Retrospective: Jim Gordon and Cape Wind

"Nibbled to death by ducks"

Editor'sNote: This  piece appeared in The Cape Cod Times yesterday.
Mr. Freeman gave us permission to reprint it as an Op Ed here.

By James P. Freeman

Over the last 10 years, Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind Associates, has been the most maligned public figure on Cape Cod, and the wind farm he has conceived, planned and obtained legal approval for in Nantucket Sound has been the most consequential story here in the last decade.

Indeed, the Cape Cod Times has published 765 pieces — editorials, op-ed columns, guest opinions and news accounts — on the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound alone, Cape Wind's main nemesis in the ongoing battle. That averages a written fingerprint of 1.47 articles per week for 10 years straight, by far the most chronicled story for the paper. Add more for articles solely on Cape Wind.

Most compositions have been unfavorable toward the project; and many efforts, outside this paper, to halt it have been filled with such bile and bombast as to be unbelievable, which may ultimately prove to be a fatal flaw in opposition to the project.

The blades just might turn.

Sitting with Gordon in his spartan Boston office recently is to see a man more willful than wistful. He has endured years of personal epithets, endless public meetings, political and judicial jostling and searing setbacks, but has steadfastly succeeded, in the face of poor odds, in nearly seeing the wind farm begin construction and, ultimately, generation. If operational, it presumably affects every Cape home and business.

In jeans, tweed jacket and brown loafers, he is a study in comportment and contemplation, if not quiet confidence. If there is scar tissue, you wouldn't see it. "Ten years ago," he recalls, "we believed, compared to choosing fossil or nuclear generation, powering Cape Cod and the region with offshore wind was a compelling choice and today we still do."

The project is the most vetted public/private partnership in the commonwealth since the Big Dig. Considering that it is the first proposed offshore wind farm in the country's history, charting new regulatory territory in federal waters, not local, it has been well vetted at the national level, too. As expected, economics have morphed into politics.

Despite the muscle of the opposition led by the alliance (it has raised more than $23 million in the last decade), opinion polls consistently affirm Gordon's belief in the project as he has won more court battles. In 2007, Opinion Research Corp. determined 58 percent of those living on the Cape and Islands were in support of the project. Nearly two years ago, a University of Delaware study found 57 percent supported it. Further, a 2010 poll by The Boston Globe showed 69 percent of respondents supported Cape Wind.

For thoughtful conservatives, Jim Gordon presents an enigmatic crucible of choices that both challenge (skepticism on the validity of climate change, deregulation, and privatization) and embrace (entrepreneurship, limited government) basic conservative precepts. Conservatives are not known for their cuddling up to environmental issues. But Gordon stands on principle, as distinct from policy. Any principle should be welcome in today's political climate.

Low moments of public discourse and civics have outweighed the highlights: Barnstable Town Council's unusual parliamentary maneuvers in May 2002, the alliance's shameful near-exploitation of Walter Cronkite, the Cape Cod Chamber's refusal to allow Gordon to address the whole caucus (a past president was a lobbyist for the alliance).

The absolute low was committed by the Republican Party in supporting a single-issue politician in a 2002 state representative race. The candidate was not the problem; he lost. But his party refused to acknowledge it and coaxed him to appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court which ruled, properly, for incumbent Matthew Patrick, and helped cement, properly, the party's long minority status here. Proper conservatives should have been offended by the party's insouciance.

The alliance may have miscalculated Gordon's resolve, perseverance and his penchant for picking up on early trends, based on his past track record. Succeed or not this time, he will have left his own footprint.

As someone who has spearheaded a national debate, Gordon believes that "the last decade has been a challenging one for the energy industry. As this region and America plans its energy generation choices ... as well as our health and environment, it is evident that we have difficult decisions ahead." Gordon's candor and thoughtfulness are necessary and in demand today, a distinction he holds over those specialized interests that have succumbed to emotion. It also shows that he is, to the detriment of the vitriol of stuffy opposition, more visionary than villain.

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