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October 17, 2005

Andrea Silbert: an entrepreneur wants to take her strategy public

Why would anyone want to be Lieutenant Governor?  Sure, you get to be Governor if your boss resigns, but one can't count on that happening (though it has become something of a pattern around here in recent years).  And unless the Gov quits, don't you pretty much spend your time carrying water for the Governor at B-list ribbon cuttings and presiding over the largely pointless Governor's Council meetings?

The "why this job?" question was the first thing I asked Andrea Silbert when we spoke with her earlier this week, and it will be my first question for the other Lieutenant Governor candidates as well.  Silbert actually has a pretty good answer for that question.  If she is elected Lt. Gov., she hopes to carve out a three-part portfolio for herself: (1) she wants a leading role in economic development; (2) she wants to serve as Massachusetts' "lobbyist" in Washington, trying to bring federal dollars back home; and (3) she wants to continue her work as a voice and advocate for the underserved and the disadvantaged.

Silbert brings relevant credentials to each of those tasks.  Every time you hear from Silbert, expect to hear about the Center for Women and Enterprise (CWE), a non-profit entrepreneurial training center that Silbert co-founded and ran for almost nine years.  CWE claims to have assisted 10,000 women (many of them economically disadvantaged) start and grow businesses, in the process creating 14,000 jobs and generating $400 million in wages.  Based in part on her experience with CWE, Silbert sees small businesses as far more relevant to job creation than cutting deals with the Raytheons and Gillettes, and hopes to translate her experience at CWE into a statewide effort to encourage small business development.

Silbert also mentioned "urban renewal" as a component of her economic development strategy, reasoning that the best way to bring new business to areas that already have affordable housing, like Worcester, Pittsfield, and New Bedford, is to make those areas desirable places to live and to start businesses.  I wish I had followed up on exactly what she meant by "urban renewal," a term that acquired a well-deserved bad reputation a while back - think "Boston's West End" - and it is not clear that urban planners have learned from past mistakes.  I am going to try to get additional information from Silbert on this question and will update or write a new post as necessary.

The second part of Silbert's vision of the Lt. Gov. job is to act as MA's Washington lobbyist.  Here, too, she draws on her experience with CWE, specifically her ability to obtain federal grants for the work CWE was doing.  Silbert also sees regional projects - especially those involving states with some Republicans in the delegation, like railroad projects with Maine and New Hampshire - as a promising strategy for keeping the federal bucks flowing to Massachusetts.  (Optimistic footnote: of course, this strategy will no longer be necessary by 2006 when Democrats recapture both houses of Congress!)

Part three of Silbert's vision is to continue her work as an advocate for underserved populations.  And again, Silbert has some unusual skills that will help her.  Silbert spent a good deal of time in Latin America doing economic development work, and she is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.  That skill alone obviously will allow her to reach populations in Massachusetts that, because of language barriers, may ordinarily find it difficult to communicate with elected officials.  In addition, Silbert points to CWE's track record in helping "disadvantaged women, including single mothers and women on welfare," succeed in business.

Lefties that we are, we couldn't resist asking Silbert about "social issues" - not that anyone really cares what the Lieutenant Governor thinks about "social issues," since what the Governor says pretty much goes for the administration.  Silbert falls into the "progressive Democrat" category here: she is pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and anti-death penalty. 

Silbert is obviously very accomplished; she is passionate about what she's done and what she wants to do; and she is dynamic and engaging in conversation (I have never seen her speak but hope to have the opportunity to do so soon).  She has been reasonably successful in campaign fundraising thus far; at the moment she leads the pack.  A couple of questions occur to me.  (1) Can she keep raising the money she needs to maintain visibility in a below-radar race like this one?  Unlike Stop & Shop heiress and fellow candidate Deb Goldberg, she is not personally wealthy so she cannot look to her own bank account in a pinch.  (2) Can she start racking up some big-name Democratic endorsements?  Goldberg so far boasts the support of US Rep. Barney Frank and former party chair Steve Grossman; that's not enough to win an election, but it is enough to open some fundraising doors, and Silbert needs to prevent that trickle from becoming a flood - seems to me it would behoove her to keep the party establishment at least neutral in this race.

Posted by David at 12:16 AM in Vote 9.16.2006 | Permalink


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As far as fundraising, I agree it will be a crucial for next September, from the name rec standpoint. That said, it seems despite the endorsements mentioned for Goldberg, Silbert is still out fundraising her.

Silbert was a prolific Kerry fundraiser, so she has a good idea where and how to shake the money tree and probably has some strong connections through that effort. I don't know if Kerry will endorse, obviously it would be a huge deal. Kerry is or was the ranking Dem on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, so he's known her for a while.

Posted by: Steven Leibowitz | Oct 17, 2005 9:06:33 AM

I've been all-in for Andrea Silbert since the convention. I had a chance to talk to her at the convention and I was very impressed with her background, and her commitment to helping people. She could have gone off with her three degrees and made a ton of money and there's nothing wrong with that, but I think it speaks well of her character that she's spent so much of her career helping people become self-sufficient. .

I think she has some great ideas for social and economic development here in MA and I think she'll make a great LG and eventual Gov.

Posted by: Mariposa | Oct 17, 2005 10:36:57 AM

Andrea offers a unique and powerful ingredient to the Democratic ticket: creditability in the area of economic growth. The Republicans corner this market with their hot air and never deliver. Andrea has the track record to claim that mantle, or at the very least neutralize the perceived Republican advantage.

As long as we have quality candidates (and the 3-4 running meet that standard) we need to look at what each can bring to the ticket that gives us the best combination to beat the Republicans.

Andrea Silbert gives the Democratic ticket the left we need to beat the Republicans.

Posted by: Frank Skeffington | Oct 17, 2005 11:02:22 AM

Who else has heard this song and dance before? I seem to remember good ol' Mitt Romney talking about his experience with creating jobs... and we have only lost them since. I think our politicians, not just Andrea Silbert, need to start focusing on the REAL causes of job loss and stop talking about creating jobs. Realistically, the only jobs a politician can create are state employees. And who among us believe that any Governor is going to allow his/her Lieutenant Governor to take charge of issues such as job creation and urban renewal. There is a reason why Romney was talking about these issues 4 yeaers ago- beacuse they are issues for the gubernatorial candidates.

Now, Deb Goldberg has a far more realistic approach... she talks about aiding local government. Doesn't that sound more likely for a Lt. Governor to be doing- a liaison between state and local governments?

I have not heard Dr. Kelley as of yet, but from what I can tell from his website he brings a different, but interesting resume and set of knowledge to the job. It is not a stretch to imagine a State House full of elected officials, not one of whom is a doctor, to turn to a doctor when it comes to matters of healthcare. And we all know that our healthcare system is in shambles.

Speaking of job creation... does anyone else have a family member that is not insured? I have a few of the reported 500,00+ uninsured MA residents in my family. By the way, my sister lost her job 8 months ago when a small family owned business went out of business. The reason they closed shop was because their health insurance bills were going to force them to bankruptcy. Again, I mention the fact that before we create jobs, we first need to plug the drain and stop the flow of jobs out of our state.

I think it is important that when reading and hearing all the promises made to us during these campaigns, we think seriously about whether a Lieutenant Governor can actually create new jobs for example. Or are these just more empty promises?

Posted by: Political Insider | Oct 17, 2005 1:01:04 PM

PolIns: some good points, particularly the point that a Governor may be unlikely to turn over something as important as economic development and job creation to his second-in-command.

For completeness, I should note that in our conversation Silbert made clear her awareness of the problem of health insurance costs: she faced it with her own company when she found that the cost of providing good benefits to her employees was spinning out of control, and she has also faced it with her own family.

Posted by: David | Oct 17, 2005 1:12:21 PM

Political insider: Where in my post do I talk about the chance of a Governor or LG to actually create jobs? You may have missed my point.

I was looking at this from the sole perspective of winning the November Election and not what happens after the election.

So I will repeat my point: Having a Democrat like Silbert on the ticket, who has a strong message and track record of economic development, will neutralize (and probably ridicule) the perception that Republicans are better at job creation. This may sway the Independents who have voted for a Republican Governor for the last 4 elections to finally vote Democrat.

BTW, as Deval Patrick states, Romney was right 3 years ago in saying a Governor can create new jobs in the state by selling the state to business leaders. The only problem is that Romney NEVER did that. Patrick says he will and I believe that. And if a Democratic Gov is serious about economic development, then Silbert can make a difference as LG helping to create new jobs in the state.

Last point, the effectiveness of the LG, whether it is helping local cities and towns, raising the awareness about health care or helping to create jobs is SOLELY dependent on the Governor and he wants them to do. So it is only fair to criticize all the LG candidates about making "empty promises" because it all depends on what the Gov. wants them to do.

Posted by: Frank Skeffington | Oct 17, 2005 2:33:15 PM

Frank, I agree with you about the empty promises- they can all be making empty promises and that is exactly what I cautioned about. I was not picking only on Ms. Silbert. As I stated, she was just the subject at hand. However, I do find her promises to be more unrealistic than most, given the role she would be filling.

Like I said, Goldberg has a more realistic approach by talking about being a liaison with local governments- isn't that what Kerry did for Dukakis?

I completely disagree with you about focusing only on what gets us the election and not worrying about what happens later. I think that is precisely the philosophy that voters have been using for 16 years of Republican gubernatorial campaign victories. Mere sheep follow any leader, but Democrats MUST follow the right leaders- the real leaders. Leaders that will deliver what they promise and make MA a better place. Leaders that do not inflate their sense of self-worth (eg a lieutenant governor that is going to fix all that is wrong with MA), but rather focus on what must and can be accomplished.

Also, let me be clear about something- I have not yet decided who I am voting for. I am one of those voters that feels the need to meet all the candidates before deciding. I was just underwhelmed by Ms. Silbert's disillusionment on what she can do for MA as a lieutenant governor. Don't get me wrong, it must not be an easy office to run for as the reality of it is who can cut the prettiest ribbons. I do think you can get an expert that brings something very unique to the table on a particular issue like Chris Gabrieli and education. Where this deviates from job creation is that job creation in the non-public sector is 100% different from creating policies that will atract businesses to MA and that will keep the ones we have. Am I wrong?

And to make my point again: I just don't envision either Deval Patrick or Tom Reilly turning to Andrea Silbert or any other Lieutenant Governor and saying "hey would you mind taking over job creation and urban renewal as your focus... you would be much better at it than me." Even Andrea who has indirectly created jobs (though reading a little more about her since my first post has me questioning just how much this fact is stretched from the truth) is no expert on government's role in job creation- when was she in an elected position creating public policy?

Posted by: Political Insider | Oct 17, 2005 7:37:45 PM

I forget what John Kerry did those 18 months before running for the Senate. (Certainly Mitt has used Healy in this role.) I do remember that Dukakis gave Murphy a real responsibility in working with the Feds to get more bucks...something Silbert is talking about.

I honestly think that if a Gov. is confident enough in his own abilities and recognizes good talent, he'll use the LG's strengths. With Silbert that will be policy recommendations regarding economic development...after all that is not exactly the specialty of our two or possibly three candidates we have. For Goldberg (or the Mayor of Worcester) that would be local issues for cities and towns. But just like a Gov would not cede final decisions on economic policies, as you point out, a Gov. would not allow a LG to make the final decisions on local aid formulas. So, if the bar you are creating is which area would a Gov cede actual power in: economic development or local issues—I’d have to say neither.

But within the context of being an advocate for their respective constituency and making policy recommendations on their area of expertise, I think it is very reasonable that both Goldberg and Silbert would be allowed to work on their acclaimed specialty. As far as your assessment about Silbert being delusional regarding her ability to create jobs in the state…assuming the Gov lets her get involved…I wonder if you have quizzed her on her ideas? She does have a lot of smarts and ideas in the area of job creation in the non-public sector.

As far as my short-term argument about Silbert being the strongest balance on the ticket to win the election...of course I hope that if Goldberg gets nominated and is elected LG, that the Gov gives her a role with local governments or that Kelley would be able to be a strong advocate for health care. If that's what the ticket runs on, then that's what they should do. And both you and I would be disappointed if neither were allowed to work on their specialties and ignored by the Gov.

But I make no apologies about worrying first about how to win the election, before we push the politicians to keep their word. Let’s win with the best ticket, with the best message and jobs is always a bread and butter winner in the election booth.

Posted by: Frank Skeffington | Oct 18, 2005 2:30:51 AM

Frank: We agree on more than we disagree. However, "jobs creation" in my mind has become the "education" issue of recent elections. By that I mean everyone talks about it, but nothing is done to better the situation. Remember Kerry for President.... "Help is on the way," "Job creation." Those were 2 of his tag lines and look where that got us. Job creation policy decisions should be left to experts. And I do not define expert as someone who has raised money for startup businesses and claiming every subsequent job as her creation. I mean if we use that standard does that mean Deb Goldberg GAVE housing to thousands of Brookline residents (having presided over the board of selectpersons in Brookline), or that Sam Kelley kept ALL of Massachusetts healthy because the patients he has treated have not spread their germs to the rest of us.

What Andrea Silbert is suggesting is that by raising money that was given to a woman, who took that money and built a business, a business that went on and sold its product or service, that then expanded to the point of hiring additional personnel, who were then paid wages Andrea is now responsible for having created X number of jobs and increased wages by $X. I would say she may be an expert in funding. She can twist an arm for money, she can lobby Washington for Non-profit grants, but has she created jobs? NO!! The many successful women that have sought help from CWE have created jobs and increased wages. Andrea Silbert is taking the credit away from these individuals who have worked very hard and made many sacrifices and that bothers me a great deal!

I think Andrea Silbert's claims that she deserves credit for other people's hard work is shameful- especially because it is for political gain. I am not comfortable with any elected official that is willing to stand on the backs of others to get a leg up in the political arena.

That is just my impression of Andrea having saw her speak and reading her info. (including your blog interview).

Posted by: Political Insider | Oct 18, 2005 10:36:55 AM

PolIns: respectfully, I think your characterization of what Silbert is and is not claiming credit for is quite unfair. Her website says she "helped create" the jobs and wages generated by CWE's clients' businesses. Similarly, my post says that CWE "assisted" 10,000 women in getting their businesses started, a process that led to the creation of those jobs and wages. Those descriptions strike me as entirely accurate. If my phrasing was less than precise and suggested that Silbert herself was claiming credit for the jobs, the fault is entirely mine, although having reread my post, I don't think it's fair to characterize it that way.

In our interview, Silbert was quite clear on her view: it is the women who came to CWE for help who "created" those jobs. CWE acted as a facilitator, an advisor, and sometimes a fundraiser. Those roles are extremely important, as it is probably fair to say that most of those women couldn't have started their businesses without some professional assistance. But she sees the small businesspeople themselves as the ones who create the jobs and wages - as any sensible person would. I have seen NO evidence that Silbert is "taking credit away" from anyone.

I haven't heard Silbert speak in person, so maybe you got a different impression from a speech. But from what I've seen, I think you're off base.

Posted by: David | Oct 18, 2005 11:39:48 AM

David, I heard Andrea Silbert speak at the Kennedy Breakfast tent at the May convention. I may be misremembering, but I thought that she claimed that she created more jobs than Mitt Romney did since 2002. Though, she may have said she "did more to create jobs" rather than "created more jobs". Someone with better notes or a better memory would have to verify her exact language.

Also at that event, Ms. Silbert shushed the crowd. A faux pas for sure.

Posted by: sco | Oct 18, 2005 12:16:55 PM

Political Insider, yes we do agree more than we disagree. I would echo David's post regarding Silbert and job creation and the critical role the CWE plays in guiding their client's business development. I’ve owned a small business myself, employing 17 people, and I know Andrea is “walking the walk” when it comes to mentoring business to grow. (No, my company had no association with the CWE.)

There seems to be a pretty high standard being applied to Silbert's intentions on focusing on issues regarding economic development. I hope the same standards are used when looking at the records of all the other candidates. For example, state government (even with all the cuts by a Republican Administration that could care less) does a lot already for local cities and towns. Stepping into this role as just a continuation of the present process does not bring anything fresh to the table. (Healy will be claiming all the great work she does for localities, but it really amounts to photo ops with her delivering checks.) What real ideas and practical solutions (which a Gov. would allow an LG to do) will be offered to help local communities solve their structural problems?

I think its fine to call out a candidate regarding their claims and, as David points out, Silbert passes the test. (And really, anybody who has worked on a major campaign and heard a candidate give their stump speech a thousand times knows there are plenty of verbal slips. That's getting into the incredible nitpicky area.)

Posted by: Frank Skeffington | Oct 18, 2005 1:02:57 PM

David, you are correct that it was not what you wrote that gave me this impression. I have seen Ms. Silbert speak on several occasions, including the breakfast SCO mentioned. And at each engagement she has said that (and I am paraphrasing) "I am the jobs candidate. I have helped create 14,000 new jobs and added $400 million in new wages to Massachusetts, Rhode Island...."

My point is that she has not helped to create jobs in a direct manner. She has helped to facilitate new businesses for women, but that is not creating jobs. I worked for a company that employed several thousand individuals nationally, can I make the same claim based on the fact that my help assisted the company in its growth? Do you see what I am saying? She is taking credit for a by-product twice removed from her own activity... in my book that is called a STRETCH. And this happens to be the foundation of her campaign, which freightens me. I would say her campaign is built on a fluffed up resume and needs to find something that she can say she ACTUALLY did. I want a Governor and Lieutenant Governor that actually accomplish things, so I think it is important that such fluff be removed from clouding voter's judgements.

Posted by: Political Insider | Oct 18, 2005 4:54:31 PM

Ok Political Insider, we’re back to disagreeing. If a Governor did something, like gave special tax break for GM to build a plant here or secured a federal grant to improve a downtown, which resulted in new businesses and jobs to flow into a city, most pundits and voters would let the Gov. to claim that “I helped create jobs”.

But by the bar set in your posting, the Gov could not take credit. The Governor only facilitated the creation of the jobs; the Governor did not directly create the jobs. GM did or the small businesses actually created the jobs.

Every single politician I know would take credit for creating those jobs and everyone would give the Gov credit, but by the bar you have set, it would be a stretch to make that claim. (Hell, politicians take create for less direct things like, “while I was in the legislator for the last 20 years, this state has created 2 million jobs”—now that is stretch.)

Would the new jobs in the example have been created if the Gov did nothing? Maybe, but maybe not and that is why they can take credit for them.

Silbert’s CWE organization was very much involved with mentoring and facilitating the growth of new businesses. Would some of them have been successful without her help? Maybe, but certainly some of the businesses would have failed had they not had the help of CWE and for that Andrea Silbert can take credit for helping to create X number of jobs.

As I’ve said, the bar seems to be set a pretty high bar for Silbert, almost requiring her to bankroll every job for she can take credit for “helping to create” them. If the same literal standards were applied for everyone who is running for office as they are with Silbert, I can’t imagine Insider supporting anyone for any office.

I mean, did Martha Coakley or Tom Riley fight crime by putting criminals behind bars? No, by the standard being used here, they simply facilitated the convictions; their ADAs actually tried the cases. Did Deval Patrick help protect the voting rights of minorities? By the standard being used here, no because he did not escort them into the voting booth, he just facilitated the policy and other people actually enforced the laws. Is Ted Kennedy responsible for the Cobra Law (and dozens of others)? Well he introduced it, voted for it and facilitated it through Congress; but Congress passed the law and the President signed the bill. But we all give legitimate credit to Kennedy for the law.

No, Andrea Silbert is not stretching a thing. She was instrumental in the success of starting new businesses and creating new jobs, just like the people cited above desire the credit for the deeds associated with them.

Posted by: Frank Skeffington | Oct 18, 2005 9:01:06 PM

"I think Andrea Silbert's claims that she deserves credit for other people's hard work is shameful- especially because it is for political gain."

PI, what's more offensive -- Silbert taking credit for "other people's hard work" as you say, or you being offended on their behalf? If some of the entrepreneurs helped by the CWE are pissed off about it, let them speak for themselves.

Lighten up. This is politics -- people take credit for stuff in politics. She didn't declare "Mission Accomplished" on a aircraft carrier, for cryin' eye.

Posted by: Charley on the MTA | Oct 19, 2005 11:18:18 PM

I do think that from her experience, Andrea Silbert has a commanding grasp and understanding of what the mechanisms are to facilitate job creation. We have all seen the effectiveness of numerous public and private partnerships in promoting economic development. I'm somewhat incredulous that there would be skepticism about this skill set being transferable and useful from the position of Lt. Governor versus private citizen.

That said, the Lt Gov serves at the pleasure of the Governor, and is a legitimate question to ask of the candidates for Governor. Some have used their Lt Gov's effectively, others for ribbon cutting. Reference was made to Dukakis-Murphy, I believe Tom O'Neill was also used significantly as a federal-state liason (go figure). Romney currently uses Healy as a liason to local government, so I guess Ms. Goldberg would like to follow that model ;) ?

Posted by: Steven Leibowitz | Oct 20, 2005 9:57:19 AM

FS: Correct... we are back to disagreeing :)

I think you have a different sense of where the bar is that I set.

Is it acceptable for Ms. Silbert to claim credit for helping entrepreneurs build a business? Yes. But that is VERY different from her "creating jobs". It is twice removed from the work that Ms. Silbert did, assuming she never had help by other staff at CWE (otherwise, it would be 3 and 4 times removed).

Your examples do not fit the situation.

Deval Patrick did PROTECT voting rights, he did not claim to increase voter turnout.

Ted Kennedy was RESPONSIBLE for the laws he filed, etc. but he has not claimed to keep people healthy

Coakley and Riley did PREVENT crime (assuming one believes that punishment is a deterrant)but they did not claim to capture criminals.

You see your examples are all once removed, whereas my counter examples are twice removed, like Ms. Silbert's claims. And I would say reading the counter examples seems to be as much a stretch as creating jobs, when what you actually did was raise money and provide advice.

And to be clear on one more thing... I DO believe that the bar should be raised. One of our problems, as Democrats, is that we have allowed others to lower that bar. It is for this reason that politicians like Pres. Bush are able to get away with all that he has. We need to hold our elected officials to higher standards. Don't you agree? Ms. Silbert just happened to be one of the clearest examples of stretching her qualifications that I have seen- and what brought it to my attention so clearly, was the likness her promises are to Romney's 4 years ago.

I have spent these last 4 years wondering how Massachusetts could have been so easily fooled. And then Ms. Silbert started with similar rhetoric and half-truths and stretching of the facts, and suddenly I realized what it was that fooled us the last time. I for one do not want another Romney in the State House (whether that person be a Republican, or if she is a Democrat).

I would sum up all my remarks by saying... I have not decided who my candidate for lieutenant governor will be. It may be Deb Goldberg or Sam Kelley, or some other undeclared candidate, but it will NOT be Andrea Silbert. I cannot stomach another campaign of Romney's lies and empty promises- especially when spued from a Democrat. And I urge us all to hold ALL our politicians to higher standards- if we don't who will??

Thank you for engaging me in this interesting conversation. I hope I did not offend anyone.

Oh, but speaking of being offended... Charley, I do not find it one bit offensive that I or anyone else should highlight the fact that Ms. Silbert is exploiting those entrepreneurs. In fact, I am proud of it! Isn't that what Democrats do- speak out for those without a voice or who have not used their voice? Criticizing someone for standing up for someone else is a Republican tactic that has burdened many good Democrats. I however, am not one of them. Again, I will say, I am proud to criticize someone in a higher position exploiting someone that is or was in a less fortunate place. And forget lightening up... I urge all to toughen up (not meant to be a personal attack). By this I mean we need to be tougher on our elected officials, and not let them get away with such ridiculous stunts as "mission accomplished" on the aircraft carrier. You made my point for me. Thank you- I would not have thought of that example.

Posted by: Political Insider | Oct 25, 2005 2:37:53 PM

By the way...

Will you be conducting interviews with all the candidates? I would like to follow this through the campaign.

It seems that at least a portion of the group has made up their mind on a candidate. I am just wondering if there will be an even and balanced approach to the rest of the campaign season. I enjoy reading this blog and am looking forward to reading more.

Posted by: Political Insider | Oct 25, 2005 2:50:03 PM

We have asked the Goldberg and Kelley campaigns for interviews. Scheduling has been tough, but we hope to work it out soon.

Posted by: David | Oct 25, 2005 4:14:43 PM

Thank you David!

Will you be asking Deb and Dr. Kelley similar questions about their background and their vision for the LG's office, if elected?

Posted by: Political Insider | Nov 3, 2005 10:20:10 AM

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