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.
Romney also zeroed in on a Massachusetts judicial nominating system he saw as riddled with patronage and favoritism. He announced widely hailed reforms, yet reversed them as he geared up to run for president in 2008 and appointed some lawyers with political or personal ties to the bench.
The governor’s business background was perhaps most apparent in his effort to revamp what he saw as a highly inefficient higher education system. He brought in consultants from his former firm, Bain & Co., who helped craft far-reaching proposals.
But Romney’s plan to privatize some schools and merge others quickly died in the Democratic-controlled legislature, and he never reintroduced it.