Massport needs leadership, not patronage

By Joan Venochi, Globe Staff, 9/18/2001

WELCOME TO Logan Airport: Ramp passes and control tower tours available to
terrorists. That is harsh but apparently true, or was, just one short week
ago. Then, two planes hijacked from Boston seared their way through the
World Trade Center. Now, there is a new line of defense at Logan.
Authorities are removing plastic knives from bagel stands.

First, they should remove the politics and patronage that permeate Massport,
from chairman of the board to executive director, from head of security to
mail room employee.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedy, Massport public safety director
Joseph Lawless emerges as the perfect illustration of the professionalism
you don't get when you hire a man whose distinguishing characteristic is his
former job as Governor William F. Weld's chauffeur. But the problem is
bigger and deeper than the holes in Lawless's resume or his pitiful response
to last week's calamity. It reflects a long-term political culture in the
Commonwealth that not only accepts patronage, but begins with this hiring
premise for public employees: It's not what you know, it's who you know.

As the ruling party for years, the Democrats wrote the patronage handbook
for this state. The past decade of Republican governors embraced it with
unbridled exuberance, putting an ex-pharmacist, an ex-congressman, and an
ex-press aide in charge of Massport - and, ultimately, in charge of the life
of every passenger who flies out of Logan. As a result, Massport's
politically connected payroll is as much a part of the Weld-Cellucci legacy
as tax-cutting. Today, that is especially ironic for someone like Weld, who
began his career as a crimefighter for the US Justice Department.

Mark Robinson, Weld's underling in the US attorney's office and chairman of
the Massport board, sent out a memo yesterday to 1,200 employees, telling
them that outside scrutiny should be embraced. ''Nothing is sacred,
everything is on the table,'' said Robinson in an interview. As Robinson
acknowledged yesterday, ''Gate security is the last link in the chain.''
That suggests security gaps before the terrorists ever got to the gates.

Yet the day after the attack, Weld's ex-driver continued to insist, ''We are
as secure, if not more secure, than any other airport in the US.'' On
Sunday, Virginia L. Buckingham, Massport's executive director and Weld's
former press aide and campaign manager, finally pledged accountability ''if
there are specific flaws that are unique to Logan.'' The Globe report that
FAA special agents had evaded security at Logan on more than 60 occasions in
1999 and 2000 apparently failed to register with her as specific flaws for
which she should be held accountable.

It is wrong to scapegoat any one individual. But it is not unfair to point
out that Buckingham runs a quasi-government authority whose most recently
publicized priorities have nothing to do with security. Instead, they are
all about building a new runway and, simply, building on Massport property.
As the biggest landowner on the South Boston Waterfront, the port authority
seems more interested in real estate development than flight paths. Why not
sell the land, pay down the debt, and focus on the job of running a safe and
efficient airport?

The events of Sept. 11 change the rules for everything in America. They
should change the rules in Massachusetts, too. Under the old world order,
political appointees with little or no experience in aviation and security
could run Massport. Under the new world order, they should not be allowed to
do so. Buckingham is a smart, hardworking individual who helps employees
feel good about themselves? Fine, put her in charge of the MDC or the DPW.
The person who runs Massport should be the most qualified professional
available.

In the meantime, confiscating bagel knives or prohibiting curbside parking
is not enhanced security. It's a joke. Acting Governor Swift should declare
the death of the culture of patronage at Massport and the dawn of a new
culture of professionalism.

Studies and investigations will help authorities unravel the sequence of
events leading up to Sept. 11. We do not need them to understand that
something went very wrong at Logan. Two planes were taken over by
terrorists. They killed thousands of people. Massport chairman Robinson said
the knowledge ''made me sick ... it still does.''

Do something about it.

This story ran on page A15 of the Boston Globe on 9/18/2001.
Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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A Boston Globe editorial

Crisis at Massport

WITH GOOD salaries and strong revenue from the operation of Logan
International Airport, officials of the quasi-public Massachusetts Port
Authority have viewed themselves as superior to other state transportation
managers. But tomorrow's Massport board meeting will find an agency humbled
by the hijackings last week of two airliners that led to the carnage at the
World Trade Center.

Massport maintains that Logan's security breaches are not unique in the
topsy-turvy world of airports, where safety responsibilities are strewn
among individual airlines, public authorities, the Federal Aviation
Administration, and state and federal police. But the performance of
Massport's safety director, Joseph Lawless, has placed Massport outside the
pale.

After the hijacking, Lawless had the temerity to rebuff US marshals who
arrived to augment security at Logan. The former State Police officer and
driver for ex-Governor Weld touts a security strategy that pays $1 million
in overtime to the State Police. Yet in 1999 and 2000, FAA agents uncovered
60 serious security breaches at Logan, ranging from inattentive luggage
screeners to incursions by agents into planes parked overnight.

The board's first order of business is to ensure maximum cooperation with
federal law enforcement authorities and the agency's experienced director of
aviation, Thomas Kinton. Lawless has sought to elude such oversight in the
past. He shouldn't be given another chance.

The future of Massport director Virginia Buckingham is also open to
question. Two years ago, former Governor Paul Cellucci chose Buckingham, his
chief of staff, rather than conduct a nationwide search for a transportation
professional. It was a bad decision rooted in naked politics. Buckingham has
brought some reforms to the patronage-laden agency. But with threats looming
so large to both public safety and financial security at Massport, the
authority belongs in the hands of someone with the technical and managerial
experience to run an international airport and working port.

Acting Governor Jane Swift should also consider whether the seven-member
unpaid board, composed of advertising, personnel, community, and labor
experts, is best for the task. Chairman Mark Robinson, a former federal
prosecutor, is familiar with international security issues. But his first
priority is his law practice. It is also unclear if the lengthy staggered
terms of board members protect the agency from the vagaries of politics, as
intended, or undermine accountability during changes in gubernatorial
administrations.

The board composition is a subject for deliberation. Current personnel
shortcomings deserve prompt remedy.

This story ran on page A20 of the Boston Globe on 9/19/2001.
Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.
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