, Gloucester, MA

April 14, 2011

Editorial: Budget, EPA actions show Tierney's distance from district realities

Staking out his vote against last weekend's congressional budget compromise — the one that staved off a partial government shutdown — Congressman John Tierney Wednesday criticized the Republican push to rein in spending, saying "this is all about ideology."

No, it's not. It's about common sense. It's about recognizing the needs of taxpayers. It is, quite frankly, about being in touch.

Even while crediting President Obama for preserving funding for Head Start and the $5,500 maximum for Pell education grants, for example, Tierney said he thinks the president simply needs to better make his case to the American people.

But doesn't Tierney realize Obama's negotiators signed onto this compromise, too?

There are reasons to vote for or against the budget compromise — and no one wants cuts that wrongly deny benefits to seniors and others who are indeed entitled to them, as Tierney suggests.

But remember that, when U.S. Sen. Scott Brown visited Gloucester last month for a Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce luncheon, he defended his vote to cut $61 billion in health care spending by citing an audit confirming that some $76 billion had been paid to recipients who did not, in any way, qualify for them. Is Tierney not familiar with that audit?

Indeed, in outlining his budget stand — just like in other issues these days — Tierney has only reaffirmed how hopelessly detached he is with the communities and the people in his district. And that starts right here in Gloucester.

It's not often, for example, that a mayor calls out a siting congressman for lack of support. But that's what Mayor Carolyn Kirk rightfully did last month when she saw Tierney's apparent lack of interest in fighting a city waiver from a $60 million Environmental Protection Agency order to install a sewage treatment system — one that statistics show will not provide any benefit.

Indeed, through a letter in the Times, City Hall administrative chief James Duggan detailed calls to Tierney's office that went unreturned. And while Tierney has since shown the city he has contacted the EPA to note the city's plight, his missives suggest only that.

OK, he called EPA regional chief Curt Spalding's attention to the city's formal responses. Great — but there is no mention of any endorsement and commitment to fighting the city's case.

Surprised? Don't be.

Yes, Tierney rose to the occasion more than once to join the fight against the job-killing policies and enforcement actions of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries service last year — when election challenger Bill Hudak cited a paltry Tierney record of supporting Cape Ann's fishermen — yet his name and support has been notably absent in recent efforts.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry has stepped up that fight, along with Sen. Scott Brown and Congressman Barney Frank to demand NOAA fisheries changes that are long overdue. Notably, a letter to the Department of Commerce that calls for sliding any uncaught allocations of fish from the 2010 fishing year onto next year's limits — a very logical proposal — was signed by Kerry, Frank and freshman Democratic Congressman William Keating, but not Tierney. That again raises questions about Tierney's commitment to this vital issue for his district.

None of this, of course, even touches on Tierney's lack of respect for anyone who dared question his statements regarding his wife, Patrice's, indictment last year on tax charges over her handling of her brother's off-shore Internet gaming schemes.

None of it touches on questions that still linger over his vote against a bill that put new clamps on off-shore gaming payments — and his dismissal of whether that constituted a conflict of interest.

Yet, none of these recent developments restore any sense of confidence that Tierney understands or appreciates what people and communities in his district — especially in Gloucester and on Cape Ann — are facing.

For her part, Kirk seems hopeful the congressman will be more attentive to Gloucester's issues. "I think it took a little bit of a dust-up," she said, suggesting both her office and Tierney can "move on from that." But can a "dust up" bring the kind of jarring wakeup call Tierney truly needs?

It's a long 19 months until the next election — and that's no matter what shape the state's redistricting takes.

But if Tierney's role were squeezed out in the process of cutting the state's congressional seat, it frankly wouldn't be any great loss to his Gloucester and Cape Ann constituents.