Baker apologizes for “sweetheart” comment as Dems pounce

Massachusetts Gov.-elect Charlie Baker

BOSTON, SEPT. 24, 2014…..After chiding a female reporter as “sweetheart,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker is facing accusations from his political opponents that a pattern has developed of him being dismissive toward women and issues important to them.

Baker has made efforts to appeal to women, featuring his daughter and wife in campaign videos and commercials, and pointing to his running mate, Karyn Polito as an example of his commitment to women at a recent fundraiser in the South End.

But female Democratic party leaders on Wednesday decried Baker for what they said is a pattern of dismissiveness toward issues of concern to women, topped by his calling a Fox 25 reporter “sweetheart” Tuesday.

Baker, after a forum at Faneuil Hall sponsored by the Providers’ Council, addressed the issue directly before taking questions from the assembled media, apologizing for his choice of words.

“I did call Sharman last night, apologized and she was gracious enough to accept my apology. My comment was a mistake and certainly doesn’t represent my work, attitudes or what I’m all about,” Baker said.

Asked if he used the term regularly, Baker said, “Usually with my wife, primarily, yeah.”

While Democrat Martha Coakley largely demurred on the subject, independent candidate Evan Falchuk said he agreed with the criticism, and independent candidate Jeff McCormick said, “There does seem to be a pattern.”

Democrats cited Baker’s initial reluctance to call on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign, and his initial comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed certain companies to curtail reproductive health care coverage. Baker’s response to a question about his ad campaign from Fox 25 political reporter Sharman Sacchetti amounted to a “pattern,” women said in a conference call sponsored by the Democratic Party.

“He is pandering to women’s issues and his actions speak louder than words. Women can see through the charade,” said Barbara Lee, who founded an eponymous organization to encourage women to run for office. She said, “We see this pattern of him dismissing the issues that are so important to women.”

On Tuesday, when Sacchetti asked Baker about a Democratic claim that his ads would take on a more negative tone after a switch in ad agencies, he said, “OK, this is going to be the last one, sweetheart.”

“This is going to be the last one. Sweetheart?” Sacchetti responded. Baker said, “I’m kidding.”

Baker said he disagreed with the characterization of his comment as a pattern of disregard for women and issues important to them. He cited the fact that seven of the 12 members on the board at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care when he was CEO were women, as were the majority of his executive team and his most trusted professional advisors.

“I’m actually quite proud of my track record and my relationships with the women I’ve worked with over the years,” Baker said.

Asked about Hobby Lobby, the NFL and the terms that have been used in the campaign, Coakley said, “I think some of the terms aren’t appropriate, certainly.”

Falchuk was more forceful in his criticism of Baker’s comments.

“It betrays an incredible lack of understanding of discrimination in the workplace that women still face. There’s a pay gap that persists. There’s a disparity in the way women are treated,” Falchuk said. He said, “There’s a reason why people think that national Republicans are not representative of Massachusetts, and if you spend your time raising money from those folks, that’s how you start to talk.”

Falchuk and McCormick both told the News Service on Wednesday that Goodell should resign, a position Coakley publicly took after Baker said he needed more information. Goodell has been criticized for his handling of domestic abuse by players. This week, Baker reportedly said it would be “appropriate” for Goodell to step down.

Kirsten Hughes, the chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, said the charges from Democrats were “ridiculous,” and noted Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat and supporter of Coakley, dismissed Sacchetti in similar terms earlier this year and comparable verbiage was used by President Barack Obama.

“Charlie has been out there on the forefront saying Roger Goodell should resign. He’s the only person in this race who has actually talked about some real ways to deal with the effects of the Hobby Lobby decision,” Hughes told the News Service. “But more importantly, I didn’t hear those Democrats decry when Governor Patrick called Sharman “dear” after he asked her if she’d smoked pot, or when the president called a reporter sweetie. Everyone makes a mistake now and then.”

“What have you been smoking, my dear?” Patrick asked Sacchetti after she asked him about efforts to legalize marijuana. In May 2008, Obama apologized to a Michigan TV reporter for calling her “sweetie” while dodging a question on autoworkers.

“They’re desperate at this point,” Hughes said. Asked if the comments would be politically damaging, Hughes said, “I think people care about real issues.”

Coakley would be the first elected woman governor of Massachusetts if she wins on Nov. 4, though Jane Swift held that role in an acting capacity after the late former governor Paul Cellucci took an ambassadorship in Canada.

Prior comments by Baker on the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed certain employers to cite religious exemptions in denying some health care coverage, ignited some, who saw them as dismissive.

A pro-choice candidate, Baker first said the issue “doesn’t matter” for Massachusetts, before saying he had “misspoke,” clarifying that “a small segment of employers could qualify for the narrow exemption to the mandate that the Supreme Court deemed permissible.”

“It was a misunderstanding of how the law works, but it’s almost a willful lack of understanding of how important that case was,” Falchuk said.

In a conference call organized by the party, Democratic women came down hard on Baker for his “sweetheart” comment.

“He has shown a really stubborn degree of disdain for a professional woman,” said Auditor Suzanne Bump.

“If he’s comfortable calling a reporter sweetheart in a condescending way, it means the people he’s comfortable with and might appoint to some of these positions are probably equally comfortable with this attitude,” said Rep. Ellen Story, an Amherst Democrat.

“As women see these things coming together, they will feel that half the population will be dismissed or ignored,” said Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, a Gloucester Democrat.

[Matt Murphy and Mike Deehan contributed reporting]

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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