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Senate's ex-leader criticizes Finneran

Birmingham cites negative impact

The ink has barely dried on former House speaker Thomas Finneran's resignation letter, but at least one frequent sparring partner is already summing up his legacy in less-than-flattering terms.

"Finneran was antagonistic to most efforts by government to help ordinary working-class and middle-class people," former Senate president Thomas Birmingham said.

"Tom Finneran is an extraordinarily talented, intelligent, and charming individual whose influence on state government was largely negative," the Chelsea Democrat said.

During their years at the helm of the Legislature's two chambers, Birmingham and Finneran, a Mattapan Democrat, clashed often, with the Senate typically staking out more liberal ground than Finneran's House on everything from a minimum wage hike to contraceptive insurance coverage.

The wrangling came to a head during the grinding budget impasse of 1999.

As the negotiations wore on, Finneran and Birmingham could be seen on Birmingham's State House balcony haggling over details. Birmingham said the House was shortchanging schools, while Finneran said the state needed to hold the line on spending.

The deadlock persisted for more than four months.

Finneran supporters have vigorously defended his legacy, crediting him with bringing fiscal discipline to the Legislature at a time of turmoil and championing a $1.1 billion tax hike package to stave off even deeper cuts.

"He has been a great speaker," said Representative Joseph Wagner, Democrat of Chicopee. "He led this institution well."

Finneran announced Monday that he would leave the House to become president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.

Said Birmingham: "I always regretted that Tom Finneran didn't have an 'R' [Republican] after his name."

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