Yvonne Abraham

We wanted to believe

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Columnist / January 25, 2009
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Darn it, Mr. Speaker, I wanted to be in your corner.

You've done so very many things that made me happy.

You helped get health insurance for hundreds of thousands who didn't have it before. You took a courageous stand on gay marriage, helping to block a ban. You stood up for green energy and life sciences. And you scuttled the governor's plan to ride out the state's financial woes on the backs of casino gamblers. After a while, you even came out in favor of a new gasoline tax. That one I found particularly endearing.

Yep, you're just the kind of Speaker I could get behind.

But you went and made it impossible, didn't you?

At first, a lot of people bought your claim that you were just the victim of big-mouthed friends who were recklessly throwing your name around for personal gain.

But then the attorney general brought charges against your buddy and benefactor Richard Vitale. And her evidence suggests you lied when you absolutely insisted you had no idea Vitale was lobbying for ticket brokers. Ditto when you said you and Vitale never discussed legislation the brokers wanted - and got - from your legislature.

The unusual $250,000 third mortgage Vitale gave you on your North End condo looks pretty bad, too. As does the $600,000 he got from software company Cognos ULC after your Legislature paved the way for its lucrative state contracts.

Then, a few days ago, came yet another in a series of revelations from Globe reporter Andrea Estes: Vitale dropped $7,500 to settle legal fees for your in-laws.

Now, ethics laws prohibit gifts only to immediate family members, so this is not illegal. But it stinks to high heaven. Because it looks like Vitale was trying to stash an unseemly gift just outside the law's reach.

And you won't explain any of it.

It's enough to give pause even to the legislators who reelected you Speaker after that Jan. 7 State House love-in, when they talked about due process and how you were a victim of circumstance.

My heart goes out to the liberal lawmakers who have been among your most vehement defenders.

The poor pets. Exiled for years by your far more conservative predecessor, Tom Finneran, they emerged from Siberia under your rule. Some of them swapped dimly-lit, impossible-to-find, cramped burrows for elegantly-appointed offices in prime locations. A few made the giant leap from persona non grata to committee chair.

Used to be, the long-shot causes for which they entered public life had no hope of making it through the House chamber. But their priorities have been your priorities.

No wonder they love you. And so they've stuck with you, even though your troubles have helped taint all of them in the public's view.

I called a few of them to commiserate, but these usually voluble progressives didn't return my calls.

Maybe that's because these latest developments have a stench that even some of them can finally smell.

And at this point, it's so strong that even your laudable legislative record isn't enough to overcome it.

Nor should it be.

Now it looks as though the rest of your days as Speaker might number in the single digits.

On Friday, the men who would succeed you stepped up their efforts, trolling for votes. Neither John Rogers nor Bob DeLeo have your progressive bona fides (though Rogers has been accused of sharing your expansive definition of ethics), so we could be in for a return to more conservative days.

Privately, some of your fans say they are bummed at that prospect.

I know how they feel.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at

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