From The Boston Globe, January 10, 1077


Cloherty: the last of a breed

The death of former Rep. Peter Cloherty of Brighton was a shock to veteran politicians who knew him. They knew his health had been failing in recent years, but it was difficult to accept the idea that the garrulous veteran of a hundred political skirmishes would be heard no more.

Peter Cloherty had his faults, to be sure. He had a propensity for involving himself in political brawls and dealings which were often embarressing and ultimately fatal to his legislative career 14 years ago.

He was a showman, always, as he demonstrated in Chicago during the 1952 Democratic National Convention when he made a big thing out of the small fire he extinguished near the speaker's rostrum.

A decade later, during the bitter and acrimonious Democratic preprimary convention battle between Edward M. Kennedy and Edward J. McCormack, he was at it again. Peter--as his close friends usually referred to him--was throwing verbal bombs and spreading stories in the convention hall and the hotel lobbies that the then President John F. Kennedy was trading postmasterships in exchange for delegate votes for brother Ted.

Cloherty's performance in Springfield during that tension-filled gathering of the state's Democratic leaders demonstrated the intense personal loyalty which always characterized his up-and-down career. He was true to the McCormacks at a time when it was easier to side with a family headed by the President of the United States and the Attorney General.

That's why Speaker John W. McCormack and his nephew were in the forefront of the crowd at Cloherty's wake.

Cloherty invariably was at odds with the press which he felt went out of its way to hound him. As a result, he mistrusted most newsmen and kept some distance from them.

But there were many redeeming qualities about Cloherty which were hidden by the rough-and-tumble facade he exhibited whenever he was visible on a public forum.

His friends--and he had a legion of them--are quick to tell of his generosity to many causes. State Treasurer Robert Q. Crane, whose own selfless labors among the indigent and ill in nursing homes and hospitals are not generally known or disseminated by the media, describes Cloherty as "the most generous man I ever met."

"Peter could be overbearing and times seemed to have a million faults," the treasurer said. "But he had a big heart and always gave until it hurt."

"He was the last of his kind, the end of an era. I doubt tha there ever was another politician quite like him and I'm certain there never will be again."

During his two terms in the House from 1959 through 1962, Cloherty established himself as a very competent legislator.

He worked hard, tended tenaciously to his committee responsibilities throughout the annual January-March crush of public hearings, and generally displayed a fine sense of government.

It was no accident when his colleagues elected him president of the freshman class of representatives in 1959. He earned it.

Cloherty got into trouble when he was outside the legislative arena. His problems after he left the Legislature usually emanated from a peculiar inability to establish priorities and balance in his various endeavors.

He had a good sense of humor and could laugh at himself on occasion, as he did 10 years ago when he was spotlighted by the New Bedford Standard-Times. The newspaper revealed that the taxpayers of Massachusetts were still paying Cloherty $500 a month to investigate the possibility of Massachusetts participation in the New York World's Fair which had closed two years earlier in 1965.

He had been on that payroll for 4½ years and it seems that none of the legislative leaders who retained him had bothered to terminate his services after the New York exposition, Cloherty replied that there were "some misconceptions" about his responsibilities.

It was essential he stay on the job, he said, until a final accounting of the state's expenditures at the fair was made by the New England Council which supervised the region's participation in the fair. "I've been trying for a year to obtain the final accounting, but have had no success," Cloherty said. His red-faced associates decided to forego the accounting and terminated his services immediately.

As Treasuer Crane said, there'll never be another quite like Peter Cloherty. He's found the peace which seemed to elude him during his tumultuous life.

David Farrell is a Globe political columnist.