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