Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Romney's missed opportunity

Talk is starting that Governor Romney may be able to bolster his presidential hopes by taking charge of the situation on the ground in response to the flooding this week. He's been everywhere.

CNN has been carrying Romney's press conferences live, the Weather Channel has been following him around, and he fielded a couple of softballs from Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America this morning (she asked if there were people stranded on roofs waiting for rescue!). The Boston Herald suggested that "Another turn in the national spotlight could introduce Romney to potential presidential supporters across the nation as a take-action leader if he handles it right."

But, Romney may also have to explain why he vetoed millions of dollars of flood intervention funds for the city of Peabody from the budget after the last time that city flooded. From today's Salem News:
Two years after veto, mix of anger, optimism
By Ben Casselman
Staff writer

PEABODY--When Gov. Mitt Romney vetoed nearly $6 million in flood-prevention funding for Peabody in 2004, his spokeswoman said the governor didn't have enough information about why the money was needed.

He has it now.

On Sunday, Romney visited Peabody, where the weekend storm left some parts of the city under 5 feet of water. According to those who were there with him, the governor promised to secure state and federal money not just to help the city recover from this flood, but to help it avoid similar disasters in the future.

"He's certainly aware after he saw what he saw last night," Rep. Joyce Spiliotis said yesterday. "The governor made a commitment (Sunday) night when I was up there with him that he would help."

Romney's office did not return a call seeking comment.

Yesterday, as emergency crews continued to rescue drivers and residents from the flood waters, Peabody officials expressed a mixture of anger that Peabody's flooding problem has been ignored for so long and hope that this latest disaster would finally bring help.

"If this is the event that focuses everyone's attention, from the governor's office on down, then we're going to be better for it in the end," Rep. Ted Speliotis said.

Peabody officials had similar hopes two years ago, when the downtown flooded for the fourth time in eight years. Romney wrote to President Bush urging him to declare it a federal disaster area, and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency urged the city to seek state and federal funding for a long-term solution to the problem.

The Legislature took that advice, approving $5.7 million in flood-prevention money, which would have been matched by more than $10 million in federal funding. Officials said the money would help divert flood waters into Salem Sound, "significantly reduc(ing) downtown flood frequency and related damage."

But in September 2004--less than six months after his letter to President Bush--Romney vetoed the funding, prompting an angry response from Peabody officials.

"We do not understand why something that was a good idea in April is now a bad idea in September," they wrote in a letter after the veto. "Your administration recommended that state funds be used to leverage greater federal funding. Governor, what has changed since that time?"
Peabody Square has been the photo op of the flood, with every network originating their coverage from the site; the New York Times topped page 1 with a picture of the square (above).

The question is whether the "in charge" Romney of the video clips will win the day, or whether the story of Romney's missed opportunity will turn the tide.

(Hat tip: Blue Mass Group)

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