What Romney’s Run With the Big Dig Tells Us About How He’d Manage America
Mitt Romney was used to summoning state officials and having them appear. So when the head of a troubled agency stood him up in the middle of an emergency, the Massachusetts governor was furious.
A tunnel ceiling collapse in July 2006 had killed a mother of three, the latest crisis for the massive Boston construction project known as the “Big Dig.” But Matthew Amorello, the official overseeing construction, had ignored Romney’s summons and instead held a televised news conference at the accident site.
Romney took off for the tunnel, his face red and his jaw set, aides said. He stormed out of his car so fast his staffers scrambled to keep up, and upbraided Amorello in a scene captured on Boston television. “It was the one time I saw him explode,” said Thomas Trimarco, a Romney cabinet member.
It was also the moment Romney took control of the Big Dig, one of the state’s most infamous and vexing problems, and one that had hung over him for 3 1 / 2 years. The project was billions of dollars over budget, years behind schedule and riddled by allegations of corruption — a mess that Romney had inherited and vowed to fix when he became governor.
Romney’s plunge into the Big Dig offers a case study of his management style, one molded by the private sector experience he promises to bring to the White House. Faced with a crisis, he set out to diagnose the problem and master the engineering details, then ordered a top-to-bottom safety review.
As a former business consultant, the frenzied atmosphere “played to his skills,” said Kerry Healey, Romney’s lieutenant governor: “He’s a smart guy, and the whole notion of consulting is, you go into a business you don’t know, and learn it so well that you can quickly tell the people whose business it is how to do it better.”
Yet after the crisis faded, his attention receded as well, a critique that dogged him at other points during his governership. When he took office in 2003, for example, the novice politician faced what he called a “financial emergency,” a nearly $3 billion state budget gap.
Working closely with the Democratic-controlled legislature, Romney rapidly won sweeping emergency powers to cut spending. But after the immediate budget crisis passed, his relationships with legislators frayed when he targeted many of them for defeat in midterm elections.