Congressman defends backing for ex-highway safety director
U.S. Rep. James McGovern of Worcester, seen here election day in Northampton, on Monday defended his recommendation of former fundraiser Sheila Burgess for a state job. Burgess lost her job as director of the Massachusetts Highway Safety Division after the Boston Globe reported that she had 34 entries on her driving record in the last 30 years. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »
U.S. Rep. James McGovern is defending his job recommendation in 2007 for a political consultant who was removed Sunday as director of the Massachusetts Highway Safety Division after her poor driving record was reported.
Speaking by phone Monday from Washington, McGovern repeatedly called Sheila Burgess a “good person” and a “hard worker.” He employed her as a political consultant for his campaign between 2001 and 2007, when he recommended her for a job in the administration of newly elected Gov. Deval Patrick.
McGovern of Worcester, who was elected to a ninth term earlier this month and will represent much of Hampshire County in the newly created 2nd Congressional District, said he did not know of Burgess’ driving record at the time and did not recommend her for a specific job in the administration.
Burgess was removed from her $87,000-a-year highway safety job the same day that The Boston Globe reported she had 34 entries on her driving record in the past 30 years, including seven accidents and four speeding violations. She has been on medical leave since suffering a head injury in an Aug. 24 crash in Milton while she was driving a state vehicle.
Secretary of Public Safety and Security Mary Elizabeth Heffernan said Sunday that Burgess will be reassigned within the department.
“We have known each other for many, many years,” McGovern said Monday of his relationship with Burgess, who has worked for two decades as a consultant and aide to Democrats.
McGovern noted that both he and Burgess had worked as aides to the late U.S. Rep. John Joseph Moakley of Boston.
He said Burgess helped him raise campaign money as a paid political consultant.
McGovern added that he does not recall writing to or speaking with the governor about the appointment.
“She wanted to make a career change, so we passed her resume along,” McGovern said. “I had every reason to believe she would be a good, decent, hard-working (employee). Not withstanding this controversy, she did a pretty good job.
“It was five years ago, I don’t remember five days ago. But if anyone had asked me, I would tell them what I’m telling you,” McGovern added. “She worked hard for me, she did her job. I knew when she worked for Joe Moakley she worked hard and did her job.”
Asked if he would have made the recommendation on behalf of Burgess had he known about her driving record, McGovern said, “The administration has said that had they known, they wouldn’t have hired her for this particular position.”
Responding to the appearance that he was doing a favor for someone who helped him raise money, McGovern said, “Just because somebody works for me in a political campaign, does not mean she should be disqualified from working in some capacity for other people. Good people get involved in political campaigns.”
Burgess also worked as a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. John Kerry, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and former state treasurer and 2002 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Shannon O’Brien, the Globe reported.
McGovern said it would not be right to “pile on” Burgess and stood by his recommendation of her.
“I was able to say with a clear conscience that she was a hard worker, she did her job,” he said.