Mass betrayal

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  June 19, 2009

Many local good-government advocates are now hoping that the stunning new allegations about DiMasi will awaken their favorite lawmakers to the need for systemic change — in the rules and in their own personal behavior. But they are not feeling optimistic.

"The silence is deafening," says one Boston pol, who, like others, asked not to be identified when criticizing the local representatives. "I don't think any of them have changed their attitudes."

"I don't think that any of them are saying there's a group culture problem," adds one consultant. "They get so used to the way things work, it's hard to see what needs to be changed."

"What changes?" asks the pol. "They're just loyal to another Speaker."

Who's to blame?
The truth may be more complex, but attempts to get a more optimistic picture don't get very far.

The Phoenix tried this past week to ask 10 local representatives — Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester, Kevin Honan of Brighton, Elizabeth Malia of Dorchester, Michael Moran of Brighton, Byron Rushing of the South End, Jeffrey Sánchez of Jamaica Plain, Carl Sciortino of Somerville, Frank Smizik of Brookline, Marty Walz of Beacon Hill, and Alice Wolf of Cambridge — about the need for systemic and cultural change in the wake of the DiMasi developments. All are considered relatively progressive, but voted for DiMasi and then DeLeo — and have subsequently moved up in leadership. In fact, all are now committee chairs, with the exceptions of Rushing, who has a leadership position as division chair, and Sciortino, who is vice-chair of transportation and also sits on the Ways and Means committee.

Only Forry, Moran, Walz, and Wolf returned calls, and none agreed that House members had enabled DiMasi's alleged corruption by allowing him to rule unchecked.

They did express shock and anger about the allegations in the DiMasi indictment. But they all insist that, if the charges are true, the problem was due to the actions of a rogue criminal, not of an enabling culture.

"The egregious behavior is being adjudicated in court, and that is appropriate," says Wolf. "We have tough laws."

"I don't think you can legislate someone's moral compass," says Forry. "I think overarchingly the public trust is well kept, except by a few bad apples."

"If the allegations are true, what [DiMasi and his co-defendants] did is criminal, and no ethics bill is going to stop that," says Moran. "Is this a systemic problem? I don't think so."

They also defend their previous shows of loyalty, including their vote to retain DiMasi as Speaker. At the time, they say, the accusations remained merely newspaper-reported rumor.

And, says Moran, those reports did not include the pay-to-play allegations contained in the indictment. "A company set up that was going to get a referral fee that he would get a piece of? There was no way that anybody could have known that."

As for DiMasi's refusal to turn over documents to the Ethics Commission during its investigation of the Cognos contract last fall, there are no apologies. They say they were swayed by personal appeals by the former Speaker, who argued that he was protecting not himself, but the principle of private legislative deliberation. "It seemed to make sense," says Wolf. "Maybe it didn't make sense."

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Deval Patrick, Massachusetts House of Representatives, David Bernstien,  More more >
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