Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Charlie Shannon: RIP
State Senator Charlie Shannon, D-Winchester, Mass., passed away this morning from complications from a bone marrow transplant treatment in his fight against leukemia, according to press reports. He was 61. There are press reports here: ["Charles E. Shannon dies at 61; loses battle with cancer"] and here: ["Shannon succumbs to long illness"] [Shockingly, there is nothing at The Winchester Star site about his death. CNC could have at least put up the thorough and decent Medford Transcript story].
When I lived in Somerville, Shannon was my state senator and I also covered him as editor of The Star for over 2.5 years.
At first, I wasn't all that impressed with him. He was just another socially conservative Irish Democratic pol who probably should have been a Republican. And in Charlie's case, he was a Republican when he was first elected. He later changed parties after, as he put it, Gov. Bill Weld and another Republican Senator tried to screw him on a budget appropriation. Charlie told me the story over coffee at Nelson's in Winchester one day saying he went to then-President of the Senate Billy Bulger and said he would switch parties if he could get his line item in the budget. Bulger got it done for Charlie and Charlie waved goodbye to the MassGOP. Another stupid move for Republicans since it was a Democratic seat being held by a Republican.
As I covered him in the press, I really learned to like the guy. He was a good ole coot. Although a conservative Democrat, Shannon was also a populist and fought for the working class of his Medford and Somerville district. He had all kinds of stories and was great with a quote. I'll never forget the times he tore into Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, calling him "heartless," for cutting funds to some of Massachusetts' most vulnerable. After Romney was elected, I did an analysis piece about how towns he didn't win in the election were seeing their local aid cut more deeply than towns who voted for Romney. It should have been a great statewide story had the Boston Herald bothered to publish it after I shared it with them. As well, no other state news outlet bothered to look at the numbers and find the story themselves. Anyhow, Shawn Feddeman, Romney's adorably cute spokeswoman, scoffed at the idea but Shannon laid into the guv. I had to edit his language, as you can imagine. But Somerville and Medford were getting whacked something fierce and Charlie was livid. That was the kinda guy he was ... always worried about the little guy.
Despite always being a target for Shannon, Romney acknowledged he fought for the little guy in a press release today, noting that Charlie was "a tireless advocate for the people." Unlike a lot of pols, Shannon never forgot where he came from. Unlike a lot of pols, Shannon never forgot why he was in the state Senate.
There was one thing he did that I didn't think was too keen - holding up a wine and liquor license in Winchester for trivial reasons, which also benefited the brother of a long-time campaign contributor. But hey, that's minor when you consider all the good things he did.
Unlike another elected Democrat from Winchester, who will remain nameless, Charlie didn't flip out when I looked into all the lobbyists and political action committees throwing money at his campaign committee. Instead, he sloughed it off and told stories about some of the guys he grew up with who went to his "times." He didn't take it personally and cry like a little baby; he knew I was just doing my job, asking the tough questions like any good writer or reporter does.
One of the last times I spoke to Charlie, he was reserving space in the paper for a killer column coming out against a huge $3.9 million Proposition 2 1/2 tax override in Winchester, strategically placed to run just before the election. A former selectman, he was furious at what he perceived to be mismanagement with the town finances. He also knew that even though he wasn't as powerful a pol as in the past, he could still sway the votes of some of the old timers in town, many who would be detrimentally affected by the increase in property taxes coming with the approval of the override. A big chunk of Winchester's residents are over the age of 65 and not all of them have trust funds. The perception that Winchester is an affluent town is skewed by all the newcomers who moved into town over the last decade or so, with their masters degrees, big salaries, and wives in Lexuses. Shannon's column was a brilliantly biting piece - with a headline calling on the voters of Winchester to vote No on "Winchester's Day of Infamy" [The vote was scheduled for Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day].
But Shannon's role went beyond just writing the column. I later found out that behind the scenes, he quietly helped organize the No forces so that they could defeat the override. I later learned - off-the-record, of course, which means that you don't reveal the source - that Shannon paid for a telephone push poll which called a ton of voters across the town, mildly urging them to vote No.
On the morning of the election, while the Vote Yes side was gleefully assuming they had victory in their grasp, due to freezing rain and snow pouring down on the community, Shannon was chipper and excited. He knew that the old-timers would come out and defeat the override, weather or no weather.
"It will be defeated by a two-to-one margin," he said.
"What?!" I asked. "Impossible."
"Two-to-one," he said again, laughing.
At the time, I didn't know that Shannon had authorized the push poll, so I couldn't report it. I also didn't know that the results of the poll were two-to-one against the override. In the end, the override was defeated and while it was a less than two-to-one margin, it lost by a whopping 1,000-plus votes.
Of course, a push poll of hundreds of voters wasn't the thing that killed the override. What killed the override was the fact that it was too much, too soon. And the fact that people actually went out and campaigned against it. Had the advocates proposed a smaller override, they might have gotten it and wouldn't be making plans to layoff a slew of school teachers. Shockingly, all of those with masters degrees, big salaries, and wives in Lexuses, never seemed to get those little common sense things that the rest of us realize.
Just before I left The Star, Charlie called to wish me luck. He was into his fight against leukemia again but was still energetic and funny. When he told me he was going to beat it again, I knew he would, and I also told him I would pray for him. Unfortunately, he didn't beat it. But he lived a full life and helped a lot of folks out. His family - and district - will miss him.

Speculation will now turn to a special election which will need to be held to fill Charlie's seat. It's been a long time since the district has seen a competitive race. However, that is all for another day.
Rest in Peace, Charlie.

No comments: