"We can forgive incompetence; we can even forgive stupidity," the Beacon Hill lobbyist was saying. "But once the laughing starts, it will never stop."
And they are laughing at Massachusetts Gov. Edward J. King.
"He's a wild and crazy guy -- seriously," said a state Democratic Party official. "He's completely out of touch with reality."
Adds Barney Frank, a liberal Democratic legislator: "The good news is Ed King is Superman. The bad news is Massachusetts is made of kryptonite."
In just over two months in office, the conservative Democrat, who campaigned on a "can do" promise to provide managerial competence and to slash taxes by $500 million, has managed to bulldoze a colossal election mandate so far into the political turf it may never be resurrected.
The political rookie, who headed a business lobby and once played professional football, has parlayed a 53 percent vote into a 42 percent unfavorable rating, according to a recent poll by the Becker Research Corp.
King pulled out an upset primary victory last September over liberal one-term Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, President Carter's "favorite governor," campaigning on a handful of emotional issues: anti-abortion, antibusing and pro-capital punishment. He then went on to defeat a lackluster GOP opponent.
Now, at a time when most newlyelected politicians are riding the crest of public opinion, King is viewed favorably by only 40 percent of the voters in the Becker poll. Eighteen percent had no opinion.
As one recent newspaper headline put it: "Ed King can't do."
"With the way he's falling," said one legislator, "they should have issued the guy a parachute along with the keys to the corner office."
King's rapid fall began shortly after his inauguration. In what veteran political columnist Richard Gaines dubbed "the thug of the month club," King racked up the political land-speed record for losing administration appointments to scandal. Three resigned and one was fired in less than six weeks.
Secretary of Elder Affairs Stephen Guptill was the first to fall amid startling revelations he had falsified his resume by claiming degrees from two distinguished European universities. In fact, he had not finished high school.
Then Stephen Clifford, whom King installed as insurance commissioner to the great relief of the industry, was drummed out of office because of questionable past business dealings.
Less than two weeks later, King's appointee to the powerful Metropolitan District Commission, Thomas Di-Silva, was fired after allegations tied him to New England's organized crime chief, Raymond Patriarca.
King's next appointee to that commission, John Haggerty, took a hurried leave to clear his name after allegations in the press that he misused funds while head of a labor union local. He subsequently resigned, claiming he was the victim of "yellow journalism."
King's response to the shattering series of revelations destroying his well-constructed image of managerial skill: "I regret that in my zeal to tackle the tasks of controlling the sprawling bureaucracy of the state government... I have moved with too great haste in the selection and appointment of some people."
The statehouse press corps -- with the smell of blood in the air -- had abandoned its traditional grace period for the new governor.
"If this is the honeymoon," said a former state worker, "they better cash in the wedding rings because it's going to be one hell of a marriage."
Indeed, the once cozy legislature is now fending off King's advances with claims of a "political headache." And the romance has gone from the tenuous relationship between King and his "reluctant bride" -- Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O'Neill III, son of the U.S. House Speaker.
The younger O'Neill, a liberal whose own budget may be cut by the austerity-minded governor, recently told a crowd of angrv welfare recipients that he opposes King's proposed cuts in the social services budget. The outburst prompted a 90-minute meeting between the two in an attempt at reconciliation through "frank dialogue."
King's plan to cut taxes would be implemented predominantly at the expense of welfare recipients at a time when the caseload here is increasing rapidly. They would receive no cost-of-living increase for at least the next two years and funds would be cut back in several areas. Private charities would be asked to play a greater role in contributing to the state-aided poor.
"He thinks he's Jiminy Cricket: 'Wish and it will be so,'" remarked state Rep. Frank of Boston.
King's wishes, however, have run into heavy skepticism from local leaders who have balked at the governor's proposal to place a mandatory cap on local spending when 60 to 85 percent of those budgets cannot be touched because of limitations imposed by other laws.
"A tax cap that does not give the power to control school and police and safety costs makes no sense at all," said State Sen Chester A. Atkins, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and head of the state Democratic Party.
King's arithmetic on his new state budget, including an additional $309 million in state aid to cities and towns, has also come under question.
In fact, the legislature is calling King everything from a "jackal" to a "dolt." His lobbying efforts are branded with the worst of political insults: "Amateur."
State Sen. Paul Harold, a freshman Democrat, noted incredulously that only 10 minutes before a crucial vote on a bill to raise the drinking age to 21 -- one of King's campaign pledges -- he was handed a blurred, photocopied letter left over from the administration's push in the Massachusetts House. The letter, the only notification from the administration that the governor was interested in passage of the bill, was addressed: "Dear Legislator."
"I couldn't believe it," Harold said. "Things were more professional in the Quincy City Council."
"The incompetence and scandal of this administration have crippled this governor's ability to function; there is very little confidence left," said political columnist Gaines.
Earlier last week King was forced to withdraw a bill to reorganize the Massachusetts Port Authority, the massive organization he used to head. A once-staunch King supporter, state Rep. Peter Flynn, was quoted as saying, "King's screwed up so many appointments already, why should we give him more to play around with."
The governor's comedy of errors has not amused the powerful Massachusetts congressional delegation. "He's an embarrassment, that's 100 percent, honest-to-God, and don't quote me, true," said a congressional aide.
Rep. Robert Drinan (D-Mass.) said King's infant administration is "approaching a disaster; it's really sad, tragic, a dreadful situation, very lamentable."
King has, however, found favor in one corner. "I like the guy," said Republican Party chairman Gordon Nelson, an outspoken Reagan conservative. "You say he's a Democrat? I thought he was a Republican. No wonder I like him."
King is also still adored by the business community which lauds his pitch for economic development, off shore oil drilling, and nuclear power. Leaders of high technology industries here recently agreed to create 150,000 new jobs under a "social contract" drafted by the governor. For his part of the bargain, King agreed to reduce taxes and improve the business climate.
But with King's escalating political problems, he may have difficulty making good on any of his promises.
"It's a circus up here and I'm sure it will stay that way for another four years," said an administration source. "Unless of course we impeach him." Rep. Frank, however, notes that Massachusetts has no recall election provision and "incompetence is not an impeachable offense."
Columnist Gaines describes one possible scenario for King's political future:
"Sen. [Edward M.] Kennedy, [House Speaker] Tip O'Neill and the legislative leadership would walk into his office, tell him a Learjet is waiting for him at Logan Airport. He could take six state troopers in full regalia, have an unlimited expense account to go on a worldwide crusade to bring business to Massachusetts -- and take as long as he wants."