Romney Faced Leadership Test in Big Dig Tragedy

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney
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"His leadership was impressive," said former state Sen. Steven Baddour, a Democrat who was co-chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation. "You could criticize him on the issues. But when it comes to the management of a crisis, that's his wheelhouse."

Baddour recalled being summoned to a briefing in Romney's office shortly after the accident. He expected to find a room crowded with engineers and other officials. Instead he was alone with Romney, whose grasp of the accident and engineering details impressed Baddour.

Romney's prime target was Amorello, whom he had long accused of mismanaging the turnpike authority and the Big Dig.

Romney had previously tried to force Amorello out, but was rebuffed in court. Amorello was finally ousted after the tragedy, with pressure from Romney and others intensifying.

"I thought Romney scapegoated Amorello because it was politically convenient," said Warren Tolman, a former Democratic state senator.

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Tolman said Romney should have been more aggressive before the accident to take control of the Big Dig from Amorello and the turnpike authority.

"He looked great on TV, but he didn't do the dirty work of what needed to be done," said Tolman.

Romney never lobbied state lawmakers as hard on the Big Dig as he did on his health care overhaul plan, a cornerstone of his presidential ambitions, Tolman said.

"He didn't try to roll the boulder up the hill on the Big Dig," said Tolman.

Asked by reporters why he had not moved sooner to take control of the Big Dig, Romney blamed the Legislature for blocking him.

In a 2007 report, the National Transportation Safety Board criticized the MassachusettsTurnpike Authority, designers, inspectors and many of the contractors involved in the Big Dig.

The board said the collapse could have been avoided if designers and construction contractors had considered that the epoxy glue holding support anchors for the ceiling panels could slowly pull away. The NTSB said the turnpike authority contributed to the accident by failing to put in place a timely tunnel inspection program.

Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff in 2008 agreed to pay more than $400 million to settle a lawsuit the state filed over the collapse.

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