At a time when the Democratic presidential field has begun to dwindle — high profile candidates such as Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif) and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro have recently exited the race — former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is just getting started.
Patrick entered the race last November with less than a year to go until the presidential election. It was a shockingly late start considering some candidates, namely former Congressman John Delaney and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, formally announced their candidacies way back in 2017.
But the governor is far from bothered about what many may consider a disadvantage in an already oversaturated field.
“The [candidate] who’s winning right now is named ‘undecided,’” Patrick quipped in a telephone call with ESSENCE while en route to South Carolina’s Lowcountry. “It’s 60 to 70 percent of the voters and in each of the early states, higher in some places, who are undecided. So, if you had made up your mind, I’m not late for you.”
In fact, Patrick is so unbothered, so confident in his campaign, that on Monday his campaign announced its first major ad buy. The name of the ad? “Not Too Late.” Of course, its intended targets are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, with significant investments in New Hampshire and South Carolina in particular.
The ad acknowledged that the governor had planned to announce his candidacy in what would have been considered a timelier fashion, but around the same time, his wife, Diane Patrick, was diagnosed with uterine cancer, bringing that plan to a halt.
Diane Patrick has since been declared cancer-free, and she was the one, according to the ad, who encouraged her husband to get back into the “fight for our democracy.” The governor still believed he had a path.
“It is a big field, a talented field. Many of them are my friends,” Patrick said. “But, it’s a field that I think is at risk of missing the moment.”
The “moment” the governor refers to is one that will “renew and expand” on the coveted American dream. Right now, he opines, there is a lot of focus on replacing the current occupant of the White House, for a lot of shared reasons, he acknowledges.
Still, he insists, there’s an opportunity to be taken advantage of by revisiting the American dream, one that “comes along once every few generations when people confront the difference between our reality and our ideals and decide we’re going to work to close that gap.”
Patrick believes he has the skillset and experience to lead the country towards this goal.
“The range of life and leadership experience that I have, having grown up in poverty, and had a chance through college and law school, and working as a civil rights attorney, and as a business executive, and as a two-term governor is unlike anybody else in the field,” he said. “They have ideas. I have results. I think missing this moment, it’s just too much to let go.”
For Patrick, that means focusing on ensuring every child has access to a great school, that everyone has access to food, affordable housing, and healthcare and so much more.
“It is the ability not to be limited by your circumstances at birth or your circumstances in any moment,” he said.
Patrick, who was the first Black governor of Massachusetts, serving from 2007 to 2015, pointed to his record in office as an example of how government “can and should work to help the betterment of all its people,” even in the midst of the 2008 economic crisis.
He also pointed to the results that came from his stint as governor — from addressing sentencing reform and climate change to expanding healthcare and more — as proof that he can go beyond the mere “plans” that other candidates have been offering.
“We didn’t get everything right, but we did all we could to do all the good we could for all the people we could with all the time we had. And I think that’s what the job demanded,” he added. “I think that’s why Massachusetts is stronger coming out of the recession than it was going in. And that is an opportunity, I think in some ways, that faces us nationally, and one not to miss.”
However, as much as Patrick touts his record, it is a record that he will have to get out to voters, particularly those outside of Massachusetts who are not familiar with him, or his policies. And he has already missed six Democratic debates (which candidates have had to qualify for with donations and poll numbers). On that note, he says almost flippantly, “we will qualify when we qualify.”
“The debates for me are not an engine themselves. I realize they have an importance, maybe an outsized importance, in this race as a means to actually communicate with voters…but for me it’s more important to meet voters in settings where I can actually exchange views with them.”
That way, he says, he will be able to speak to voters about his own experiences and how it informs his response to their needs. It will also help him to directly hear their issues and the ideas they may have, ones that he may not have thought of himself.
“For me, policy is not that interesting in the abstract. It’s interesting when it actually touches people. And so being able to engage with people and understand what they really worry about, that matters. It makes me better at the job. It makes me better as a candidate,” he added.
As such, Patrick has been hitting the campaign trail heavy, having already been to New Hampshire and making his way to South Carolina — two crucial early states — by the time he spoke to ESSENCE this week. And like all others on the trail, he has been unable to escape the scrutiny. In the governor’s case, the circumstances around his ex-brother-in-law, Bernard Sigh, once again came into focus once he entered.
Sigh was twice convicted in the rape of Patrick’s sister, Rhonda Patrick-Sigh, his estranged wife at the time (Note: In the most recent rape, which took place in 2017, Sigh was sentenced to up to eight years in prison ). A hearing officer decided back in 2007, following the first rape, and kidnapping, that Sigh did not need to register as a sex offender in Massachusetts since technically, Massachusetts law did not specifically encompass “spousal rape.”
As the Boston Globe reports, when two women with the Sex Offender Registry Board tried to change the ruling, the hearing officer quit, then sued the state, securing a settlement. Just before Patrick left office, he fired both of the women involved —the board member who had tried to overrule the decision and the agency’s executive director. Eyebrows were raised at his intervention in the case, especially now, in a post-#MeToo world.
Saundra Edwards, the former chair of the Sex Offender Registry Board sued Patrick and the state claiming defamation and retaliation in 2014 over the matter. Patrick insisted that the officials were fired because their actions were not appropriate. The case against Patrick was dismissed in 2017, as the Washington Post notes. The case against the state is still pending.
“Our administration and my wife and I personally have been leaders in the area of domestic and sexual abuse and violence. My wife herself is a survivor from a previous marriage and she’s been an outspoken leader in that respect,” the former governor said. “My sister and her former husband had [a] terrible experience early in their marriage, an amazing restoration of their relationship and ultimately the demise of that. And a lot of that is public record. I don’t need to get into it. What is not correct is an allegation that he was somehow favored because of my intervention. That issue was the subject of a lawsuit, which was dismissed.”
Sexual violence, he added, is a very serious concern, stressing, “I’ve tried to conduct myself as [an individual], as a professional and as a leader in a way that modeled a better, more respectful, more humane or caring leader.”
For now, Patrick remains focused on the task at hand, communicating with voters, engaging with voters directly, and working to ensure that the policy proposals and leadership that he offers is actually important to them, and most importantly, earning voter trust.
“Voters should be careful not to let pundits and pollsters and the wise guys and gals tell them how they should use their power. Their power is the vote. It’s not late until they make their decisions individually. And I’m just asking folks to give us a close look,” he said. “Give me a chance to earn their trust. And as they look at my record and look at our policy proposals and they consider the field, I think they will see that there isn’t anyone else who has the range of life and leadership experience that I do building bridges to make change that lasts.”