Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

Babeu, the Massachusetts Years

North Adams was and still is a struggling rust-belt mill town that has been grasping at straws of economic growth for over 30 years. From 1984 until 2009, the mayor was a gentleman named John Barrett who ran the town with a very tight grip and had been making enemies all along the way. One of them was Paul Babeu. In the late 90's Paul was a young man back from military service who really wanted to shake things up politically. He ran for council and eventually came to head up a 5 of 9 majority referred to as the Gang of Five which thwarted many of Mayor Barrett's efforts. The coalition was made up of Barrett opponents of almost every political stripe. Paul was the "conservative" of the group who sounded very much like any Republican of the Gingrich era.

The Mayor and Council positions are all officially non-partisan, and our city charter calls for a preliminary election to narrow down the ballot to just two people per office. When Paul first ran for mayor, he actually won the prelim election with Barrett in second. Before they matched up again that November for the final, our little city of North Adams became one of the dirtiest, nastiest microcosms of bareknuckle politics that you can imagine. To make matters worse, the Republican establishment split at the last minute on endorsing Paul, NOT because he was gay, but because he was too conservative. Then state senator and later twin-bearing Governor Jane Swift, also a Republican from North Adams, backed Barrett. She says now that it was loyalty to John Barrett for endorsing her. Contemporary accounts say she crossed party lines because Paul was a fire-breathing pro-life candidate and Swift was one of the few pro-choice Republicans left. Barrett won then in '97 and again in the rematch of 2001.

These chapters are reasonably well documented in this article from AZ.

The layer that doesn't get covered much in most Babeu accounts is that when the political pressure was at its most severe, that was the time when Paul chose to announce that he had been assaulted as a youngster by a priest here in town**. At the time, people said that it seemed that he was blaming his political problems on past abuse and Paul was characterized as cracking emotionally. Accounts of people's feelings on the episode are really complex, muddy and still a little raw. Few of them are charitable to Paul, although time has allowed him to be recognized as a hometown boy who "made good" out west. However, abuse episode really seemed to put a nail in his political options here at home. He tried being headmaster at a very conservative Catholic school, but that obviously was not his calling. That was when he left for Arizona.

It wasn't the anti-gay forces of the GOP that drove Paul away, it was the fact that Berkshire County was, and continues to become more liberal while the GOP of Paul Babeu becomes more and more extreme. Combined with Paul's personal challenges of the time, or more precisely, people's opinions of his handling of them, he was never going to win office around here. Paul never really came out of the closet while here, but the whispers only mattered to a few. Most who knew him well say that they knew he was gay and it affected nothing in his professional life. I've heard a few Santorum-esque cretins suggest that it was gay sex with the priest that "turned" Paul gay. Thankfully most residents ignore those twits. It is Massachusetts after all.

On that note, even his political enemies from the old days are experiencing little to no schadenfreude at the most recent developments. Most seem to hope that the serious charges are false and that Paul is allowed to live his life as he sees fit.

**North Adams and neighboring Williamstown were two of the small out of the way towns that priests accused of abuse got transferred to. It remains a very sore subject with several older residents still refusing to believe anything ever happened. I am quite sure that Paul lost a lot of his core Catholic support when he went public. The husband of a friend of mine is one of the more vocal victims. He refused a settlement and is forcing a civil trial against the Diocese of Spring that is slated for July.

Late Update: We frequently publish reader emails from known readers who have first hand or professional knowledge of a given subject. In this case, it turns out that there are some factual errors in DG's recollection -- whether Babeu was a cop in the Bay state, the school he was affiliated with, etc. See this article from last year which corrects certain errors about Babeu's time in Massachusetts. We regret any confusion.