Friday, February 24, 2006

Massachusetts' longest-serving elected official set to retire.

Today's Boston Globe reports on Edward J. "Eddie" Sullivan's pending retirement as Clerk of the Middlesex Superior Court. A member of an important political family, Sullivan served five terms on the Cambridge City Council before being elected to his current position in 1958. After serving eight six-year terms as Middlesex County Clerk of Courts, the spry 85-year-old is retiring to spend more time with his family. Here's how the Globe describes the personal mementoes that fill Sullivan's courthouse digs:

The walls of his office are adorned with memorabilia that recall a bygone era, an ever-present reminder that Sullivan is a throwback, one of the last of a breed that flourished when all politics was not only local, as illustrious Cambridge pol and Sullivan friend Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. once said, but also very colorful and retail. There are several photos of President Kennedy with Eddie and his brother Walter, a Cambridge councilor for 34 years. In another, Eddie is shoulder-to-shoulder with President Lyndon B. Johnson at a 1964 campaign rally. A young Francis X. Bellotti, then lieutenant governor and sporting a crewcut, is next to them.

Describing some more of Sullivan's pictures, the Globe reports that the Clerk "is also pictured alongside governors, including Edward J. King. Old-school Eddie Sullivan was not a Michael Dukakis kind of guy." I note this point of pride for the benefit of Jake Martin and others who may be familiar with my lectures on the rivalry between King and Dukakis and differences between their supporters.

Another point of pride for "old-school Eddie Sullivan" is an understanding of politics as a system intended to meet concrete human needs. As the Globe quotes Sullivan: "Many people think it's a crime to do a favor. In my opinion, if no one's getting hurt, what's wrong with doing someone a favor if you can help them out? If they need assistance one way or another, why not help them?" I suspect that individuals who may quibble with this point have always had the means to meet all of their needs. Potential critics put off by Sullivan's old-fashioned style and lengthy tenure should also be aware of the Clerk's efforts to make the Middlesex courts fair and efficient dispensers of justice - efforts that the Globe notes with appreciation.

Near the end of its article on Sullivan's retirement, the Globe reports a story which I'd like to quote in full, both for what it says about the Clerk's approach to politics and for its insight on the oft-touchy subject of town-gown relations in Cambridge:

A common subject [of Sullivan's stories] - and one he loves to needle - is Harvard University, which sits near his boyhood home on Surrey Street. In one of his yarns, he recalls that while holding the largely ceremonial post of Cambridge mayor in the mid-1950's, he broke protocol by sending a surrogate to Harvard's commencement ceremony.

There was a practical reason for this snub, however. The Harvard exercises conflicted with the public school graduations he wanted to attend. Sullivan recounted explaining the situation to an aide. "There's no . . . votes up in the Harvard Yard for me," he said. "I'm going where the future votes are."

"Thirty years later, I spoke to a group at Harvard and told them the story," Sullivan said. "I said I guess I made the right decision because they're still voting for me."

Well-done, good and faithful servant. Eddie Sullivan may be on the brink of disappearing from the political scene, but here's hoping that his legacy endures. AMDG.


At February 25, 2006 3:44 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

Joe, can you e-mail me the .html code for indenting the quoted paragraphs like you do?

At February 28, 2006 12:25 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Lisa -

I rely on Blogger for the indents; I'm practically illiterate when it comes to .html, but Blogger has a function that makes indents easy - it's the Blockquote function, signified by an inverted quotation mark, on the toolbar alongside the different fonts and other posting options - hope that helps. Pax,



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