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Inside Politics

Massachusetts governor seeks connections with citizens

Story Highlights

• Born in Chicago, lived on tough South Side until age 14
• After Harvard Law School worked for NAACP, Clinton administration
• Plans to take calls from public on monthly radio program
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BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Gov. Deval Patrick is trying to increase accessibility to Massachusetts' political leaders.

"I understand how regular people don't feel as if people in power are actually connected to them," he told CNN recently.

Patrick, the only African-American governor in the United States, ran a campaign he described as grassroots. The intent, he said, was to connect with people on a personal level. (Patrick talks about being a historical figure )

Now as their governor the Democrat is reaching out in unusual ways to keep the connection going.

Patrick will let the people of Massachusetts talk directly to him during a segment on a talk radio show called "Ask the Governor." The show will air once a month, and the governor will field questions by phone, fax and e-mail. The show also will be available on the governor's home page as a podcast.

"We ran a campaign -- and we talked about it on your show -- that was very much about asking people who had checked out to check back in," he told the first audience on WTKK. "And it was a strategy to win. But I also think that asking all those people to check in, we have to keep faith in them. We have to continue to have a way to talk directly to me, for me to hear their ideas, to get their advice."

The first caller asked the governor why he supported giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Another asked about clean water. The hosts asked him where he stood with the field of Democratic candidates for the 2008 presidential race.

He took the political high road then as he did Tuesday in an interview with CNN.

"I do expect to get involved in the race, including in the primary," Patrick said. "But for the time being -- I have been in office less than two months -- I have got to concentrate on my knitting right here."

Tough childhood in Chicago

Patrick has lived in Massachusetts since he was 14. Born in Chicago on the South Side, he had a tough upbringing. He shared a single bedroom with his mother and sister. His father, a musician, was often away from home. Patrick grew up self-assured as well as smart.

His seventh-grade teacher told The Boston Globe in May that Patrick was bound to be successful.

"What they would have said in those days is that he had good home training," Darla Weissenberg told the Globe. "He just knew how to talk to people, look people in the eye."

After attending the prestigious Milton School in Boston on scholarship, Patrick went to Harvard for his undergraduate studies and for law school.

"I was very blessed to grow up in a family where they never trimmed our sails," he told CNN in January. "They never clipped our wings. I remember talking about wanting to go to college. No one in my family had ever gone to college.

"In fact, my sister, who is a year older, was the first one in the family to finish high school. But no one ever discouraged us and said that that was beyond our capacity, as my grandmother used to say, "to hope for and to work for."

After graduation he spent several years with the NAACP legal fund before joining a private law firm in Boston in 1986.

Eight years later, President Clinton appointed him to the top civil rights post in the United States as an assistant attorney general. He returned to private practice in 1997, telling the Globe that the job had taken its toll.

"It's not a question of whether it was fun, it's a question of whether you can last," Patrick said. "You have no idea how demanding these jobs are, financially, emotionally. The average tenure is a year and a half."

The move meant no more commuting between Washington and Boston, where his wife, Diane, was also an attorney.

Patrick also worked for Texaco in New York and Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia. But his wife and two daughters remained in the same house in Milton the couple bought in 1990.

When Patrick ran for governor, he told CNN, he asked the people of Massachusetts to expect a lot from him -- and from themselves.

"And that's what people responded to," he said. "People appreciate that the challenges we're facing took a long time to develop into the kinds of challenges they are, and they will take awhile to solve and to respond to."

He easily defeated three challengers, winning 56 percent of the vote, in November 2006.

Patrick said he intends reform the education system and other major initiatives.

"People are constantly looking at a good idea, big idea that you can only accomplish over time and saying well its not possible, its never been done before. Well my whole life is about what's possible."

CNN's Dan Lothian contributed to this report


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Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is the second African-American elected to a state's top post since the 1860s.

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