You Say “DiMasi” – I Say “Arrivederci”

When George Bush was elected president in 2000, thinking folks were angry that so-called everyday Americans voted Republican because, allegedly, they wanted to chug beers with him. While alcoholics are always more fun, some thought that was a poor reason to choose a leader.

But make no mistake. When selecting your Beacon Hill representative there’s no more important quality than a willingness to kiss ass and shake hands. The Sal DiMasis of the world are shoulder rubbing experts; even on his way out – and even under what every writer in the state has called a “storm cloud” – it was all hugs and smiles. DiMasi even did that nervous thing where he sticks his tongue out to the side like a North End Michael Jordan.

Around the press room packs of journalists gossiped while waiting for the speaker to bid farewell. To jog our imaginations, outside the House chamber leadership aides even placed a podium that we could only guess was for Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo to announce his takeover after DiMasi stepped down. I can’t speak for all my colleagues, but I found it exciting to see action in the Statehouse hallways.

For those who only catch highlight reels on television – the place is typically an echo chamber. But not this week; several regulars told me that legislators and their henchmen have occupied the building since Sunday afternoon. Reps weren’t burning midnight oil struggling to save local aid – they were playing musical chairs and negotiating to save their jobs, chairmanships, and statuses.   

DiMasi delivered some tears and no surprises. For an audience that included all but maybe 20 (of 160) representatives and a stream of senators and Statehouse fixtures up and down the outside aisles, he brought good news (“After 30 years you don’t resign – you retire”) and a positive last note (“Make sure that you respect each other…and that people look at this place with pride”). The outgoing honcho also announced that he is leaving his seat – as well as the speakership he won just three weeks ago – to pursue extra-legislative endeavors that (might) come up, and to – you guessed it – spend time with his family.

Afterward, in his comments to the press, soon-to-be House Speaker DeLeo promised: “My first major goal is for those who voted for [his opponent] John Rogers and those who voted for [me] to work together.” Does that mean representatives who are weary of DeLeo will vote against him tomorrow? Probably not; in case he’s full of shit, it would suck to wind up on the wrong side of history. Sure – the Winthrop Dem seems relatively honest, and, according to Globe reports, he’s an everyman who prefers pizza over steak. But you don’t get to be speaker that easily; when it came time to romance his colleagues at a dinner out in Worcester last month it was Porterhouse city.

For about a half-hour before DiMasi passed the gavel, I sat outside the freshman bullpen drinking coffee and pretending to read the newspaper. As House rookies shuffled back-and-forth frantically, I noticed a young aide holding two armfuls of constituent mail – presumably full of letters asking newly elected reps to play ball, toe lines, and ride behind the boys at every turn.

After my coffee break I stopped by the Nurses Hall, where advocates with the Association of Developmental Disability Providers (ADDP) hosted a lunch feast for legislators, and then in the nearby Great Hall, where about 350 teens from YouthBuild programs across the Commonwealth were also attaching faces to funding that’s at risk amidst budgetary turmoil.

Talking to some non-profiteers got me thinking: has a politician ever been busted for bending rules to benefit community programs? When was the last time a legislator was indicted for unethically brokering a deal to get homeless children off the street? Maybe if the YouthBuild folks hung around golf courses and handed out envelopes stuffed with cold cash they’d see results.  

In the end, today didn’t look so bad for Massachusetts (as it could have if Rogers and DeLeo continued to quarrel). But who knows what the future holds around here? Well, who knows something other than that Rogers and his backers will be moved into the mop rooms come Thursday, and that reps who pledged allegiance to the winning team will continue rising to power as prescribed?

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