Candidate Chris Gabrieli Stumps at Field Gallery
By MAX HART
If you have seen the television commercials or read the ads in the newspaper, you know that Chris Gabrieli is first and foremost, a man who expects to get the job done.
It is something you learn quickly when you meet the Democratic candidate for governor.
"I think the defining theme of my campaign is results, and what it takes to get them," Mr. Gabrieli said this weekend while visiting the Island on a campaign stop. "I think what has been absent in politics is not an identification of the agenda - I don't think there is any candidate for governor that is going to say that education isn't a problem, more jobs wouldn't be better, housing costs shouldn't be lower, or health care shouldn't be better.
"The question is: who could really get it done, and who is willing to step forward and be less of an election year promiser without a whole lot of ideas and more of someone who implements his ideas?"
For Mr. Gabrieli, the answer is clear, and over the next month he hopes to convince Massachusetts voters that he should be the next governor of the state. To do that, he must first defeat Attorney General Thomas Reilly and Deval Patrick in the Democratic primary on Sept. 19, something he believes will happen once the public hears his plans for a stronger commonwealth.
On Saturday afternoon, Mr. Gabrieli spoke with the Gazette before a fundraiser at the Field Gallery in West Tisbury. He talked of the importance of maintaining the state's reputation as a leader in science and technology, his support for the Cape Wind project and his plans to convert an electorate that he said has been trained to expect little from the people who lead it.
"The frustration I hear from people about politics is they feel like Democrats and Republicans say a lot in an election campaign that is very general and then don't get a lot done," he said. "And in Massachusetts, there is a sense of tremendous frustration over that because there are real problems that have been growing - lack of jobs growth, the cost of living so rapidly escalating, the continuing educational gap - so people are looking for someone who gets what he needs to get it done.
"That, to me, is the biggest issue - this sort of credibility in this campaign. Not just goals, but getting results."
It's something that has come fairly easily to Mr. Gabrieli in his life and career.
Growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., he went to Harvard with hopes of becoming a doctor. But when his family's business, GMIS, Inc. (a software company focused on helping health care systems run more efficiently) began to fail, he left medical school and eventually took over the business, which flourished under his leadership.
But it was at his next job - as a venture capitalist for Bessemer Venture Partners in Wellesley, which specializes in investing in bio-tech and high-tech companies - that he made his mark. In his 15 years there, Mr. Gabrieli steered the firm to its place among the most successful in New England, by investing billions of dollars into companies that created thousands of jobs throughout the state. The job also made him quite wealthy in the process.
However, Mr. Gabrieli left business six years ago to concentrate on public policy, a move he said was spawned by his involvement with MassINC - a think tank that promotes growth among the middle class through a focus on economic opportunity, quality of education and other issues. He served as chairman for six years up until 2002.
During those six years, Mr. Gabrieli also turned unsuccessfully to politics. Most recent was his failed bid for lieutenant governor in 2002; he spent more than $5 million on the campaign.
Mr. Gabrieli is also interested and engaged in the economic health of Massachusetts - specifically in the research and development areas often associated with the state's focus on life sciences. He said Gov. Mitt Romney's threat to veto the stem cell research bill in 2005 was a catalyst for his current campaign. Through a savvy public relations blitz, Mr. Gabrieli helped lead the fight against the veto and sway the state legislature into overriding it, allowing Massachusetts to compete with California and New Jersey, which already support embryonic stem cell research.
As governor, he said he would propose putting more than one billion dollars in bonds into research over the course of a decade.
"Not just into stem cell research, but into the advanced science and technology fields that drive the growth in our economy," he said. "Massachusetts is an innovation-based economy - that's great news. We're one of the two best properly positioned economies in the world to be innovation based, along with northern California. The question is, are we going to keep that seat? Because there are plenty of people who want it.
"I do feel that we are at risk of slipping, and the low job creation numbers in the last four years really illustrate that," he added. "I mean, 46th in the nation in job creation - that does not cut it."
Like Mr. Patrick, Mr. Gabrieli supports the controversial Cape Wind project to put 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, but said the focus of new energy sources should not only be on renewable energy.
He cited several examples, including a company called American Super Conductor, which came out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is working with the existing electrical grid to make electricity more efficient, and a Lowell company improving solar technology.
But if there is one issue Mr. Gabrieli is most passionate about, it is education.
In 1998, he joined a statewide task force devoted to building after-school programs for students. The following year, he founded Massachusetts 2020, a nonprofit foundation devoted to expanding after-school programs. Since then, the foundation has raised millions of dollars and started an array of programs for schoolchildren.
"It is certainly a place where I think what I have done illustrates the kind of governor I would be," he said. "Six years ago when I got involved in the after-school issue, it was through being asked to chair a commission for the mayor of Boston. Six years later, we've raised $35 million and there are thousands of kids in after-school programs across the state because of that work.
"And we've taken it to the next level, to public policy where Massachusetts will be the first state in America this fall where kids at 10 schools will actually go on a different school schedule than we have had for a hundred years," he continued. "Instead of going 180 days of six hours, they are going to go 30 per cent more time with more help for homework and tutoring - and more arts and music and sports and drama and other things that really engage and round out kids. And that's the kind of deeper change that I think we're going to need to really make a difference."
Turning to the Vineyard, Mr. Gabrieli said he was well aware of the problems facing the Island, in particular the housing crunch, which he said was part of the statewide problem of generating housing for the middle class. And while he said he was impressed by the Island's ability to come up with its own ideas for solutions, he knows it will take help from Beacon Hill to maintain the Vineyard's unique character.
"The housing bank, whether it's flawed on some of its details or not - it seems to me the idea of saying ‘we want to deal with the fact that it's getting harder and harder for people to live here, and we need to do something about it and control our own fate,' is just the right attitude," he said. "And this is where I feel the failure of the governor to get results is poignant for you. All six towns voted for it, you got it through the senate, it died in the house and you have a governor that is not doing anything about it. Here are the locals embracing a very progressive proposal and the state of Massachusetts can't move to make it happen. Why not? . . .
"If communities embrace a solution that actually increases the supply of housing toward middle class and working class folks, recognizing they want to have a blend in their own communities, then we should make it happen.
"One of the things I am really impressed by, as someone from outside the Vineyard, is the level of civic energy and leadership on this Island," he added. "But I recognize that sometimes communities can't do it by themselves."