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Amorello, options were left exhausted

Turnpike chairman Matthew J. Amorello received a cold response from Mitt Romney the day after the ceiling collapse, as the governor arrived to inspect the tunnel.
Turnpike chairman Matthew J. Amorello received a cold response from Mitt Romney the day after the ceiling collapse, as the governor arrived to inspect the tunnel. (Globe Staff Photo / Essdras M. Suarez)

About 4 p.m. Wednesday, after the state's highest court ruled that Massachusetts Turnpike Authority chairman Matthew J. Amorello could not block a hearing on whether he should be fired, Amorello's advisers called him at his office at the Transportation Building.

Gently, the lawyers, James Aloisi Jr. and Leonard Lewin, painted a bleak picture for Amorello if he were to continue to fight for his job. The legal battles would be lengthy, they told him, and he might be forced to pick up the hefty legal bills himself.

Amorello, emotionally worn and physically exhausted, asked a few questions, but did not resist much. Shortly afterward, he broke the news to aides that he had decided to resign. About 7:30 the next morning, he strode into his office, in dark gray pinstripe suit, and signed a one-sentence letter tendering his resignation.

The drama -- and the three-year battle for control of the largest public works project in US history -- was over.

Those who watched the final days unfold described it as a difficult standoff between two determined men who had become bitter political enemies.

Governor Mitt Romney, who had been trying to oust Amorello for two years, was certain that Amorello should not run the project after Milena Del Valle's death July 10.

Amorello, who took pride in staying focused on the job despite controversies and political attacks, initially thought he was in a strong legal position to resist Romney's latest cries for his ouster. After all, the Supreme Judicial Court had rejected the governor's attempt to oust Amorello a year ago.

Earlier this week, Amorello's lawyers were confidently telling legislative leaders that Amorello would win his case at the SJC.

The ruling against him was a blow, and then reality set in.

Within an hour after the ruling, the only task left for his legal advisers was to come up with an exit plan. Amorello had lost much of his leverage after he rejected a deal from Romney aides two weeks ago to step down as chairman but stay on the Turnpike Authority board and retain his full salary through June 30 of next year. The Romney administration even offered the deal again, when it sent Amorello a bill of particulars last Friday that laid out the case for his firing. He declined again.

Those rejections were costly to Amorello. The deal he ultimately agreed to -- to resign effective Aug. 15 but receive full pay through Feb. 15 -- was worth $83,000 less in salary.

To broker a dignified departure, Amorello's advisers turned late Wednesday afternoon to the one person on Beacon Hill who had both long-standing affection for Amorello and connections with the Romney administration: Senate President Robert E. Travaglini.

Travaglini had warm relations with key players on both sides. Aloisi, a lawyer in private practice who does work for the turnpike, is a boyhood friend of Travaglini's from East Boston. Lewin, former legal counsel to Governor Paul Cellucci, had dealt with Travaglini amicably during his time on Beacon Hill.

With Amorello's permission, Aloisi and Lewin called Travaglini late Wednesday afternoon and asked him to initiate the negotiations by contacting Thomas Trimarco, Romney's secretary of administration and finance. It didn't take much convincing. Travaglini had concluded weeks earlier that Amorello needed to step down, if for no other reason than his own health. And he liked dealing with Trimarco, a Romney aide who has worked well with legislative leaders.

Travaglini and his chief of staff, Arthur Bernard, appeared unannounced at Trimarco's office, interrupting a staff meeting. Amorello was ready to deal, they told Trimarco, who just last month had been appointed by Romney to the authority board.

Travaglini's involvement was brief, but pivotal in launching the talks. For hours the two sides negotiated. The negotiations had few sticking points, mainly because Amorello had so little leverage left.

Negotiators for the Romney side, including the governor's chief legal counsel, Mark D. Nielsen, wanted Amorello off the payroll by mid-November and off the board by mid-August. The sides eventually agreed he would be off the payroll by mid-February.

Most of the back-and-forth centered around one provision, which the governor insisted on, that would prohibit Amorello from making major decisions between now and Aug. 15. Under the terms, the approval of three board members is required to sign ``any contract or binding agreement exceeding $25,000."

Amorello also wanted to be indemnified against any potential liability arising under any investigation or lawsuit. That provision was included in the agreement, although in a narrower version than what Amorello desired.

By midnight, the agreement was set, and the only question was when Amorello, who had left earlier in the evening for his Wenham home, would sign it. Suspicious that the governor's aides wanted to control the news of his resignation, Amorello and his advisers insisted on his putting off the signature until yesterday morning.

That worried the Romney side. Trimarco, sitting in his State House office after midnight, feared that Amorello would once against walk away from an offer.

Trimarco, a Charlestown resident, even offered to drive up to Wenham right then and meet Amorello.

That would not be necessary, Amorello's lawyers told Trimarco. They assured him that Amorello would indeed resign the next morning and that, if he didn't, he would be appearing alone at the hearing on his dismissal.

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