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Best of Providence 2009

Roast pork

As our state's bumbling, craven, and inept elected officials stumble toward summer, we get a few good laughs out of their promises for reform
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  May 27, 2009


Check, please
The Senate version of ethics-reform legislation does nothing to prevent lobbyists from collecting and bundling large wads of contributions from clients to key lawmakers. Here’s my suggestion: allow bundling, but require that the money be presented in the form of a giant novelty check. With press invited for photos, of course.

Back in January, Governor Deval Patrick declared a "season of significant government reform" on Beacon Hill. Well, apparently that season was neither winter nor spring. This week, as we head full on toward summer, and our thoughts turn to sweltering beaches and white-hot barbecues, it's as good a time as any to put our pols' feet to the fire — and roast them.

So let's take a good look at some of your noteworthy Bay State elected officials, who promised to clean up campaign financing, ethics, pensions, and, of course, the bloated, broke, dysfunctional transportation agencies. Drummer: prepare your rim shots. While we wait for meaningful reform, we can only laugh to keep from crying.

Cleaning up
First up for a zinger, surely, must be Senate President Therese Murray. Her mantra, "reform before revenue," has already gone up in smoke. Perhaps a more realistic timetable would be "reform before Rapture."

Since taking over for her mentor, Robert Travaglini, Murray hasn't exactly cleaned up the old revolving-door lobbyist/legislator relationships. But Travaglini is cleaning up — in his new job of high-priced, all-purpose lobbyist.

All those fundraisers for Murray at Joe Tecce's Restaurant are now paying off for Travaglini, whose access to the president helped him earn nearly $300,000 last year in lobbying fees. That included $60K from Suffolk Construction Company, which hired him to help secure an $8 million contract to renovate Logan Airport's E Terminal. Suffolk got the contract — undoubtedly as the result of a fair and open process!

Who needs lobbying-and-ethics reform when things are working that smoothly?

And the Senate's ethics-reform bill guts the pesky State Ethics Commission, which tries to investigate, you know, ethics allegations.

That office, you'll recall, had the temerity to ask former Speaker Sal DiMasi for materials relating to his own alleged improper backroom deals. DiMasi refused, under the legal theory that it's none of your damn business how a sweetheart provision for ticket brokers got tucked into a bill, or how a big contract was awarded, both benefiting clients of DiMasi pal Richard Vitale.

Of course, if we're roasting DiMasi for that, we'll also have to take a shot at his successor Robert DeLeo — along with the rest of the House Democrats, who kicked off "reform season" by voting to reward DiMasi's secretiveness with another term on the throne.

DiMasi is now gone, but his documents remain carefully guarded from prying investigators; I have not heard one House Democrat publicly call for them to be released. Sunlight being the best disinfectant, the representatives are courageously protecting the rights of the germs.

Is anyone responsible?
Perhaps the biggest mystery, though, is how Governor Patrick managed to be the one to lose the public trust, in the midst of all this cowardice and inaction by the legislature.

That's a rhetorical question, of course: Patrick's list of roast-worthy faux pas and missteps this year are legend. Apparently, the way Patrick celebrates the "season of reform" is by rewarding friends with plum jobs and unearned raises.

At least Patrick has offered something like real pension reform — unlike the legislature, whose reform would begin taking effect in a quarter-century (seriously), as the Globe's Scot Lehigh has explained. Everyone currently employed by the state is grandfathered in. It's a fairness thing: there are officeholders who would never have gone to all the trouble of calling in favors to get these jobs if they had known they would have to actually work 20 years to get their pensions.

The legislature is also resisting Patrick on the mammoth transportation-reform effort, thanks to Patrick's inspired selection of James Aloisi, the Don Rickles of intergovernmental relations, to alienate everyone in his path.

Aloisi recently demonstrated his credentials for heading a major reform effort: after thoroughly examining the many contributing factors in the Easter-weekend turnpike disaster, his department reported that the blame lay, conveniently enough, 100 percent with former Turnpike director Alan "Lights Out" LeBovidge — the one guy Aloisi's already sacked.

Not that blaming your former employee is anything unusual in the Beacon Hill sport of evading culpability.

Aggregate Industries, for example, no longer employs the six middle managers currently known as federal-court defendants 06-CR-10116-1 through 06-CR-10116-6. Thus, the state had no qualms about handing the company a $4.2 million contract, despite the company having previously scammed the state into unknowingly using cheapo, substandard cement in the Big Dig.

Blatant fraud and deceit isn't enough to get you off the state's teat, even if it's at the scope perpetrated by Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff — which, among other things, has admitted that its employees knew about the faulty tunnel roof that killed Milena Del Valle, years before it collapsed.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Beacon Hill, Boston Carmen, Campaign Finance,  More more >
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    As our state's bumbling, craven, and inept elected officials stumble toward summer, we get a few good laughs out of their promises for reform
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 See all articles by: DAVID S. BERNSTEIN

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