Saturday, 2:15 PM
Despite investigations, DiMasi reelected House speaker
By Matt Viser, Globe Staff
House members overwhelmingly reelected Salvatore F. DiMasi speaker today, giving the North End Democrat a third two-year term despite a series of ethics investigations.
House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi
DiMasi won the support of 135 out of 160 representatives when the formal vote was taken on the House floor. Fourteen members voted present, which included seven Republicans and seven Democrats who broke ranks with the speaker. Another nine Republicans lent their support to Representative Bradley H. Jones Jr., the minority leader. Representative William G. Greene Jr., a Democrat from Billerica, voted for himself.
"Together, we will work our way through these troubled times," DiMasi said in an acceptance speech in the House, according to a copy of his prepared remarks distributed by his staff. "We will level with the public and engage them along the way. We will take the tough votes to do the right thing."
DiMasi's reelection by the full House followed a voice vote by the Democratic caucus in the Gardner Auditorium, which followed 45 minutes of glowing tributes to the speaker. In an acceptance speech to the caucus, DiMasi appeared to get emotional, talking about the overwhelming support he received as he has been dogged by accusations.
"I grew up thinking that everybody was going to love me," DiMasi said. "I've come to the realization that that's never going to happen."
DiMasi got the benefit of the doubt from allies in a State House where the currencies of power and loyalty sometimes hold more value than ethical appearances and public anger. The speaker aggressively courted members, meeting with lawmakers in small groups to shore up support. DiMasi's core supporters on Beacon Hill also cite DiMasi's strong work as a policy maker, including his stances on gay marriage, healthcare reform, and raising the gas tax.
DiMasi was reelected despite making 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.
"He's proven to be the Teflon speaker," said Paul Watanabe, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston. "It appears that unless any blows are landed directly, one survives. Nobody wants to be the one to throw the first stone."
For individual state representatives, supporting the speaker in today's installation proceedings can be as important to them as their votes on taxes and healthcare. It can spell the difference between sharing a dimly lighted office in the basement and getting a committee chairmanship, along with the extra staff and the boost in pay that comes with it.
State representatives who have been on the wrong side in past speakership battles complained that they even have struggled to get basic office supplies or a courtesy phone call returned by the speaker.
"It's used to drive me nuts being there; nothing's changed," said Frank Jakubowicz, a former state representative from Pittsfield who, along with DiMasi, helped George Keverian oust House Speaker Thomas W. McGee in 1984. "These are politicians who are interested in holding onto their offices, and there's a mindset that they consider the offices their own. Part of that is not rocking the boat down there."
DiMasi, who has served as speaker since late 2004, for months has faced an Ethics Commission investigation involving the lobbying efforts of his close friends and associates, who received large payments from a computer software vendor at the same time the vendor was winning lucrative state contracts.
The allegations of influence-peddling have also attracted the attention of criminal investigators. His close friend and accountant Richard Vitale was indicted Dec. 18 and accused by Attorney General Martha Coakley of failing to report $60,000 he received from an association of ticket brokers to lobby for their legislation. DiMasi has said that he had no knowledge of Vitale's activities, but Coakley said her investigation showed Vitale contacted DiMasi directly on the ticket brokers legislation.
Nonetheless, several legislators have cited the fact that DiMasi hasn't been charged with a crime as a reason they continue to support him.
"Maybe we're just old-fashioned kind of people and think they're innocent until proven guilty," said Representative Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat, before the vote.
"I'm not naÔve; I didn't fall off the turnip truck," said Representative James R. Miceli, a Democrat from Wilmington, also speaking before the vote. "I just feel there's no reason not to vote for him and no reason not to support him. After reading everything, maybe some of the folks close to him have got some problems. But he happens to be the victim of circumstance, that's all."
A Globe poll taken last month indicated that DiMasi is at the bottom of the favorability ratings among prominent state politicians. His rating was 15 percent, an 11-point drop since the Globe poll in September 2007.
The number of residents who viewed DiMasi unfavorably jumped from 20 percent to 41 percent.
By comparison, Governor Deval Patrick had a favorability rating of 64 percent, while Senate President Therese Murray, who is little known among voters, had a favorability rating of 19 percent.
Despite his unpopularity, a coalition of labor unions, gay-rights advocates, and environmental groups sent a letter to lawmakers Monday asking them to reelect DiMasi. And the reason he has a lock on the job is that there is no clear alternative.
The two legislators who have been jockeying for more than a year to succeed DiMasi - majority leader John H. Rogers and the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Robert A. DeLeo - both said they would not challenge DiMasi directly.
Rogers has been dogged by his own ethics scandal: He has been accused of paying a consultant with campaign funds, who in turn made mortgage payments on Rogers's Cape Cod vacation home.
DeLeo needs the backing of DiMasi supporters, so he has avoided challenging the speaker publicly, according to lawmakers supporting DeLeo and Rogers.
Material from State House News Service is included in this report.