Saturday, September 10, 2011

An unsurprising political fall

Way back in 1978, I met the former Margaret Kelley, a young woman running a quixotic campaign for state representative as a Republican in the Democratic stronghold of downtown Boston. I was impressed enough to volunteer to become her campaign manager, and also personally smitten enough to later become her husband. (We raised a daughter together before separating and divorcing in the mid-1990s).

Margaret was running against another political newbie, a Democratic lawyer from Boston's Italian North End neighborhood by the name of Salvatore DiMasi. He struck us at the time as a terminally ambitious young man on the make, too slick to be scrupulous (as he demonstrated in several ways during the campaign). In other words, a typical creature of Boston machine politics.

We gave it a gallant shot, even took a couple of precincts away from him in the election. But the gerrymandered votes were heavily stacked in the North End, where against a name like "DiMasi," the name "Kelley" didn't have the odds of a pizza slice's survival in an Italian sports bar. We were out-registered Democrat to Republican something like 13-1; we lost about 2 to 1; for us, that was a moral victory.

In the intervening years, Sal DiMasi rose like scum to the top of a stagnant pond, up through the ranks of Massachusetts politicos eventually to become the Speaker of the state House of Representatives -- in short, one of the most powerful politicians in the Commonwealth. He did it the old-fashioned way for a Boston Democrat: by a combination of cronyism, corruption, and outright criminality.

It all caught up with him in 2009 when the Boston Globe exposed his sordid machinations. Sal DiMasi has just been sentenced to eight years in federal prison "for steering millions of dollars in state contracts to a software company and secretly profiting from the scheme."

I saw this guy's lack of scruples first-hand in 1978, so this news comes as no surprise to me now. I do find it dispiriting that so many voters expect this sort of behavior as the norm -- even as desirable -- from their politicians. So, before we dismiss the memory of Mr. DiMasi with indifferent contempt, perhaps we should ponder the words of the guy who once said: "Politicians, like water, cannot rise higher than their source."