After facing defeat in 2006Â in a battle for Beacon Hill,Â Beverly resident and formerÂ Lt. Governer Kerry HealeyÂ opts for a fast-paced careerÂ as a television personality,Â global political activist,Â and human rights champion.Â By Andrea Fox
Kerry Healey may have exited public office four years ago after an unsuccessful race against Democratic opponent Governor Deval Patrick, but she’s hardly left the game. Northshore caught up with Healey in her hometown of Beverly to discuss her work as part of the Mitt Romney Presidential exploratory committee; “Shining City,” a local television show she created and co-hosts; and a life in the global politics fast lane.
Catching up with Kerry Healey wasn’t an easy task, what with her trips to Afghanistan, the Middle East, and a family vacation to Florida; balancing a new television deal as co-host and co-creator; her responsibilities as a mother of two high school-aged children; a working role in a high-profile public partnership; women’s advocacy and philanthropy projects; and a role in a potential Mitt Romney Presidential campaign.
Healey is supporting the “Romney: Believe in America” campaign as part of his foreign policy team. Her purpose is “to formulate a more coherent strategy abroadÂ…and help Mitt run the best campaign he can,” Healey says, adding that she wants people to “discover who Mitt is, this time around,” that he is someone different than the dashing businessman we met when he first ran and became governor in 2002. Healey has worked with Romney in various capacities over the last nine years, which has only increased her respect for him, she says. “I don’t even recognize some of the caricatures I see of him in the press. My guess is that this time around, the American people will get to see more of the relaxed, self-deprecating, sincere, and deeply principled person I know and less of the plastic caricature they see in spliced clips on ‘The Daily Show,'” Healey says.
Speaking of television, Healey has carved a new career for herself. Following a 2007 fellowship at Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Institute of Politics and The Center for Public Leadership, where she led discussion groups and classes on “Beyond the Rhetoric of Reform: Creating Real Change,” which drew from examples of health care, Melanie’s Law, domestic law, and homelessness policy under the Romney-Healey Administration, she developed a television show not about politics, but science and society. The program, called “Shining City” gives voice to local innovators.
The idea for the show came from Healey’s life as Lt. Governor-a role with “a lot of ribbon cuttings and awards,” she says. Healey was impressed by the number of entrepreneurs “solving the greatest challenges” of humanity, “whether we are ready for them or not.”
On “Shining City,” which originally appeared on NESN in 2010 and in June moves to WGBH for its second season, Healey and co-host Tracy Palandjian offer Barbara Walters-style interviews that introduce the creative processes and minds behind New England’s technology leaders. From robotic insects that could be used as spies by the U.S. Department of Defense or to pollinate crops in the event of a widespread honey bee colony collapse to the most enhanced technologies and incredible tools for social advancement, the show’s first season allowed viewers to go one-on-one with leaders of private business, the non-profit sector, and academic research.
The show’s name was derived in part from a speech delivered by Governor John Winthrop as he and his Puritan pilgrims arrived at the Arbella to build a city, which he said would be judged by future generations. Later, in his own address referring to Winthrop’s speech, Ronald Regan coined the actual term, calling it the “Shining City,” Healey says.
“I want to encourage people to think about these enormously provocative technologies,” and about the ethics of the world we are creating, says Healey. Some of the segments were indeed provocative, such as that of transcranial magnetic stimulation by Harvard Medical School neurologist Alvaro Pascual-Leone, who works with its application in cognitive neuroscience. Healey explains that the non-invasive technology can shut off parts of the human brain and can be used when surgery is not possible or as behavior modification, which possesses “society-altering possibilities.” In the future, such technology could be used by the judicial system, she notes.
Brain alteration as part of criminal sentencing elicits sharp reactions. “Republicans will be using it on Democrats,” one liberal quipped when presented with the idea. Healey describes the dance of science and politics as “intimateÂ… it’s critical to the advancement of our economy.” Government funds science, she points out. Healey also says that creating public support for such research is essential in order “to make good choices about the future.” When asked if humans can create flawless political and judicial systems, she responds, “You create them. I don’t think you can execute themÂ…but there’s nothing wrong with trying to reach them.”
While “Shining City” requires a considerable quantity of Healey’s time and attention, it’s certainly not the only project with which she’s currently involved. In addition to television, Healey is working to create an improved, if not perfect, foreign judicial system. Her work with the non-profit Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan (PPP), a program created by Condoleeza Rice in December 2007, intends to foster a judicial system similar to our own in this land still ruled by Shirea Law. In 2008, Healey joined the PPP as an executive committee member. She writes grants, oversees teams that considers applicants, and is involved in planning and executing training sessions that “advance the rule of Afghan law.”
This year, there were 100 Afghani applicants for 12 full boat scholarships for LLM degrees-master’s degrees in law, focused on human rights or commercial law-at prestigious American universities like Harvard, Stanford, Washington & Lee, and Boston University. The program’s Afghani lawyers, who are both male and female and heavily screened by top security, Healey says, are expected to return to their country upon graduation to implement what Healey describes as basic human rights, like Miranda rights, social justice, and women’s rights, and to address corruption.
When she accompanied Romney to Afghanistan, the UAE, Jordan, and Israel earlier this year as part of a fact-finding mission sponsored by the International Republican Institute, Healey coordinated PPP applicant interviews at the same time. She checked in with the team daily between meetings and dinners with President Hamid Karzai, General David Petraeus (commanding officer of U.S. armed forces), and Ambassador and former Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, as well as members of the Afghani Parliament.
Although Healey’s work has brought her within the company of some high-profile personalities, the job isn’t always glamorous. In fact, on that visit to the Middle East, Healey stayed three days in accommodations called “hooches”-stainless-steel rooms with sandbags on top. “There is always a calculated risk whenever you enter these areasÂ…you get in, you get out,” she says.
Passionate about her role with the PPP, the plan is to create a “predictable, transparent law system,” Healey says. After the fall of the Taliban, “they had no laws to endure,” she says. The PPP connects American law to Afghanistan “by providing greater contact with American law schools and students,” she continues. The goal is “to try and determine what we could best contribute to the fractured and complex legal system.”
While in Afghanistan, Healey joined Romney on talks with leaders in volatile, tribal Pashtun areas-areas in southeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan inhabited by Pashto-speaking people-and led a training session with female members of Parliament to discuss great social challenges America has faced. She told them about Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges and how they worked “through non-violence to achieve so much,” she says. “They found these examples very moving,” says Healey. “It was very comforting for them to know our nation had similar problems,” wherein law and practice do not align.
Supporting women in public office is another priority for Healey, both here and overseas. As part of Political Parity, a group led by former ambassador to Austria Swanee Hunt and composed of influential women across political ideologies, Healey assisted with putting the concept and funding together for NameItChangeIt.org, a website and blog that addresses “media misogyny”-how women are portrayed in the media. In Afghanistan, Healey is helping to establish the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul because mixed-gender classes are problematic in a culture that more often than not separates the sexes. It’s an “impediment toward women’s investment,” she says. “It’s this odd little barrierÂ…you need these single-gender environments.”
In the future, Healey might suspend her roles as international judicial progress facilitator, television host, and foreign policy advisor from her base in Beverly and run for office, but not until her two children, aged 16 and 18, complete high school, she says. Family has been the first priority in this woman’s world, and being there to drive her children to school at Milton Academy is very important, she says, noting that if she does opt to seek public office, she doesn’t intend to leave the North Shore. Healey, raised in Daytona, Florida, fell in love with the region and Beverly after studies at Harvard University. At 27, she worked for ABT Consulting in Cambridge and took work excursions to Joan Mullen’s Samuel Morse House in Pride’s Crossing. She and her husband were captivated by Garden City’s beauty, she says. Despite where her work, projects, and passions take her in the world, one thing is certain, says Healey. “I love Beverly and am not going anywhere.”