s duties.”

When asked about his work schedule, Buonopane, who is politically well connected in the state and national Republican Party, claimed he docked his pay when he took time off. But Murphy and Page were armed with payroll records contradicting that assertion.

And when the newspaper sought comment from the governor about his labor director, a Romney spokesman promised an investigation. ”Taxpayers have the right to expect from state employees a day’s work for a day’s pay,” said aide Eric Fehrnstrom.

The 2008 election is a long way away. Nobody can predict whether Mitt Romney’s political future will turn on his views about human cloning or some other hot potato. You can bet, however, that in Boston today more people are talking about a $108,000-a-year patronage drone than stem cells. Romney ought never forget that adage attributed to another Massachusetts pol, the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill: All politics is local. The Globe reminds us why that’s true.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.