Old friends now in Beacon Hill face-off

Back in the day, DiMasi and Galvin shared meals and State House gossip

A SHOWDOWN BETWEEN Beacon Hill veterans is unfolding as Secretary of State William Galvin seeks to bar former House speaker Sal DiMasi from registering as a State House lobbyist because of his 2011 conviction on federal corruption charges.

But DiMasi and Galvin aren’t just both longtime fixtures on Beacon Hill; they are old friends.

They formed two parts of a tight-knit foursome of Boston state reps in the 1980s, a group that regularly ended the work week by breaking bread and sharing a bottle or two of wine at a North End restaurant while dissecting the maneuverings on Beacon Hill.

At the time, Galvin represented Brighton and DiMasi was an up-and-coming state rep from the North End. Rounding out the quartet were Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park, and Tom Finneran, a Mattapan lawmaker who went on to hold the speaker’s post before DiMasi (and had his own brush with the law).

Galvin, whose office oversees registration of lobbyists, claims a 2009 update to the state’s lobbying laws bars anyone from registering to work on behalf of clients on Beacon Hill for 10 years following a conviction. That would bar DiMasi, who was convicted in 2011 of taking $65,000 in kickbacks to steer a multimillion-dollar state contract to a software company, from lobbying until 2021.

DiMasi was sentenced to eight years in prison, but was granted “compassionate” early release, in 2016, because of a cancer diagnosis he received while incarcerated.

In March, Galvin’s office rejected DiMasi’s application to register as a lobbyist. DiMasi appealed that decision and appeared last month with his attorney, Meredith Fierro, before an administrative hearing officer.

DiMasi is arguing that the state lobbying statute pertains to convictions in state court, but does not specifically bar those with federal convictions. Galvin’s office maintains that DiMasi’s misconduct is covered under the statute.

At the June 13 administrative hearing, lawyers in Galvin’s office unveiled a novel, second argument in their case. The lawyers said if their bid to bar DiMasi from lobbying for 10 years based on his federal conviction is not upheld, they will maintain that he also broke the law by failing to register as a lobbyist while House speaker, because he was secretly working to steer the state contract to the software firm.

Former House speaker Sal DiMasi and his attorney, Meredith Fierro, at June 13 administrative hearing on his application to register as a State House lobbyist. (Photo by Sam Doran/State House News Service)

To longtime Beacon Hill observers, the clash of two State House veterans is playing out as an awkward conflict between one-time friends.

Though Galvin has never been a traditional backslapping politician who relished yukking it up with lots of fellow pols or pressing the flesh with constituents, he enjoyed the camaraderie of the small circle of Boston state reps he formed with DiMasi, Scaccia, and Finneran. They would often repair after a week of State House sessions to DiMasi’s nearby North End neighborhood where they would discuss the doings over plates of pasta and wine.

Back in the day: Mid-1980s photos show the once close foursome of Boston state reps, clockwise from upper left, Sal DiMasi, BIll Galvin, Tom Finneran, and Angelo Scaccia.

 

In a CommonWealth profile of Galvin nearly 20 years ago, Scaccia said Galvin would often share his take at those dinners on what went down that week.

“I’d always call that the news of the past,” said Scaccia. But he said Galvin also had an uncanny knack for seeing into the future and predicting what was to come. “Just before we’d leave, he’d give us what I called [a] preview of coming attractions. Then a week later I’d read it in the paper — bang,” said Scaccia. “Politics is a giant jigsaw puzzle, and you have to know how to fit all the pieces. He does.”

Scaccia described his former House colleague as consistently underestimated. “He was always five steps ahead of everybody,” Scaccia said of Galvin, who was then in his second term as secretary of state.

Galvin declined to discuss the lobby registration case or his relationship with DiMasi. However, through a spokeswoman, he dismissed the idea that the issue has made for an uncomfortable situation, saying he’s taking a just-the-facts approach to it all.

“It isn’t awkward, it’s the law,” Galvin said through his spokeswoman, Debra O’Malley.

Several former lawmakers who know Galvin said they weren’t surprised by his willingness to deny DiMasi’s application. None of them thought anything had soured between him and DiMasi that prompted him to go tough on his former colleague.

“He’s a very by-the-book public servant,” said one former Boston rep, who did not want be quoted by name. “I think he is someone who can put aside the personal and just do his job.”

Galvin’s wily political moves over the years have earned him the unflattering moniker “prince of darkness,” but that paints an incomplete picture of a pol known as a straight shooter when it comes to following the law and carrying out the duties of his office.

“That’s Galvin,” another former House colleague said about his decision to hold up DiMasi’s lobbying application. “Crossing his t’s and dotting his i’s on all stuff. He’s by the book. He always has been.”

DiMasi did not respond to a message left with Fierro, his attorney in the lobbying case.

Scaccia, first elected in 1972 and still in the House, where he is its longest serving member, has stayed on good terms with all three fellow members of the once-close band of Boston reps. He said it’s hard to watch DiMasi and Galvin now embroiled in such a public showdown.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“It’s a tough situation,” he said. “They’re both friends.”