The Boston Globe: For lawmakers, Bunker Hill Day came bearing gifts: cameras

6/18/09
By Matt Viser

Two court officers sat outside the House chamber, reclining in their chairs as one let out a big yawn. One lawmaker, Representative Bradford Hill, Republican of Ipswich, was spotted walking through the hallways in athletic shorts, a T-shirt, and running shoes.

Some offices were completely closed. Lights out. Doors locked.

“I’m working today,’’ said Senator James B. Eldridge, Democrat of Action, after giving directions to a wayward tourist looking for an exit. “My whole staff is here.’’

On yesterday’s Bunker Hill Day holiday, which is observed in Suffolk County and normally brings work to a halt at the State House, some of the state’s top political leaders tried to project the image that they were working hard, in part by talking before television cameras.

Senate Republicans, all five of them present and accounted for, held a midday caucus to try to demonstrate they were hard at work. It was the first time they had held a caucus on Bunker Hill Day, they said, as they munched on pasta salad, ham and cheese sandwiches, and Double Stuf Oreos.

“You could throw a bowling ball down a hallway,’’ said Senator Robert Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican, “and not hit anyone.’’

Midway through the GOP meeting, Senate President Therese Murray crashed the party and chided them for not inviting her.

Not more than 30 seconds after entering the room she left, saying, “I’ll continue to go do the people’s work.’’

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo then invited a gaggle of reporters into his office to record a meeting he was holding with two other lawmakers.

DeLeo had a legal pad in front of him with no notes written on it. His spokesman directed one of the other lawmakers to begin talking to DeLeo as cameras recorded the meeting. They mumbled a few words and talked about meetings next week.

The Legislature recently voted to retain two holidays – Bunker Hill Day and Evacuation Day, observed on March 17 – that are observed in Suffolk County, where an estimated 35,000 public employees get the day off. All state employees are granted two floating days off.

The holidays, which each cost the state an estimated $5 million a year, have become a subject of public scorn as Beacon Hill has been rocked by a series of political scandals.

“When you review the actual historical context of what actually happened on Bunker Hill, I think you would be impressed in terms of the importance,’’ said DeLeo, who voted in favor of keeping the holidays.

Shortly after DeLeo’s meeting, Governor Deval Patrick invited reporters in to watch a portion of a meeting he held with a group trying to promote online civic engagement. Patrick said he would sign legislation to eliminate the holidays.

“It’s odd to have a holiday that is unique to one county,’’ he said. “I am governor of the whole state, and I have a workforce that works throughout the whole state. It’s odd to have some workers have the day off.’’

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