Can't Nobody Hold DiMasi Down


It would be tough to concoct a more damning lead for this dispatch than Matt Viser did for his piece in today’s Boston Globe: “House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi has made public statements that are directly at odds with the findings of state investigators. His close friends are under scrutiny by state and federal prosecutors, and one has been charged criminally with secretly trading on his connections to the speaker. Poll numbers say DiMasi’s popularity among voters is plunging.”

“But today, with little opposition, he is expected to win an overwhelming victory as the majority of his 159 colleagues in the House re-install him for a third two-year term.” In other words, a sweet majority of legislators voted against the will of their constituents – only about 15 percent of whom consider the now-three-term speaker favorably, according to a recent Globe poll.

Off the record, representatives who scratched DiMasi’s back – and who aren’t his weekend golf cronies – will admit that they were motivated by political prudence, plain and simple. They’ll say that while people might not approve of their vote now, the reality is that the speaker has enough muscle to screw their districts – not just royally, but in King Sal fashion.

It’s true – the seven Democrats who courageously voted “present” (and Billerica humorist William Greene, who voted for himself) this morning can likely kiss coveted committee assignments goodbye. While they’re at it, they had better find colleagues who backed the speaker to co-sponsor any bills they plan to push this session. Payback will be severe; but that doesn’t mean the 135 spineless donkeys who toed the line should not be held accountable.   

Nobody was shocked about the outcome; for close Statehouse observers – and particularly anyone who watched former House Speaker Tom Finneran, who was merrily present, keep his crown amidst damning speculation – it’s no secret that, on Beacon Hill, fear trumps love every time. Not only were votes mostly counted beforehand and the outcome virtually inevitable; North Andover Representative David Torrisi even made headlines for announcing ahead of time that he refused to conform. That’s right – around here it’s a story when politicians value conscience more than opportunity.

It was fun-and-games as usual on the House floor, despite, as DiMasi acknowledged in his canned victory speech, the fact that Massachusetts is entering “uncharted waters.” Things were relatively quiet at first, but as votes were cast some ass-kissing legislators lightened up. Here at the Phoenix we thought constituents should know which representatives not only supported the questionably crooked speaker, but who took great joy in doing so.

Representative Christine Canavan shouted out “The City of Champions,” as if the majority of her Brockton supporters would have also backed DiMasi. Malden Democrat Christopher Fallon had even more fun with it; instead of simply saying “Salvatore F. DiMasi” like most others, he threw the whole middle name in: “Salvatore Francis DiMasi.” Natick’s David Linsky got chuckles for his inaudible (from the press gallery, at least) number, as did Brookline Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, who put a cute Latin spin on the speaker’s name, and Clinton pushover Harold Naughton Jr., who joked: “This one should put you over the top.”      

Most annoyingly, in unison, legislators choired up a nauseating helping of that hyperbolically Italian-accented “Hey” they chime whenever Sal takes the podium (imagine how Tony Soprano greets big spenders when they walk into Bada Bing). While the cheer is inspired by North End stereotypes, however, on Beacon Hill ‘Hey’ is for horse traders.  

Following the count and a brief recess, the speaker – who had left the gallery after voting for himself – re-entered and walked the blue carpet like a movie star. Hugs were given, smooches were blown, and hands were shaken. When he reached the front, DiMasi let applause ring for more than a minute before bringing down the gavel. Think of a boy who’s pretending to be amused by a present that he’s been expecting for months; or, better yet, imagine a dictator on election day.

Before formally beginning his speech, DiMasi acknowledged friends and family members, some of whom were in the balcony. Salutations took a while, as he thanked just about everyone but his accountant. From there, the speaker applauded his colleagues for accomplishments in civil rights and healthcare reform, among other things, and noted that the road ahead is rocky: “These are unprecedented times,” said DiMasi.

He’s correct – socially, economically, and just about every other word that ends in “ally,” these are indeed unprecedented times; but having a speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives who has a storm cloud above his head – around here that’s not very unprecedented at all.     

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