His Mom Ran Hadassah. His Brother Made ‘Glee.’ Now Evan Falchuk Is Going Into Politics.
The 44-year-old healthcare entrepreneur wants to be Massachusetts’s next governor and maybe start a third-party revolution
Evan Falchuk has really good hair. It’s mesmerizingly good, in the way that only really good haircuts can be. Falchuk, who is running for governor of Massachusetts, wouldn’t tell me where he gets it cut, only that he has been going to the same place in Boston for the past decade. His campaign manager, Jennifer Beltz, called the haircut “the one punchy element” in her candidate’s beautifully tailored wardrobe, though when I met with Falchuk on a recent cold winter morning at his campaign headquarters, the cufflinks on the shirt he wore under his navy suit had flowers on them that could really only be described as “punchy.” They matched his purple tie, underscoring the youthfulness of the candidate, who is 44 and aiming to get into a business where the median age is 60.
He wears his tall, athletic build with ease—the same way he wears his great hair and his great suit. Olive skin, big brown eyes behind rimless square glasses, and extremely intense eye contact complete the look of the lawyer-entrepreneur. But Falchuk is not only well-dressed. He is also a scion of a well-connected and well-heeled Boston family. His father, Kenneth, is a professor at Harvard Medical School and on the staff at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; his mother, Nancy, a trained nurse, is a former national president of Hadassah. Evan Falchuk is extremely intelligent—the kind of intelligence you can’t fake, the kind that enjoys its own seat at the table, as stunning and electrifying as beauty. He has been this way since he was a child, according to his younger brother Brad, writer, producer, and co-creator of Glee. “Evan always seemed to be the smartest person in the room,” he told me. “Everyone went to him for answers to things.”
The aura of the child-prodigy still clings to Falchuk, who took his father’s small medical-consulting company and built it into a $200 million business. He announced his candidacy last February, shortly after launching the United Independent Party—an initiative explicitly aimed at solving the problems Falchuk believes plague the two-party system. “Massachusetts is home to some of the most forward-leaning businesses in the world,” Falchuk wrote in a letter to the Boston Globe in June. “What we don’t have is a functioning, multiparty democracy. … As a result, in many respects, voters lose out in terms of broader options and new ideas.”
So far, Falchuk’s platform consists of familiar-sounding themes—investment in job training, infrastructure, and renewable energy. When he describes his goals, he is articulate, compelling, sharp and clear, as mesmerizing as his hair. When I asked him what the United Independent Party believes the role of government to be, he told me it’s not a question of ideology. “The role of government is to play a constructive role, be helpful in solving problems consistent with what our values are. People just don’t trust government anymore,” he he told me, sitting at the conference table in his office, overlooking Boston Common. “If your customers don’t trust you, you have to address that issue.”
It’s the answer of someone who has built a fortune successfully catering to consumers. Falchuk is most in his bliss when he’s using his intelligence to identify and solve problems, as described in his personal bible, the management book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins. Starting something new, he told me in his campaign headquarters, is “the root of every entrepreneurial success story. You don’t usually see that in politics. My background is in business, and most Americans, that’s their mindset. And the thing with ideologies, they distill everything down to their ideology, and the trouble is, the world is more sophisticated and nuanced than any ideology can speak to.”
Falchuk is hardly the first entrepreneur to run for elected office as a progressive, pragmatic outsider. But he is running in a state that has seesawed wildly between partisan extremes in the past three years, electing both Scott Brown, a Tea Party Republican, and Elizabeth Warren, the country’s best-known progressive icon, to the U.S. Senate. Massachusetts is famously deep-blue turf when it comes to presidential elections, but the current governor, the progressive Democrat Deval Patrick, was preceded in office by the Republican standard-bearer Mitt Romney.
The gubernatorial field is already crowded, and no real frontrunner has emerged to replace Patrick, who is not running for a third term. Martha Coakley, the state’s Democratic attorney general—who is best known for extravagantly losing her 2010 campaign to fill Ted Kennedy’s open Senate seat after his death—is facing State Treasurer Steven Grossman, a onetime Democratic National Committee chair and former AIPAC president, as well as Juliette Kayyem, a former Boston Globe columnist who served in the Obama Administration. On the Republican side, Charles Baker, who lost to Patrick in 2010, is running again. Analysts say that in a state with very little history of supporting independent candidates, Falchuk may wind up playing the role of most third-party candidates: spoiler. “If you were a Democrat, you might fear his candidacy more than a Republican,” said Thomas Whalen, a social scientist at Boston University. “It won’t take much to swing the election. If he can take just 2 percent of the vote, that could be a big factor determining who next governor is.”
Jennifer Beltz, who spent two years working for Falchuk’s company, Best Doctors, as vice president of public affairs and media relations before joining the campaign, remembers the moment that the conversations about politics that she and Falchuk enjoyed casually turned into a more urgent realization that he should be pursuing public office. Evan had just given an interview to AARP Primetime in Washington about healthcare. “It was a very challenging, lengthy interview with the host, not a light interview, and he was able to explain things in such a compelling and clear way. At the end, the host said, ‘Evan Falchuk, the guy makes too much sense for me,’ ” Beltz recalled. “Sometimes you have a crystallizing moment, and I remember thinking, that’s what we need in our leaders.”
The timeline leading up to the double announcement of the United Independent Party and Falchuk for Governor 2014, though slightly blurry, is nothing if not compressed. Falchuk’s wife, Felicia, remembers the idea percolating over several months during which Evan sat down with her, and his parents, and then some good friends and mentors. I met Felicia in a Starbucks in Newtonville, near their home in Auburndale. Her jet-black hair was styled in a pixie cut that swept across her forehead, softened by warm brown eyes and a silky blue floral blouse. Felicia, who met Evan at law school at the University of Pennsylvania, worked as a lawyer for four years before giving it up to raise their three children. (She recently went back to school part-time to study social work.) “He said he had the interest, and it was like, OK,” she said. “You brainstorm and you think about it and you focus your energies.”
It was, Falchuk told me, the ugliness of the 2012 election cycle that finally drove him to action. “I felt like I was watching and saying, this is wrong, this is wrong, but what do you do about it? It has to be a new movement. A new party,” he said.
He spent the months leading up to his announcement doing “what most entrepreneurs do: you get really good advice from people.” Which people? He was unwilling to say. The only people named in his arsenal of political influences were his parents, as though his political make-up were quite literally in his DNA. “Given what my mother has done and continues to do in her career, she is a person who has a remarkable ability to articulate a vision and just drive to making it into a reality,” Falchuk told me. “The things she’s done with Hadassah are remarkable. I remember as a kid in the 1970s knowing that she was very involved and watching that progression. She has always been that kind of person who says, ‘I see the future. It’s right over there.’ I’ve always been inspired and motivated by her. When I think about what I’m doing right now, I think: We have a political problem. What is the issue? How can we take that on and change that? You can see my mother’s influence. She has always inspired me. Always.”
Nancy Falchuk has the grace and the glamour of a retired movie star, with the aura of power usually reserved for the studio head. With her reddish hair, her excellent make-up, and immaculate presentation—the day we met, she wore a beautiful red bracelet that matched the terra-cotta scarf worn over black with ballet flats and dark gray nails—one could see where her son got his sense of style. She exudes competence, confidence, and the sense that she doesn’t let things get in her way.
About her son running for governor, Nancy said, “It’s a little unusual. A little bold. A little courageous,” with a smile at the crossroads of indulgent and playful. “You have a kid and you want everything to be good, but would you want to keep him in a closet with his wife and three kids? No. I say he should go for it,” she went on, over lunch at a Legal Sea Foods in Chestnut Hill, a suburb wedged between Brookline and Newton. Of course, she’s been able to bring her years of experience as a nonprofit organizer and fundraiser to bear on the effort. “Instead of soliciting somebody for Hadassah,” she told me, “I’m asking for support for my son.”
But Nancy was quick to credit her husband with giving her son his appetite for taking risks. Kenneth Falchuk grew up in Caracas but was sent to New York for schooling. “He was literally dumped on his aunt’s doorstep in Brooklyn at 12 years old, speaking mainly Spanish,” Nancy told me. “You can imagine how lonely it was.” The elder Falchuk went to Stuyvesant High School and returned to Venezuela for medical school before settling permanently in Boston. He met Nancy at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, where she was a charge nurse when he was a resident.
Evan, their oldest child, was born in 1969, followed by Brad and then their younger sister Aimee, who worked as a lobbyist for Pfizer and Genzyme, and is now, like Felicia Falchuk, working on a Master’s degree in counseling.
“It was a very curious family,” Brad Falchuk told me. “We traveled a bunch. My parents were always like, ‘What’s out there? We’re gonna check it out, we’re gonna go on an adventure.’ It was a kind of safety without caution. And there were always books around, and a great deal of humor.” Brad said he and his siblings have a very similar sense of humor and recalled Woody Allen and Monty Python marathons at the Boston Square Theater. “Evan was the kind of big brother you want,” Brad said, “Always willing to lead the way, never getting in the way of me being myself. So much of who I am I got from him, the integrity, and a way of approaching the world with curiosity and openness.”
Felicia Falchuk told me, “When I first met Evan’s family, I was like wow, they are all so charismatic and good looking! I was very taken with them. There’s something very special about all of them. They all have that special quality that draws people to them and makes them leaders.”
Like every good son of Massachusetts, Falchuk is a big fan of the Boston Red Sox and speaks of the team winning the World Series in 2004 as a defining moment, the moment in which he was finally able to emerge, at the age of 34, from the shadow cast by the sneers of his New York cousins, Yankees fans whose taunts he still remembers: “The Red Sox suck, and by the way, you suck, because you are a Red Sox fan.” We sat under the specter of the Red Sox, doing their thing in not one but three framed photos on the candidate’s office wall. The only time Falchuk’s face broke from the earnest, intelligent expression it wore when he spoke about politics was when I asked why, if the Red Sox kept losing until that World Series, he didn’t just pick a better team.
Falchuk is in many ways a candidate of this political moment, when healthcare and the ugly partisan fight over healthcare reform are the dominant topic of discussion. When he talks about the limits of contemporary political discourse, he doesn’t have to reach far to illustrate the points he wishes to make. “Take an example from healthcare,” he told me when we met at his office. “The typical political debate becomes, ‘Government should do more,’ or ‘No! The market should do this, keep government out.’ You can be debating this all night long if you want to. It’s a great thing to argue about if you’re in a dorm room. In real life, it’s totally disconnected.”
He spent nearly 15 years at Best Doctors, taking a nine-person specialty operation his father started in the 1980s to help direct patients to medical experts in Boston and turning it into a clearinghouse for helping insurers provide a network of experts for offering second opinions. When Falchuk joined, in 1999—after spending five years in Washington working in securities law—he struck the company’s CEO, David Seligman, as “an old soul.” A year later, with business foundering, Seligman said Falchuk—still just 30—had the vision to imagine what was possible for the firm. “Evan and I were faced with, ‘Do we sell the company, or fix this together?’ We looked each other in the eye and said, ‘We can make it happen,’ and we did,” Seligman told me. “I can see it like it was yesterday.” Today, Best Doctors employs more than 600 people—though when Falchuk left, in July, to focus on his campaign, he drew much of his staff, including Beltz, from the company.
Falchuk talks about voters and their concerns with respect and empathy, like they are consumers making rational choices, rather than a teeming mass of disaffected morons. While others might bemoan low voter turnout as a sign of an apathetic electorate, Falchuk sees it as a sign that the system is broken. “It’s a symptom of a deeper problem,” he explained, “which is people feeling like the political process is not a way for them to be engaged in the civic life of our country. And that’s bad because the political process is the way you should be engaged in civic life.”
Hence the United Independent Party, intimately connected in the candidate’s mind with his run. “You don’t get out of this rut by one election,” Falchuk told me, citing a recent Gallup poll in which 60 percent of American voters declared a desire for a third party. “It’s a cause as much as a candidate running.” Falchuk wants to ensure that even if he doesn’t win the gubernatorial election, he will be able to effect change in the Massachusetts state legislature. This is why he didn’t start by running for a less ambitious office. “If all I wanted to do was get myself elected to some office, of course I could run for city council or state rep. But the goal is to build this movement. The goal is really to change the dialogue.”
Of course, it’s possible that low voter turnout signals something else: satisfaction with the status quo. Massachusetts, unlike Washington, isn’t gripped by partisan gridlock; despite the regular appearance of Republicans in high offices, Democrats have almost total control over the state legislature, which means they get things done—pass budgets, adopt legislation. “Evan is arguing that’s not a good way to run a democracy, that we need a system where everyone has a voice and can have an impact,” said Tim Vercellotti, the director of the Western New England University Polling Institute in Springfield, Mass. “What he has to do is make a case for it.”
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