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Wolf resigned to quitting

Cape Sen. Dan Wolf said he sees few options for his political future

BY: Jack Sullivan

State Sen. Dan Wolf said on Tuesday that he intends to ask the state Ethics Commission to reconsider its decision requiring him to either divest his holdings in Cape Air or leave office, but he indicated he wouldn’t challenge the ruling in court and likely would step down from the Legislature and possibly abandon his run for governor if the commission doesn’t change its mind.

“I don’t have a lot of avenues,” a sullen Wolf said in a meeting today with CommonWealth editors and reporters. “I don’t see that I have an option.”

The liberal Wolf, who has received an outpouring of support from politicians and many members of the public, said some of his colleagues in the Legislature have indicated they may support a bill changing the law to exempt someone in his situation, which he described as a case of “unintended consequences.” He said he could step down as senator and possibly continue his run for governor, hoping the law is changed. But he said it would be difficult. “It will be a challenge to do that,” he said.

Sen. Robert Hedlund, a Republican from Weymouth who owns his own company, said Wolf is the victim of overreach by the Ethics Commission. “I think he should just hang in there while we seek a legislative remedy. What if he just refused to comply? By the time anything is done to him, we could have a legislative fix in place,” he said. “I disagree with his voting record and I certainly don’t support him for governor, but on this issue I think this is a bad precedent. This has an impact on someone who owns a business at a time we need to attract more business people to the Legislature.”

While Wolf said he feels the Legislature should review the state ethics law in light of his situation, he said he opposes any public campaign to pressure the Ethics Commission to reverse course. “I think the Ethics Commission needs to be insulated from that stuff,” he said.

Wolf, a second-term Democratic senator from Harwich, received an opinion from the Ethics Commission on Aug. 2 saying that, unless he divests himself from Cape Air or the airline ceases flights out of Massport-owned Logan Airport, he would have to step down as senator and end his quest for governor because of the conflict his ownership of the airline creates. The Ethics Commission said Cape Air’s agreement to pay landing fees to Massport constitutes a no-bid contract that is in violation of state ethics laws. The ethics statute forbids state employees such as Wolf, who owns a 20 percent stake in Cape Air, from participating in a no-bid contract.

Wolf said Cape Air’s landing fee arrangement with Massport is not a no-bid contract. He said there is no bidding in connection with the landing fees because they are set uniformly for all airlines operating out of Boston and are not negotiated. “There’s nothing to be influenced,” he said. “It never occurred to me that that was a conflict.”

Massport officials have confirmed that the landing fees that airlines are charged at Logan are not set through negotiations with the airlines.

By law, Wolf has 30 days to comply with the Ethics Commission decision or face an enforcement action. Wolf said divesting his 20 percent ownership in the employee-owned Cape Air would be difficult because the stock is so narrowly held. He said other employees or the company itself would have to buy his stock, which he said would plunge the airline into debt. As for transferring his shares to family members or placing the stock in a blind trust, he said those approaches would be a matter of “mechanics” and a “façade.”

David Giannotti, a spokesman for the Ethics Commission, said the opinion that was issued was from the full board, as opposed to an advisory opinion from a staff member, and is generally the end of the process since there is no appeal route. Giannotti said the commission can revise an opinion if new information is brought to light but the argument over what constitutes a contract regarding Cape Air and Massport “is not newly offered information.”

“There is no formal appeals process on legal opinions,” Giannotti said. “The only remedy available would be through the courts.”

Though Wolf did not absolutely rule out challenging the Ethics Commission decision in court, he said he’s “certainly leaning against” that type of action because of his belief in the role of the Ethics Commission as a watchdog of state government.

“For me to legally take on the Ethics Commission is not something that I have, at the moment, a sufficient appetite for,” he said. “It doesn’t serve the public for me to be in court against the Ethics Commission.”

Wolf, who has been elected twice to the state Senate, said he was concerned about leaving his Cape constituents unrepresented on Beacon Hill. He seemed to struggle with the idea of ending his political career this way. “For me, in 20 days, to step away, to me it’s a sad moment, sort of an ironic moment,” he said. “How does getting me out of the state Senate and out of running for governor serve the public good?”

Mary Anne Marsh, a political consultant with the Dewey Square Group, which political insiders say will be advising state Treasurer Steven Grossman’s gubernatorial campaign, tweeted early last week before Wolf’s ethics ruling was publicly released that the senator was leaving the governor’s race. Asked about the tweet, Wolf said he did not know Marsh and had no intention of politicizing the issue.

“I am not a conspiracy theorist person,” he said. “I can’t get my arms around malicious stuff here.”

A spokesman for Grossman declined to comment on Wolf’s dilemma or say whether he would support legislation to address the situation. “We don’t comment on ongoing potential legal situations,” said campaign executive director D.J. Napolitano. “We’ll run against any challengers that also decide to run.”

Wolf displayed some humor at his situation, which he said is, at once, “Orwellian and Shakespearean,” but mostly “Kafkaesque.”

“Sometimes I wake up thinking I’ve been transformed into a giant cockroach,” he said, referring to Franz Kafka’s novel The Metamorphosis. “That actually might be preferable.”
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