E-mail and Politics: Uneasy Relationship

In broad state government terms, this year so far has been largely about corruption allegations, and their fallout. Such outbursts are often cyclical, play themselves out, and fade away for a while.

But there's a larger, more fundamental alteration going on, and it speaks more deeply to the body politic's distrust of the system than the public's well-earned suspicion of the body's own rot.

Communications between and among public officials, like those of everyone else, are now largely e-mail affairs. Like everyone else, it's how they set up meetings, plan policy and otherwise, reprimand and praise each other. Unlike the rest of us, some of their communiqués are absolutely subject to scrutiny under the law.

And to leaks. A seminal moment on this front came during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign when internal e-mails from then-Attorney General Thomas Reilly's campaign found their way to a Boston Globe columnist, who brought them to the reading public. The evidence conflicted with the Reilly campaign's public professions that it didn't have anything to do with a Deval Patrick critic, who ultimately surfaced to little effect on the election.

Political operatives and government officials ought to have been alarmed by the development - these e-mails were not subject to the state's public records law and evinced no legal wrongdoing. But they underscored the possibility that the medium allows for haunting.

Flash to spring 2008. A media consultant close to Patrick's administration e-mails the governor's top aide about a high-paying job for a state senator who'd backed the governor's campaign in the early going. Problem was he entered the wrong address, and the Globe again got the e-mails - putting the administration's self-styled reform agenda in an uncomfortable spot. When Patrick ultimately tabbed the lawmaker for the post earlier this year, the earlier stumble helped doom the nomination.

Come Summer 2009 and the Patrick's administration move to muscle out the head of the Mass. Bay Transportation Authority. E-mails among transportation officials and senior Patrick aides reveal the effort's comparison to World War II. An unflattering federal report on the T's safety had given the administration an opening, and they seized it in what the documents show was a coordinated - and at times comically dramatic - push.

Sometimes, it is not an e-mail's content but the absence of same that causes the problem. Recall this year's mayoral election, which resulted in Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's 15-point win over the hybrid ticket led by City Councillor-at-Large Michael Flaherty and augmented by City Councillor-at-Large Sam Yoon. When historians author the chronicle of this campaign, Flaherty's charges that Menino had mishandled the schools, the fire department, the budget and public safety will likely receive less attention than Menino's top aide's deletion of his e-mails.

It was all about a candidate starved for traction with voters and a press famished for the first mayoral horse race in 16 years. Revelations through public records law requests showed that e-mail had been "double-deleted" from the city's server, in violation of state law, which requires officials to preserve the documents. (The Legislature, by the way, neatly shielded itself from a public records statute.) It did not emit a good-government aura, though the content of the e-mails ultimately unearthed provoked little controversy. In light of the prior controversies, deletions - legal boundaries notwithstanding - actually sort of seem like the tactically shrewd thing to do.

The most lasting damage from communications presumed to be private but dragged into the public domain could befall former Speaker Sal DiMasi, who faces public corruption charges and the rest of his life in prison if a federal court finds him guilty. E-mails from DiMasi allies and a ticket broker agency show extensive collaboration, evidently contrary to DiMasi's professions of his limited involvement.

Do the consequences of committing unsavory words to electronic record result in public officials avoiding the medium? Probably not anytime soon. E-mail is too pervasive a means of communicating, and the incidence of "getting caught" is probably so low that the risk feels light. Still, many public officials have now taken to e-mailing from private addresses that don't belong to the taxpayer. Some respond to e-mails with phone calls, observing the aphorism that spoken words are wiser than written ones.

But the law is there - and the press exists - to apply the attention such officials are looking to avoid. The communications will still exist, they have to by nature, but they will be forced further underground, and off the record.

Award-winning actor Bill Meleady will be back on the Boston stage, actually Boston pubs, with his Siamsa Theatre's production of Sean O'Casey's one-act comedy "A Pound on Demand."

The play, which is directed by Meleady, will be performed on several dates at Mr. Dooley's  Boston Tavern in downtown including Dec. 13 and 20 (the Dec. 6 show is already sold out) and at the Brendan Behan in Jamaica Plain on Dec. 14 and 21.  Tickets are $7 for general admission.

With a cast that reads like a who's who on the local theater scene, Meleady told us he was just looking forward to getting out into the pubs again. "It's a grand adventure, doing this kind of theater," he said. 

Meleady is the founding member of Siamsa and has been a regular performer with The Sugan Theatre for many years. He is a recipient of the Elliot Norton Award and the IRNE Award for his acting. His credits include the critically acclaimed Speakeasy Stage Company's production of Conor McPherson's "The Seafarer." 

The cast also includes Georgia Lyman, who appeared for three seasons on "Brotherhood," Sugan Theatre veteran Sid Quilty, Martha's Vineyard actress Katherine Pilcher, and writer/actor John Fitzgerald. The production crew is headed by Mick Keohane, who is assisted by Mac Young. 

"We hope people will just come out and give the show a try," Meleady said. "It's going to be a great night out."

John F. Kennedy Library Foundation has tapped 53-year-old Hamilton, Mass., native David McKean as its chief executive officer. McKean, who replaces John Shattuck, is the staff director for the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee and served as Senator John Kerry's  chief of staff from 1999 to 2008. McKean is credited with being a key player in Kerry's 2004 presidential run. 

Shattuck, who also taught at Tufts University, resigned from the Dorchester-based foundation in August to become the president and rector of the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.

The foundation is a non-profit that employs the 26 full- and part-time staff members who supports the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Its mission allows the federal government to support the library and museum's research and expand its programs including the Kennedy Library Forums. The foundation sponsors and administers the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, the New Frontier Award, and programs for high school students such as the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage essay contest. 

A Phillips Exeter Academy alum, McKean graduated from Harvard in 1980 before receiving a law degree from Duke University's law school. He also holds a master's degree from Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

"David McKean has devoted his entire career to public service and he shares my father's belief that politics is a noble profession," foundation president Caroline Kennedy said in a release. "As we prepare to mark the 50th  anniversary of President Kennedy's administration, the Library is fortunate to have David McKean to help us engage a new generation, and connect President Kennedy's values and aspirations to the challenges of our time."

McKean's diverse background includes teaching, writing and government service. He is a member of the board of directors of the Foundation for the National Archives and was chief of staff to Congressman Joseph Kennedy. He is married to Kathleen Kaye, a Boston College alumna, and the couple has three children. 

"The Kennedy presidency continues to have enormous relevance and importance for policymakers, scholars and, indeed, anyone interested in the American identity," McKean said in a release. "The opportunity to return to Massachusetts and to work for an institution that is so central to the economy of Boston and to the life of the city also has great appeal for me. But what attracts me most of all to the Kennedy Library is the opportunity through the example of President Kennedy to inspire a new generation of young people to make a difference locally, nationally and globally."

Boston area native Jim Conners has sold Sonny McLean's Irish Pub, the Santa Monica, California, bar that was named for his grandfather and served as the home-away-from-home for many Bostonians. Walking inside the pub it was easy to forget you were on the West Coast and not somewhere in the Boston area with all the memorabilia on the walls and all the people with thick Boston accents at the bar.

Over the last several years, Conners' place, which has a familiar logo made up of the Boston pro teams on the side of the building, has served as the West Coast home for Red Sox Nation and hosted the World Series trophies for fundraising events. 

Often on a playoff game day, Boston ex-patriots could be seated next to the family of actual then-Patriots players including Willie McGinest. Fundraising events would draw Bostonians of note , including "The Black Donnellys" star Jonathan Moss Tucker, former "ER" actress Maura Tierney, and Jay Harrington, who plays Ted in the ABC sitcom "Better Off Ted." 

Conners, who said the sale just took place, expects the new owner, who he did not name, will keep the name and the Boston theme. "It was quite a run, three Super Bowls, two World Series and one NBA championship," Conners wrote in an e-mail. He may not be leaving the pub biz, however, and is considering opening another Boston outpost in the Los Angeles area.