Baker leads group in ice bucket challenge

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Written by Andy Metzger

STATE HOUSE — The water-drenched fundraising campaign that began as a trickle last summer created a waterfall on the State House steps Monday as Gov. Charlie Baker led about 150 people who soaked themselves for charity.

The Ice Bucket Challenge supports ALS research, and last year’s viral campaign has been reborn with participation by Major League Baseball teams, and by top Beacon Hill officials on Monday.

Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player now living with the disease, was a founder of the challenge and he joined the spectacle Monday at the top of the State House steps.

The dousing, which included about 150 buckets filled with water and ice, created a stream that poured down to the bottom of the stairs where the news media gathered.

Baker wore a “Free Brady” shirt to the event and challenged Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to take the challenge.

The governor was joined by members of his staff and cabinet, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, Treasurer Deb Goldberg, Auditor Suzanne Bump, and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

The fundraiser’s concept is that donors drench themselves with icy water in August and challenge someone else to do the same. Baker, who declined to say how much he gave, said afterwards he had given a heads up to both Walsh and Raimondo before publicly challenging them.

A video posted by Rosenberg showed that the Senate president used his bucket to soak Polito, who will be the officiant at his wedding. While the video did not show it, an aide to Rosenberg confirmed that the lieutenant governor soaked the Senate president in turn.

Earlier this year, Baker shaved his head for cancer research, and earlier this month he bicycled 25 miles for the same.

Nancy Frates, the mother of Pete, said the goal is to ultimately raise $1 billion, which she said is the estimated cost of developing a treatment.

According to The ALS Association, last year’s challenge raised more than $220 million globally, including $115 million for the association, and it generated 17 million challenge videos posted to Facebook.

Standing on State House steps where 300 people were gathered along with about 150 buckets of ice water, Baker heralded the “second chapter of the most successful public awareness and fundraising campaign in the history of the fight against ALS – The Ice Bucket Challenge.”

The steps are the traditional greeting place for the governor welcoming foreign dignitaries and Baker’s usage of them for the charity event should raise awareness of the disease that afflicted his former boss, Gov. Paul Cellucci who died in 2013. Its cause unknown, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis causes nerve cells to die, leading to muscle weakness and paralysis. It is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, named after the late Yankees first baseman. Next year, Baker plans to run in charity road-race, which benefits ALS research at UMass Medical School.

Pete Frates, the face of the challenge, sat in a wheelchair at the top of the steps, and his mother said Baker, a Swampscott Republican, has had breakfast at their Beverly home twice.

“This isn’t a one-shot deal for Governor Baker. Governor Baker has been by our side since a while ago, and he and Pete have a real great friendship,” Nancy Frates said.

The fundraising brought about by video-friendly drenching has been a “game-changer” and has led to a “tipping point in the trajectory of this disease,” Nancy Frates told reporters.

“Last year we funded a lot of projects that were on the back-burner waiting for funding. And now this will keep it going,” said Nancy Frates, who noted the big smile on her son’s face.

A bucket of foam balls was dumped on the head of Pete Frates Monday in place of icy water.

This year’s challenge kicked off at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox took part, and Nancy Frates said the ballclub could participate in another event later in the month when the Yankees come to town. She also said she believes “there’s something in the works” for an Ice Bucket Challenge when the New Orleans Saints play the New England Patriots in preseason ball Aug. 22.

Baker showed solidarity with Pats quarterback Tom Brady, who is embroiled in a legal dispute with the league over his punishment for his alleged knowledge of deflated footballs last postseason.

Baker’s “Free Brady” T-shirt drew a brief chant of “Free Tom Brady” from the officialdom gathered in front of the State House, and some online razzing from David Portnoy, of Barstool Sports, who complained on Twitter that the T-shirt Baker wore was a “knockoff” of his own.

Baker told reporters someone had sent him the T-shirt and he checked in with the Frates family before wearing it Monday.

The governor said he had donated online, and left others to decide for themselves whether to give.

“Pete and his family have really struck a chord here, and to the extent that we can help them do this every year, of course we will,” Baker said.

Appearing to stand on The Mall in Washington D.C., Baker’s staff in the nation’s capital posted their own video of an Ice Bucket Challenge, challenging the D.C. offices of the governors of New Jersey, Iowa and Nevada.

On the sunbaked steps, staffers stood alongside members of the governor’s cabinet and the Legislature. Sen. Marc Pacheco and other staffers looked on from the gallery above the steps that links the Senate to the governor’s office.

“Everyone pick up your own bucket and dump it on you, OK? Not till I say three,” Baker aide Scott Conway instructed the group.

Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton, clad in T-shirt and shorts, greeted his former House colleague Rep. Angelo D’Emilia, who wore a full suit. Before the countdown, Reps. David Nangle and Paul Tucker mocked as though they were about to unload their buckets on Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Joan Lovely, a longtime friend of the Frates family.

Speakers pumped ice-related tunes – “Cold as Ice,” “Ice, Ice, Baby,” “Tenth Avenue Freezeout” – before turning to Fenway standard “Sweet Caroline.”

Families walking the Freedom Trail, employees on lunch break and tourists from other states stopped at the State House, some pressing themselves up against the State House’s wrought iron gates to watch the governor drench himself with ice water.

At one point, a Duck Boat tour stopped short of the red light at the corner of Beacon and Park streets to afford its passengers a better vantage point of the festivities, prompting other drivers to honk in frustration.

As the countdown began members of the media shouted for aides to move aside to provide a clear view of the governor, and then as the buckets were dumped faces turned from smiles to shock. A loud holler went up from the crowd and the chilly water ran down the steps, leading reporters to seek higher ground on the curbstones.

[Colin A. Young contributed reporting]

Copyright State House News Service