FIRST IMPRESSIONS OFTEN count for a lot, and for Ron Mariano that’s probably not a good thing.
The new House speaker gave an interview to Channel 5 reporter Sharman Sacchetti that was quickly turning heads because of his circumspect answers that seemed dismissive of her queries. Mariano may have shed his signature moustache, but not his reputation for sometimes offering little more than gruff answers to questions.
Sacchetti asked him how he thought the state’s troubled coronavirus vaccine rollout was going. Instead of offering a concise, well-considered opinion, or just resorting to every politician’s fallback of giving the impression of earnestly answering an important question without actually saying much at all, Mariano more acted like he was bantering with a fellow rep in the House members’ lounge.
“I have no idea,” Mariano replied, a candidly bracing answer that seemed to leave Sacchetti taken aback.
When she tried to follow-up — and seemingly give Mariano a chance to recover by asking whether he is looking into the issue — things only seemed to get worse for the new House leader.
“I just got here,” he said.
“Just got here?” writes Globe columnist Adrian Walker. “Sure, he just ascended to the speaker’s job. But he’s been in the State House for nearly 30 years.”
In Mariano’s world, however, there is the inside dynamic of the House, terrain with which he is intimately familiar, and then there is the sudden spotlight of the speaker’s post, with cameras turned in your direction and questions coming at you constantly. He’s a 74-year-old rookie in that role, and that is presumably what he meant.
His comments underscore the sometimes awkward public profile cut by legislative leaders like the House speaker or Senate president. They are major state figures, part of the “Big 3” of state government leadership along with the governor. But unlike the governor, who must appeal to voters across the state to win office, Mariano is only a public-facing man-of-the-people in the Quincy-based House district he has represented for three decades.
The voting constituency he had to win over to land in the speaker’s seat is the other 159 members of the House. And with Mariano’s ascension appearing to be wired from the start, that race played out more like a Soviet election with one candidate on the ballot than a zesty contest among candidates with competing ideas for how to lead the House forward.
Walker is scathing in his take on the veteran insider, pronouncing the best thing about his tenure so far is Marino’s vow not to claim an extended run as speaker.
But after the 12-year reign of Robert DeLeo, who avoided the press at all costs and rarely gave interviews, it would be refreshing if Mariano decided to be more accessible and open. As much as the Channel 5 interview seemed to go sideways, there are plenty of examples of political figures coming back from bombing on a first impression.
Mariano flubbed his first moment under the klieg lights by offering curt, four-word answers to complicated questions. Bill Clinton famously suffered from the opposite problem in his disastrously logorrheic address to the Democratic National Convention in 1988. (The biggest cheers came more than 30 minutes in, when Clinton began a sentence by declaring,“In conclusion.”)
In other words, there are lots of second acts in American politics. To help Mariano along, after just a week in the speaker’s post, the curtain rises today on a new session of the Legislature, with the audience eagerly watching the lead performance.