By Christina M. Greer
Deval Laurdine Patrick is an American politician, civil rights lawyer, author, and businessman who served as the 71st Governor of Massachusetts, from 2007 to 2015. He was first elected in 2006, succeeding Mitt Romney who chose not to run for reelection. He was reelected in 2010 and is the only African American to date to have served as Governor of Massachusetts.
When thinking about Deval Patrick’s possible 2020 presidential run, I am reminded of the famous Chicago saying, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.” As of now, Patrick is in some ways a man without a country. He has not held political office since 2015; he is currently a managing director at Bain Capital (the investment firm made famous by millionaire Mitt Romney’s association with it); and he has kept a relatively low profile in Democratic politics over the past few years.
Most Americans do not know who Deval Patrick is or how he could ever be considered a contender for what promises to be an incredibly crowded 2020 Democratic presidential field. However, to underestimate Patrick would be a mistake.
Sometimes the guy nobody sent is just the person you need to get the work done.
Patrick has been successful in politics, business and public service. Originally from the South Side of Chicago, he has consistently worked his way through some of the most prestigious institutions in our nation: Milton Academy, Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He’s practiced law at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund as well as at white-shoe law firms. He served as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights division of the United States Department of Justice during Pres. Bill Clinton’s tenure, where he worked on issues including racial profiling and police misconduct. And he was the first black American to be elected as governor of Massachusetts in the history of the state, and only the second black American to be elected governor in the history of the nation.
Patrick’s accomplishments are clear, but does he have “it”? It seems like the Democrats are in an era of the fetishized charismatic male politicians—the Barack Obama, Beto O’Rourke, Gavin Newsom and Cory Booker-type candidates—to name just a few. Can Deval Patrick excite and inspire voters across the country with a more understated appeal? The lack of buzz for Patrick may have to do with the fact that he doesn’t seem to have had a moment that makes Democratic voters take notice. Yes, he was a relatively successful governor of a state still synonymous with the Kennedy clan. However, he isn’t in a rock band (that I know of), or shoveling voters’ walkways or giving lofty speeches to crowded auditoriums…yet.
Patrick has been successful in his personal fortunes, but does he exude relatability? Another potential Achilles heel for him could be his corporate relationships. In addition to his employment at Bain Capital, Patrick has served as executive vice president and general counsel of Coca-Cola Co. He worked in similar roles for oil company Texaco. Indeed, business and financial experience will be seen as a plus and a necessity for some within the party. But in a moment when the progressive wing demands some sort of grassroots credentials, will Patrick be able to shed the veneer of a corporate insider who is qualified but aloof?
Time will tell. As 2016 has shown us, voters in this country can be fickle. To quote Emily Dickinson, “The Heart wants what it wants—or else it does not care.”
Christina Greer is a Political Scientist at the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research; an Associate Professor of Political Science and American Studies at Fordham University; Author of Black Ethnics; and Host of The Aftermath podcast on ozy.com