Caprios on the rise

By IAN DONNIS  |  March 2, 2006

In a Common Cause scorecard, Caprio received an 89.6 rating, compared to the Senate average of 88.2, based on 34 votes in the 2003-2004 legislative season. At the same time, Caprio — who easily turned back Senate challenges by Jeff Toste of the Green Party in 2002 and 2004 — is capable of fully tapping the benefits of incumbency.

West recalls how the senator, during legislative redistricting in 2001 and 2002, helped to design his district in such a way that it had the effect of squeezing another district, pitting the chamber’s sole black senator, Charles Walton, against Juan Pichardo, who went on to become the first Latino senator. (Faced with a federal lawsuit, subsequent Senate leaders remade 12 of the 38 Senate districts, with an eye to better representing minority voters, and a black senator, Harold Metts, was elected in 2004 to join Pichardo in the chamber.) Caprio recalls the original redistricting experience as “a very difficult process,” because of how it coincided with legislative downsizing, and he says the formation of some majority-minority districts was inevitable.

As it stands, the more interesting matter may be how Frank Caprio’s rising fortunes could affect those of his brother. “Political dynasties have power,” notes West. “There’s no question that if a family establishes itself as honorable and engaged in public service — regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum, from left to right — there’s power there, and the key question for any family is whether they can convert the strength of any family member into political capital for another member.”

The upstart
David Caprio, 38, followed a more circuitous path to politics, going to Boston College, studying in Monaco, working as a fish salesman, taking a degree at Suffolk Law, and working in the family law firm, before running in 1999 for a House vacancy created by the death of James Kelso, a partner of his father’s in the Coast Guard House. Yet if following in the footsteps created by his big brother proved a tough act at times, David Caprio has certainly developed his own identity as a member of the dissident Democrats in the House.

In 2002, when then-Speaker John B. Harwood was steadily blocking separation of powers legislation, Caprio emerged as an ardent advocate. “David Caprio was a key operative, on the radio with [talk-radio host John] DePetro, walking around the House floor with a cell phone in his ear and a cup of soda over his mouth, so no one could lip-read his conversation,” recalls Phil West. When Harwood and Democratic Party chief Bill Lynch moved to punish Caprio by replacing the members of his district committee (and the new committee endorsed a challenger, George F. Lenihan), some people would have skirted away from it, but “he ran right at it,” recalls West, transforming the heavy-handed tactics into a cudgel to clobber his opponents and cruising to a big reelection victory.

After a long period of autocratic rule, Harwood finally melted down, giving way in 2003 to the compromise choice of William J. Murphy. Somewhat improbably, Harwood then worked with Caprio, as well as Jeff Britt, the governor’s liaison to a group of Democratic dissidents, to block the budget backed by House Democrats in 2004. Although the budget ultimately passed, some observers see this moment — the bifurcation of the overwhelming Democratic majority in the House — as the beginning of the end of a strong speakership.

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