For a handful of minutes early Wednesday afternoon, the Massachusetts political world was in flames.
Governor Deval Patrick’s attempt at humor during an appearance at the University of Massachusetts at Boston went viral, leading many to believe that he would seek a third term. That would have been newsy, indeed, since Patrick has long professed to be satisfied with two terms. And, while there is no law prohibiting a third consecutive term, there is no modern precedent.
“#Breaking: @MassGovernor announces he’s running for a third term” the New England Cable News network tweeted at 1:10 p.m. to its more than 19,000 followers. That ignited a firestorm of retweets, online exclamations of disbelief, and panicked phone calls by media organizations looking to catch up on a political story that would dramatically remake the state’s political landscape. With Patrick considered a potential 2016 contender for president, the thunderclap had national implications.
What would Patrick’s third-term agenda be? Would his entrance clear the field on the Democratic side? Would there be a 2010 rematch between him and Republican Charles D. Baker? Perhaps most importantly, had Patrick skipped Sunday’s St. Patrick’s Day breakfast to save his best material for remarks about state government efficiencies at a project management conference at UMass-Boston?
Then, four minutes later, @NECN tweeted again: “#CORRECTION #UPDATE: @MassGovernor says he was joking around when announcing he’s running for a third term.”
As heart rates slowly descended, the Twitterati made light of the mishap. “[W]ell, that was a fun 8 minutes,” wrote Brendan Ryan, Patrick’s chief of staff.
A Patrick aide said the governor joked that UMass-Boston McCormack Graduate School of Public Affairs Dean Ira Jackson’s flattering introduction of him had smoothed the way for a re-election announcement. The limited audience reaction, the aide said, indicated that Patrick’s humor had not been delivered with pinpoint accuracy.
“It was obviously a joke,” Patrick spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin told the Globe. “It just didn’t go over well.”
According to a transcript provided by the governor’s office, Patrick said, First of all, thank you very much for the warm welcome and for hosting us today and for the setup to the announcement that I’ve come here to make, which is that I intend to run for a third term as your Governor. It sounded so good, why not?” Patrick went on, “By the way, I just want to point out, I did notice what the reaction was, or the lack of reaction, to my announcement.”
At an unrelated press conference later Wednesday, Patrick referred to the incident as “my teasing earlier.” The governor said he “wasn’t even out the door” of the UMass-Boston event, “and someone told me Twitter was lighting up.” He reiterated that he would not seek a third term.
“I promised Diane two terms and I really mean two terms,” he said, referring to his wife.
To sum up: no bombshell reelection announcement by Patrick. It was, to borrow a phrase from one of Patrick’s best-known speeches, just words.