Skip to main content

U.S. Representative Michael Capuano '77

hot seats, cool heads

U.S. Representative Michael Capuano

On the BC Law ethos:

Father Drinan was the Congressman representing BCLS when I attended. I think his example did set a tone for the school. He also helped demonstrate how to use the law and Catholic teachings to advance one’s commitment to public service.

On defining effective leadership:

It would take a book to fully answer this question—and I will leave book writing to [retiring US Representative] Barney Frank for now. For me, effective leadership starts with a vision of where you want to go followed by a belief that others want to go in the same direction. Then you must make a commitment to take action—and actually work toward your goal. I also believe that truly effective leaders understand that compromise is necessary and appropriate in order to make progress.

Describe your own leadership style:

See my [previous answer] and add a dash of chutzpah. My fear of holding a position that is not shared by the majority is usually outweighed by a sense of what I believe is right and a commitment to have minority views heard.

On your leadership in action:

I try to approach every issue with an open mind and a willingness to seek compromise where possible. In 2007, I was asked to chair the bipartisan Special Task Force on Ethics Enforcement with the goal of establishing an independent entity to review Congressional ethics matters. The task force worked cooperatively for a year to present a recommendation to the full House. From the beginning, it was clear that the Republican task force members were opposed to the concept of an independent ethics office. But instead of accepting that fundamental disagreement and announcing that a compromise wasn’t possible, we agreed to focus on each detail of the office and worked to forge consensus where possible. In the end, the Republican members of the task force declined to endorse an independent office, but they also declined to submit their own competing plan and they did not attack either the plan or me. The House did establish an independent ethics entity, the Office of Congressional Ethics, which operates today.

On improving as a leader:

Sometimes I see an answer so clearly that I feel constrained by the need to work with others and I get impatient when the solution takes too long to implement.

How do you use your BC Law training?

The most important skill I learned at BC was how to organize my thought process and how to approach a problem. I use this training every day.

Has your leadership approach changed in the last several years as Congress has become increasingly divisive and partisan?

My approach to problem solving has not changed. My success rate has diminished, but my approach remains the same.

On exemplary past leaders:

I’d like to focus on one individual: Sam Adams (even though he was notoriously anti-Catholic). His commitment to a cause kept the movement alive almost singlehandedly after the British backed down from their taxation laws. When the British repealed all taxes except one, almost every other leader of the movement declared victory. Sam Adams worked to refocus the country on the remaining tax on imported tea. He earned the label of “chief incendiary” from Governor Hutchinson (1768) and the Governor’s commentary to King George III, “Most of the parties are quiet; and all of them, except [Sam] Adams, abate of their virulence.” (1771). Without Adams’ commitment, vision, and leadership, there would be no United States of America.

On the leadership process:

I must repeat my [earlier] answer—this would take a book. The process works differently in different situations. I will say that it is not pretty, it is not neat, it is not linear, and no book I have ever read explains it well.

On changing your position:

We do get criticized for changing our minds. But we also get criticized for being stale, too young or too old, being too vain and too unkempt ... and everything in between. I don’t worry about it. I have strong views but I am also willing to listen to the other side. That often helps strengthen my own views and helps me to see the other side of an argument.