Since Suffolk University Law School graduated its first class in 1909, 27 state governments have come and gone in Massachusetts. And it's a certainty that Suffolk Law men (and later women) served in the administration of every one of them: public service, after all, reflects school founder Gleason Archer's ideal of bettering oneself while bettering one's community. Nearly a century later, that tradition continues in the administration of Governor Deval Patrick, as Suffolk Law graduates can be found in every corner of the State House--including three at the cabinet level.
Every year many of the hundreds of bright, ambitious students graduating from Suffolk University Law School head for positions of influence, not a few of which are located only steps away, atop Beacon Hill.
One such graduate, Suzanne M. Bump JD '88, commands a busy office suite on the 21st floor of the glass-and-concrete beehive of state bureaucracy known as One Ashburton Place. She is Secretary of the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, an architect of jobs and a referee of fair play between employers and employees. The office is a long way from the tiny town of Whitman, Massachusetts, where as a funeral director's daughter Bump defied convention and fused law and politics into a career that shows no sign of slowing down.
Another alumnus, Michael E. Festa JD '79, has his own corner office on Beacon Hill, his own grand view, and his own place in the still-new administration of Governor Patrick. He is Secretary of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, dedicated to security and dignity for seniors. The son of a waitress and postal worker, Festa grew up in Melrose, Massachusetts, so determined for a role in public affairs that he carried a briefcase to high school every day.
And in the West Wing of the State House sits (briefly, for his is an on-the-go work style) Kyle Sullivan JD '95, the Press Secretary of Governor Patrick. From Salisbury, Massachusetts, and the youngest of eight children, Sullivan is the son of a Great Society foot soldier turned clerk-magistrate and is proud to have been taught by such stalwart Suffolk Law professors as Joseph W. Glannon and John E. Fenton Jr.
All three exude confidence, optimism, and purpose with a bit of mischief mixed in, the kind that lightens the day and deflates the ego. What they all believe in is Deval Patrick and his administration's ability to improve people's lives. They have given themselves over to the notion that their service can help bring about change. And they are exemplars of one of the core missions and noblest traditions of Suffolk Law.
Michael Festa has been telling stories in courtrooms and in front of cameras and out on the campaign trail for so long now that he has mastered the art of getting people to connect with and like him. Within minutes of my sitting down in his office, Festa, his face flickering between smile and deadpan, conjures up the image of a gangly kid toting a briefcase to classes at sports-crazed Melrose High. It's a delightful sketch, delivered in a voice both proud and self-deprecating, and the cascade of words from behind the big, polished desk only amplifies how successful the kid has become. "Oh yes, that was me," he says. And we both laugh.
At age 19, while on full scholarship at Tufts University--majoring in political science, of course--Festa was elected to the Melrose School Committee, certainly a first of some kind. That recollection prompts him to reach behind his desk for a black-and-white photograph of that historic committee. There he is, bottom left, under a thick mop of disco hair and festooned in a super-sized bow tie: John Travolta meets Richie Cunningham. And he is smiling in the way you smile when you figure out you are smarter than the teacher but not dumb enough to show it. Later, Festa stepped up to the Melrose Board of Aldermen even before he was fitted for his cap and gown at Tufts.
His three years at Suffolk Law followed, during which time he and classmate Robert Sinsheimer JD '79 won the moot court competition. "Mike carried me in moot court," recalls Sinsheimer, himself a successful Boston trial lawyer. "Mike was a very impressive guy even then. That competition was a ton of work, and Mike never flinched."
Festa paired law school with an aide's job under the State House golden dome. He met all kinds of colorful characters in the legislature--not surprising in this chronically colorful town--and became convinced that he belonged among them. A run for the House of Representatives in 1986 ended in an excruciating nine vote loss for Festa, and four years later, in a year of political upheaval, he lost a close bid for the state Senate.
Married at this point and raising two children, Festa concentrated on practicing law, having already learned the ropes as a Middlesex assistant district attorney. But there is no inoculation against politics, and inevitably Festa became a ticket topping force on the Melrose Board of Aldermen in the 1990s, leading to his election to the House of Representatives in 1998.
Festa was truly in his glory, irresistible to a widening assortment of legislator pals and a font of good humor (not to mention sage advice on backyard gardening--you can still catch his gardening show on cable TV). But no dilettante, Festa carved out a role as an advocate for senior citizens, carrying the day on bills addressing prescriptions, community care, and other issues.
While running for district attorney in 2006, Festa became acquainted with a passionate former civil rights attorney who was campaigning hard to be governor. The two appeared together so often at various events that at one of them, Deval Patrick, the gubernatorial candidate, joked to the audience, "Today I am going to give Mike Festa's speech, and he is going to give mine."
Festa wound up dropping out of the DA race, but he declared his support for Patrick, one of the first in the House to do so. And in Massachusetts politics, that counts for something: after his election, Patrick tapped the Festa to lead the Executive Office of Elder Affairs.
Like most executives, Festa's schedule is peppered with meetings and working lunches, conference calls and a parade of appointments. He's always toting home a briefcase full of reports and memos for his perusal. And like other secretaries, he is on call whenever the governor needs him. But Festa also makes time to get out to senior centers throughout the state--time to chat and catch up on the concerns of elders face to face.
Politics is a tough business, he says, although he makes it look otherwise. "It's a business that works on relationship, not philosophy," he opines, himself a perfect example.
"I've never been the shy and retiring type," Festa, 54, adds. "I take this business very seriously, but not personally."
And he cannot imagine doing anything else. "I loved the idea of public service," he says. "Since I was a kid, I loved it."
Ever loquacious, he is still talking in the hallway as I am leaving, until finally he is intercepted and led away by one of his assistants.
Suzanne Bump glides into a glass-paneled office high in the sky to make sure her assistants have attended to me in the short minute I have waited. She fusses over me even though this appointment, unlike so many with politicians, begins on time.
Bump responds directly to all my questions, rarely venturing off point and smartly ticking off answers. Attired in a pastel-colored suit and floral scarf, she is a steady, pleasant presence. All, it seems, is in order here. Memos and people and reports flow in and flow out. A crisp air of competence permeates. When an aide opens the door to give her the chance to wind down the interview, Bump waves her off, determined to finish what she started with this reporter.
I suggest pragmatic as a word to describe her, and Bump smiles. "'There is a right way and a wrong way of doing everything,'" she says in a voice not quite her own. "I can still hear my father saying that. I guess that's where I get it from."
"My father didn't know where he went wrong," she continues. "He sent me to Catholic schools and Catholic college. And what did I turn out to be? A liberal, a lawyer, and a legislator." She laughs.
At Cardinal Spellman High School and Boston College, Bump dedicated herself to her studies, oblivious to such social events as football games. Yet when a woman in her neighborhood decided to run for the Whitman Board of Selectmen, the college freshman sat up and noticed. And got involved.
Another candidate she met along the way was Andrew Card, a one-time state representative who would go on to become White House chief of staff. Card helped open doors, and Bump, fresh out of college with an English degree, wound up as an assistant to state representative Elizabeth Metayer of Braintree. When Metayer retired in 1984, Bump decided to run for the seat, just as she began Suffolk Law in the night division.
Like so many night students before and after her, Bump, 52, toiled all day in the State House only to "roll down the hill" to the old Suffolk Law building on Temple Street at 6 p.m., just as most of her colleagues began winding down for the day.
"The first year was hellish," she recalls. "I remember sitting in class trying to listen while writing out campaign brochures, and then bolting to some campaign event the minute I was free."
"She was a great student--I think she got an A in my class," counters Professor Marc Greenbaum, who specializes in labor issues. "She was always more interested in policy than politics, taking a 'let's get-it-done' approach. We became friends and remain friends to this day."
On the hill, Bump advanced by dint of mastery of detail to chairmanship of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, and she helped pass numerous bills on wages, hours, work conditions, and occupational safety. When she lost her seat in a primary in 1992, Bump, who had practiced law intermittently, joined the American Insurance Association, a trade group, as a lawyer and lobbyist. Many states wanted to emulate workplace laws pioneered in Massachusetts, and Bump showed them how.
Next stop, in 2000: Citigroup, as a Washington-based lobbyist. She winces at the memory. Bump signed up planning to stay five years, then resolved to stick it out for three years, but ended up lasting less than two.
"Let's just say I wasn't comfortable in that environment, that corporate culture," she says.
Bump quit in spring 2002 to join Shannon O'Brien's campaign for Massachusetts governor, but Mitt Romney would eventually best the former state treasurer. Two years later, however, a fresh crop of Democratic would-be candidates for governors came courting Bump, recognized by then as one of the party's leading political operatives.
The one who intrigued her most, the one who articulated the most compelling vision, was Deval Patrick. And so once again, Bump had her hands on the levers of a gubernatorial campaign--except this one quickly gained momentum and went on to triumph over Patrick's opponent, former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey. When Patrick named her to his cabinet in December 2006, Bump chafed to get at the job.
These days, Bump leads a hurried existence. She is responsible not only for managing the office's 1,600 employees and for shaping long-term state policy on workplace issues, but also for being the internal face of the administration, sometimes dashing off to her old State House haunts to testify before legislative panels, the queue of pending emails and telephone calls and other demands lengthening every minute of the day.
And she revels in it all.
"This is the best job I have ever had," says Bump. "I love what I am doing." Among her proudest accomplishments is the recent launch of the Underground Economy Task Force, a new initiative aimed at tightening penalties against under the-table business operations.
As we stand to say good-bye, I mention Bump's fondness for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which I had learned about from her official biography. She brightens, mentioning that her husband proposed to her many years ago during intermission at Boston Symphony Hall.
"I'll be there tonight," she says of Symphony Hall. But until then, she returns to her multiple tasks at hand.
Kyle Sullivan at age 38 the youngest of this trio, has a comparison to make about his answer to the call of service.
"I would say we were a Kennedy family," he says during a laughter punctuated conversation in his somewhat spartan office (in truth, his BlackBerry and cell phone constitute his work space, wherever they travel with him). "It was a big Irish family," he recalls. "You grew up with the talk. You felt a call to action."
Sullivan's is a booming laugh, one he uses to good effect. In addition to the governor and the pack of reporters who write about the governor, Sullivan's world is peopled with the likes of the Red Sox and Bruce Springsteen and, of course, his wife and toddler son. In all this, Sullivan counts himself fortunate, enough so to temper even the most pressure-packed days with good humor, and to regularly unleash that booming laughter.
Sullivan initially meets me in the finely appointed governor's office on the third floor of the State House, and we practically sprint downstairs to the press office. "Do you always walk this quickly?" I ask. "Remember," the veteran press handler says out of the side of his mouth. "I used to work for John Kerry: a tall man with long legs who is used to moving very fast."
Boom. Laughter echoes in the hallway.
As the interview progresses, Sullivan, square-shouldered in a slightly rumpled suit and sporting a reddish goatee, mentions that he is the youngest of eight children, and I volunteer that I am the middle of seven. One of his brothers still grumbles about being overlooked in the middle, he says, and then goes uncharacteristically silent for a moment.
"Yeah," he finally concludes. "I'm thinking being the youngest is the best position to be in."
Well positioned. It has been that way for Sullivan for a long time--not that he hasn't worked to create opportunities. Still, many appointees to the Patrick administration owe their jobs to long hours on the campaign trail; for Sullivan, the job came looking for him.
The election won, Patrick cherry-picked the good-natured Sullivan from the staff of House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi JD '71. It was a case of right place, right time.
"I wasn't looking to move up, but when the call came, I knew I would take it," he says. "You get to have instant impact. It's the best experience of my career. It's an honor, really."
Similarly, a chance meeting with an old political adversary (they both lost in a three-way Democratic primary for state representative in Newburyport in 1992 but remained good friends) led to a coveted job as state press secretary in the Boston office of Senator Kerry. The next thing he knew, Sullivan was winging his way to the Middle East on an official Senate fact-finding mission. Over the next five years with Kerry, he went on to serve as deputy state director and interim state director.
Another time, a friend with an extra ticket to a Red Sox game called Sullivan at the last moment to make it a foursome, one of whom was his future wife, a Staten Island native. "The reason I was able to marry her was that she is a not a Yankees fan," he says. "She grew up a Mets fan."
He says that seriously. No boom. No laughter.
A political science major at St. Michael's College in Vermont, Sullivan paid his dues working as an aide to a state senator, all the while juggling his night classes at Suffolk Law.
"To be honest, I was more of a back row guy," he says without prompting. "I was not the one always with the answer."
Yet Sullivan fondly remembers professors Bernie Keenan, Joseph Glannon, and John Fenton Jr. In fact, Fenton taught evidence not only to Sullivan but also to his father, Nick Sullivan JD '65, in the early 1960s.
"I know the family-they are terrific people," says Fenton, who has taught some nine thousand students during his long tenure at Suffolk Law.
Sullivan spent six whirlwind years with Kerry, including almost three months straight on the road handling logistics during the 2004 presidential campaign and as a manager of the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Now his job is to get Patrick's message out. He is out on his doorstep in the predawn darkness most mornings retrieving the Boston Globe and Boston Herald to see how well he did the day before.
Sometimes it is not pretty. Patrick's first year in office has been eventful. "When you see a negative headline, you can't take that too much to heart," Sullivan says. "Nor can you the positive ones."
"It's a battle every day," he goes on. "You go toe-to-toe with some of the best reporters every day. Since I've been here there has been only one slow day. That was the Friday before Christmas."
Boom. The laughter.
Sean P. Murphy JD '91 has worked as an investigative reporter at the Boston Globe for 20 years, focusing on the Big Dig since 2003. He is a member of the Massachusetts Bar.
- photography by kathleen dooher
ALUMNI PROFILESPaul Cherecwich Jr.