I have mentioned before that a good friend has known Speaker Bob DeLeo since they were kids, and vouches for him as an ethical straight-shooter.  So I personally have cause at least to hope that whenever Speaker DeLeo decides to hang it up, he will do so as the first Massachusetts House Speaker to retire free of prosecutorial compulsion since 1990 (I know I keep using that – it just never fails to impress).

That does not mean he ought to be able to shrug off questions raised over the weekend about the extent to which now-convicted former Speaker Sal DiMasi sponsored his rise to the big chair. 

Here’s the State House News Service Sunday (republished by the Herald):

House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office continues to duck questions about sworn testimony in the DiMasi trial indicating that in 2007, Salvatore DiMasi, then speaker of the House, strategized to ensure that DeLeo would be his successor.

During the trial, Dino DiFronzo, a longtime political ally of DiMasi, testified that he met with DiMasi and DeLeo in December 2007 at the firm of DiMasi’s accountant, Richard Vitale, to discuss strategies to ensure that DeLeo would capture the speakership after DiMasi left office.

The hour-long meeting, DiFronzo said, was about “when Sal was going to be leaving” and “figuring out how Bobby could become – how Mr. DeLeo could become the next speaker.”

Nobody should feign indignation at the notion that in politics those at the top are always thinking about succession.  It’s a legacy-preservation thing.  Nor is it a shock to learn that those on the next few rungs down are always trying to climb.  There is no scandal in the fact that DeLeo, whose close relationship to DiMasi was well known and longstanding, was part of an inner circle who knew long before anyone else that DiMasi was pondering his exit from government as early as Christmas ’07.

Speaker DeLeo’s problem here is two-fold.  First, there are his statements at the time. 

Again from the SHNS:

“[DiMasi] has told me personally and told the world publicly that simply isn’t true. Therefore, talk of what happens after he leaves office is far, far premature,” DeLeo said in an email to the News Service in December 2007. “Nonetheless, as a result of these rumors, other rumors have started about the political future of some members including myself. The simple truth is that three years ago I was honored to be nominated as chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means and my devotion to that charge has only strengthened since. My loyalty is to my constituents, to the Commonwealth, to the House of Representatives and to the Speaker as a member of his leadership team and it is not divided further.”

The last part of that is true: inasmuch as DiMasi was apparently on board with the effort to elevate DeLeo, DeLeo was not in truth scheming to take his place.  But the first part?  More like… untrue.

And the second problem for Speaker DeLeo is the fact that the revival of this story from Decemner 2007 only highlights for the scandal-weary public just how close a relationship the current Speaker had with the former Speaker, now convicted of federal corruption and extortion charges.  

“Some day, and that day may never come…”

Again, there is no inherent sin in that relationship.  Nearly everyone has a mentor – and in legislative politics (where the role is more often described as a “Godfather”) having one is almost a prerequisite to ascension.  Then again, if you go get your hair cut by a guy whose scalp tattoo is bisected by a purple, spiked mohawk, you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t come out the other end with a coiffure like Mitt Romney’s.

So it isn’t surprising that Speaker DeLeo is ducking questions about 2007, and hoping/trusting that the looming budget and casino bills will push the story quickly to the background.

What piqued my interest about DeLeo’s reaction to the questions raised by the State House News and the Herald was captured in the SHNS’s headline: “DeLeo stays silent on succession meeting, says he earned every vote” (the Herald’s online edition has a type-o, by the way.  The original is “vote,” not “note”).

What exactly does that mean in this context?  “Earned every vote”?… READ THE REST at CriticalMASS

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