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By Jonathan E. Kaplan '94
Jane Swift has had her share of personal controversy during her few months as acting governor of Massachusetts. But whether it was Swift giving birth to twins or lying on her marriage certificate about the number of times her husband was previously married, criticism has usually been limited to her personal life. "In fact, you often hear that Swift has put together a good staff," said Scot Lehigh '80, a political columnist at The Boston Globe. "Peter Forman is always one of the three or four put forth as evidence." On a scorching hot August afternoon, Forman '80, Governor Swift's acting chief of staff, was calmly ensconced in his unpretentiolus State House office. Wearing a blue shirt and red-striped tie, he seemed totally at ease as he reflected on recent upheavals. "Many people view her as an easy target. She is young, she is a Republican, she is a woman," he said. "Having twins in office put her, rather unfairly, at the center of a cultural debate on the balance between work and family."
Nearly two months after Swift gave birth, she has returned to the affairs of state with Forman at her side. A chief of staff's job is complicated. It is part policy, politics, personnel and management of the boss's state of mind. It requires pleasing many constituencies and enforcing the governor's will.
Forman, who is more hail-fellow-well-met than domineering, has proved over the past 20 years that he has the right stuff to get things done without alienating people. "He has been so effective in politics because he can disagree without being disagreeable," said Lehigh.
Even long-time opponents agree. Massachusetts State Representative David Linsky '79, a self-described liberal Democrat, has been friends with Forman since their days at Colby. "He's very easy to get along with and very easy to talk to," said Linsky. "He does not force a conservative Republican agenda down your throat. He always tries to seek consensus. I wish he were a Democrat."
Although Forman lost his first election when he ran for vice president of the student government at Colby, he turned himself into the comeback kid. His senior year, Professor Sandy Maisel (government) and Forman structured a four-credit course around running a campaign for the Massachusetts state legislature. "I had fundraisers, coffees and knocked on every door in the Plymouth and Kingston areas," he said. "Then I got lucky and won."
In choosing to run as a Republican, Forman was less motivated by ideology and more by the imbalance of Democrats and Republicans in the Massachusetts legislature. "Being so young, I could do things in the minority party that I could not in the majority party," he said.
Forman, who was the youngest state legislator elected in the country in the last century, held onto his seat for seven two-year terms. By 1990 his 37 Republican colleagues in the House selected him as their leader.
Yet Forman did have his share of disappointments. In 1994, Forman ran for secretary of state. He lost the primary by 700 votes but later discovered that tens of thousands of pieces of his campaign mail never made it to voters. "I was out of a job, but I did get a major refund from the Post Office," he said. "Not enough to pay for the campaign though."
In 1995, the sheriff in Plymouth County resigned and Governor William Weld appointed Forman to the post, which put him in charge of a new 1,300-bed prison. Forman was elected sheriff on his own in 1996 and 1998
In 1998, Governor Paul Cellucci tapped Forman to be his undersecretary of administration and finance. Forman excelled in that job, too. When his boss, the secretary of administration and finance, resigned, even Democrats wanted Forman promoted. Forman said he expected to get the cabinet-level job but he was passed over. He spoke with Gov. Cellucci about his decision and said that no hard feelings linger. "It would have been nice, but part of the business is someone is always disappointed," he said. "I would not be Jane Swift's chief of staff if I had gotten that promotion."
Forman has learned to be philosophical about such disappointments. "It's like baseball, if I do one of three or four things right, that's good," he said. "Lots of things fail. Then again, good things happen because you just happen to get the right pitch."
In 21 years, Forman has worked on a wide range of issues. He has helped pass laws to control the cost of credit insurance, instituted a professionalism and ethics program to support law enforcement and developed programs to help convicts make the transition from prison to society. He also has opposed universal health care adamantly, arguing that its cost hurts businesses.
Governor Swift acknowledged that she could not meet all of her responsibilities without Forman's "calm advice and able assistance."
But Forman's time as chief of staff has taken its toll. "This is a burnout position," he said. "If Governor Swift wins a four-year term, she'll want new energy at the top."
If Forman does leave his job after the November 2002 election, moving to Washington, D.C., may be an option. Newspaper accounts have mentioned Forman's close relationship with President George W. Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, a fellow veteran of Massachusetts' politics. "If I had the opportunity to work on the White House staff," Forman said, "I would take it in a heartbeat. It's a chance to see history."
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