The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Moonsigns  |  Band Guide  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures
Media -- Dont Quote Me  |  News Features  |  Talking Politics  |  This Just In

Mass betrayal

How House progressives have let you down — and why they'll do it again
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  June 19, 2009


Massholes: A timeline of modern-day state house corruption. By David S. Bernstien.

Weakened watchdogs: If the Globe shrinks, will Beacon Hill run amok? By Adam Reilly.

Is the Massachusetts House of Representatives beyond all hope? Under Democratic leadership — whether conservative (Thomas Finneran, 1996 to 2004), liberal (Salvatore DiMasi, 2004 to 2009), or moderate (new Speaker Robert DeLeo) — the song has pretty much remained the same for the last decade and a half: an insular and out-of-touch legislature is lost in its own constricted and often petty perspectives.

As the recent pattern has been, those in the current Speaker's good graces protect the status quo; the rest plot and wait for their chance to benefit from the system. Thus, the liberals who regularly decried Finneran's autocratic, centralized, secretive leadership were later found, under DiMasi, strutting imperiously through the sty of Beacon Hill, like the pigs in George Orwell's Animal Farm.

That charge was leveled at them even before scandalous revelations led to DiMasi's resignation in January (see "DiMasi's Sheep," April 11, 2008), and has now taken on increased urgency in the wake of the former Speaker's federal indictment on corruption charges earlier this month.

DiMasi's indictment, after all, paints a shocking portrait of a powerful politician on the take. According to the feds, he and his friends took money from Canadian software maker Cognos, in exchange for the Speaker using and abusing his power to get lucrative state contracts for the company.

While DiMasi has been officially charged only in that matter, many on Beacon Hill suspect additional charges may ultimately be filed. Other actions, such as controversial bill changes that benefited friends of DiMasi or their clients, may still be under investigation. (Indictments on the Cognos affair were made first, they speculate, because a key informant had a paper trail of payments, coming from Cognos and made to DiMasi).

In retrospect, some say, nobody knows what DiMasi's motives might have been when acting on any number of laws or favors, because, for the most part, House members — including many progressive lawmakers from Boston and the immediate area — were willing to obey the Speaker's requests without demanding much in the way of explanations. Many of those lawmakers have since moved up in the power structure under DiMasi, and his chosen successor DeLeo.

That silent obedience, critics charge, has been the great failing of the House liberals: they enabled DiMasi by accepting their roles as quiescent pawns, rubber-stamping the bills and amendments delivered from on high, and quashing any initiatives disapproved by the central office.

In response, some have argued that reform-minded members of the liberal wing of the House have been steadily gaining power, and are actually working to enact change against a recalcitrant body of old-time traditionalists. But that theory is a tough sell when one considers that, even as troubling accusations built against DiMasi during the past year, most of those representatives defended both their leader and the system. They overwhelmingly voted to retain him as Speaker in January; defended his decision to withhold documents from the State Ethics Commission; cheered him as he resigned; rallied behind his hand-picked successor to be Speaker; dragged their feet on reform legislation; supported his aide, Aaron Michlewitz, to succeed DiMasi in his district; and never, ever, spoke ill of the Speaker in public.

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.

1  |  2  |  3  |   next >
Related: Power hungry?, Money talks, No side bets, More more >
  Topics: Talking Politics , Deval Patrick, Massachusetts House of Representatives, Beacon Hill,  More more >
  • Share:
  • Share this entry with Facebook
  • Share this entry with Digg
  • Share this entry with Delicious
  • RSS feed
  • Email this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Best Music Poll 2009 winners
Today's Event Picks
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   YOON OR FLAHERTY  |  August 20, 2009
    Boston voters will go to the polls in less than seven weeks to choose two candidates, out of the four now running, to face off against each other in November's mayoral election.
  •   CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM  |  July 29, 2009
    Nine months ago, on the heels of the Obama-assisted deluge at the polls, political observers anticipated mayoral fever triggering huge voter turnout in the Hub this fall. Now, as the race has so far been a bust, they are downgrading their expectations.
  •   SARAH PALIN, INC.  |  July 17, 2009
    Confused commenters have no clue as to the opportunities that await Palin — because few understand the extraordinary, multi-billion-dollar marketplace that has developed for movement conservatives.
  •   FROM JESTER TO ESTHER  |  July 15, 2009
    During the presidential campaign last fall, the Phoenix took note of a curious undercurrent in the annals of Sarah Palin fandom: the notion of Palin as a modern-day Queen Esther.
  •   BOSTON'S $10 MILLION BOO-BOOS  |  July 07, 2009
    The bill continues to come due for the string of nine wrongful convictions discovered in Boston between 1999 and 2004 — a tab that has now topped $10 million in court settlements.

 See all articles by: DAVID S. BERNSTEIN

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2009 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group