The Codcast: Bellotti going strong at 95

FRANK BELLOTTI IS 95, the kind of 95 you’d want to be if you live to be 95. Trim, tan, sharp of mind (but perhaps slower of gait), Bellotti joined me recently to record a CommonWealth Codcast. He is, I’m pretty sure, the oldest living former statewide office holder – he was lieutenant governor from 1963 to 1965, and attorney general for 12 years, from 1975 to 1987. Most people today probably remember him as the former AG, a role that was perfectly suited to this progressive libertarian whose personal discipline and rigorous preparation made him a formidable lawyer.

Bellotti suffered the slings and arrows of Massachusetts politics, and he gave as good as he got. He was the target of dirty political tactics designed to raise questions about his integrity, questions that played off his Italian heritage and attempted to link him to the Italian mob.  The whispers and accusations were foul and false, but they effectively helped drive voters away from him in 1964 and 1966.

Embedded in Bellotti’s career are lessons that resonate with meaning today. There are no perfect analogues, but often we can see images of the past reflected in today’s political battles. In 1964 he was a restless and ambitious lieutenant governor unwilling to patiently “wait his turn.” He ran against the incumbent governor, Endicott Peabody, in a bruising intra-party battle, one that pitted Bellotti against a powerful status quo led at the time by the Kennedy family and Tip O’Neill.

Bellotti emerged victorious, winning his party’s nomination with a nearly 20,000-vote margin. In the general election against John Volpe, he lost what remains the second closest gubernatorial election in the state’s history. If you are inclined (as I am) to make connections between past and current events, you can see Bellotti’s decision to take on an incumbent in his own party reflected in Ayanna Presley’s challenge to Congressman Mike Capuano. Like Bellotti, she also chose not to wait her turn.

Each generation has its moments when candidates emerge who are willing, and ambitious enough, to take on the status quo. For Pressley, the future appears limitless.  For Bellotti in 1964 – scarred by a campaign where opponents asked, “Peabody trusted Bellotti, can you?” – the question of his political future was in serious doubt. But Bellotti is a persistent man, and he kept running until finally he prevailed in a close election for attorney general in 1974.

There were many doubters and critics, but once in office as attorney general, Bellotti quickly reversed their negative preconceptions of him. He recruited a fresh team of senior lawyers and litigators who were largely progressive and determined to make a mark on Massachusetts law and policy.  Bellotti ended the old practice of part-time lawyers. Henceforward, all assistant AG’s would be full-time lawyers working solely for the public interest. His initial first assistant, Robert Bonin (later chief justice of the Superior Court), and the chief of his Public Protection Bureau, Scott Harshbarger (later attorney general), admitted that they had not even voted for Bellotti. It did not matter.

Lawyers like Steve Rosenfeld (later chief counsel to former governor Michael Dukakis), Margot Botsford (later an SJC Justice), Paul Johnson (later chief counsel to former governor William Weld), Mitch Sikora (later an Appeals Court judge), Don Stern (later US attorney), and Paula Gold (later secretary of consumer affairs) represented a legion of talented attorneys who were drawn to the excitement and professionalism of Bellotti’s office.

Social equity advocate Judy Meredith was hired to work directly out of Bellotti’s office, She served as a vital bridge to groups that historically had no voice in the AG’s office and ensured that Bellotti would have the benefit of her advocacy when he was making decisions about how to use the power of his office to serve the public interest.  No one had ever seen the attorney general’s office function in this way before.

I was fortunate to have been asked to join Bellotti’s government bureau when I graduated from law school.  It was an exciting time and an extraordinary place to learn how to practice law. Strong bonds of respect and affection were built among the lawyers in that bureau, bonds that time has not weakened. We lost one of our own recently with the passing of Garrick Cole, who left the venerable law firm Hill & Barlow to join Bellotti’s government bureau. He was one of those young, quirky, progressive lawyers who set an example I’ve kept with me all these years: he was exacting in his work and rigorous in his preparation.

Frank Bellotti’s story is a microcosm of Massachusetts politics in the second half of the 20th century.  It’s also a story of perseverance, of political integrity, and the power of example.  I’m certain that my memories are so positive and powerful that they interfere with my ability to provide a perfectly objective description of Bellotti, that office, and those times.  Maybe so.  But I can tell you this without exaggeration: to a person, everyone who worked in Bellotti’s office during his years as attorney general remembers that experience as remarkably important, personally gratifying, and in many respects life-changing. It was a time and place when you were deeply proud to be serving in the public sector, and equally proud to be doing so under the leadership of a man who was setting standards of excellence that each of his successors has felt duty-bound to continue.  That’s a legacy only a few can lay claim to.

James Aloisi is a former state secretary of transportation, principal of TriMount Consulting, and a member of the TransitMatters Board.  He was a lawyer in Frank Bellotti’s government bureau from 1978-1983.


BEACON HILL

A Herald editorial says Gov. Charlie Baker should revamp the State Police to put a civilian CEO in charge of all administrative duties while Col. Kerry Gilpin, whom he appointed to take over the department last year in the wake of the overtime scandal there, focuses on police patrols and investigations.

A legislative impasse between lawmakers and Baker over regulations governing Airbnb and other short-term rental operations has left cities and towns hanging over how to rein in the businesses. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Fall River City Council has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday to discuss removing Mayor Jasiel Correia in the wake of his federal indictment on fraud, but one of the crafters of the city’s new charter says Correia can only be removed through recall if he has not been convicted of a felony. (Herald News)

Members of New Bedford’s minority communities are concerned that a spike in the number of arrests for possession of a knife in violation of a city ordinance is being unevenly applied to low-income neighborhoods and disproportionately affecting people of color. (Standard-Times)

A lot on Munroe Street in Lynn sells for $3 million and a 10-story luxury condo building is in the works there. (Daily Item)

The Mashpee Chamber of Commerce has sent notice to the Town Clerk saying it will seek a complaint against the chairman of the Planning Board because of her “unprofessional and abusive” behavior during hearings of several issues the chamber supported. (Cape Cod Times)

Framingham officials have canceled a request for bids for the historic Nobscot Chapel to relocate the 19th century building, a decision that now puts a hold on plans to redevelop the area. (MetroWest Daily News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A review of confidential bank documents shows President Trump’s son-in-law and special advisor Jared Kushner paid little or no income tax between 2009 and 2016 even as his net worth quintupled to nearly $325 million. (New York Times)

Offering a decidedly off-key look back at the Monica Lewinsky saga in the #metoo era, Hillary Clinton said her husband’s affair as president with a 22-year-old intern was not an abuse of power because Lewinsky was an adult. (Boston Herald)

Margery Eagan calls b.s. on the idea that false accusations of sexual assault are rampant, or that victims misidentify their attacker when it someone known to them. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has quietly set up shadow operations in all 50 states and coordinated with local campaigns, positioning herself for an inevitable run for president in 2020. (Washington Post) As part of that effort, Warren had a DNA analysis performed, which she provided to the Globe, that shows “strong evidence” she does indeed have Native American ancestry, a claim that President Trump has regularly mocked through racist taunts at rallies. (Boston Globe)

Big differences emerge in sizing up Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and his Democratic  challenger Jay Gonzalez on the MBTA, energy, and the environment. (CommonWealth)

The Globe looks at Baker’s record in keeping his 2014 campaign promises and offers a mixed grade.

Despite the claims of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, a new poll indicates nurses are divided on Question 1, which would impose mandatory nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. (WBUR) The Globe talks to nurses on both sides of the issue. Sen. Ed Markey says he is voting for Question 1. (MassLive)

Maine could make history again at the ballot box this November as voters consider a proposal to launch universal home health care financed by a surtax on people making more than $128,400 a year. (Governing)

RELIGION

Fall River Bishop Edgar da Cunha announced the diocese will close the iconic but deteriorating St. Anne’s Church after more than 112 years and will change leadership at the city’s four other parishes. (Herald News)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

South Shore business thinking they are donating to charitable causes were surprised to learn the three organizations are actually for-profit “online magazines” and the money they paid were considered advertisements. (Patriot Ledger)

Some small and mid-sized companies that were supposed to be helped by the Trump administration tariffs say instead the levies are hurting their business because of the cost of goods and retaliatory tariffs. (Wall Street Journal)

EDUCATION

Dueling rallies on the issue of affirmative action in college admissions took place yesterday in Cambridge and Boston, a day ahead of today’s start of a closely-watched federal court case challenging Harvard’s admission process on behalf of Asian-American applicants. (Boston Globe)

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges has warned East Bridgewater officials that the accreditation for the Junior-Senior High School is in danger because a lack of reliable funding is threatening the school’s performance. (The Enterprise)

UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney says the university is on a roll. (Lowell Sun)

Donations through online platforms for education supplies continue to rise as teachers increasingly turn to crowdfunding to raise money for everything from pencils to computer software for their classrooms. (U.S. News & World Report)

RELIGION

A former underling of disgraced one-time Boston Cardinal Bernard Law is coming under fire for allegations that he covered up abuse claims against priests in the Buffalo diocese where he now works. (Boston Herald)

TRANSPORTATION

TransitMatters lays out why it thinks the Department of Transportation’s study of the proposed North South Rail Link is full of flaws. (CommonWealth)

Jascha Franklin-Hodge says we need to boost the state’s rideshare fee, particularly in “congestion zones.” (CommonWealth)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Vignesh Ramachandran of 350 Massachusetts for a Better Future says Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo need to drop their Trump-lite attitudes and step up on climate change. (CommonWealth)

A Globe editorial calls for a carbon tax to combat increasingly dire projections about climate change.

Some Merrimack Valley residents have purchased alternatives forms of heat (pellet stove, for example) on the assumption Columbia Gas would reimburse them. Columbia Gas says it will pay up, but it reserves the right to reclaim the alternative system once gas service is restored. (Eagle-Tribune)

Ed Krapels is concerned about consolidation in the fledgling US offshore wind industry. We need more, not less, competition, he says. (CommonWealth)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Violent crime in Massachusetts fell last year, but the homicide rate inched up. (Boston Globe)

A serial rapist from Weymouth who was released after nearly 30 years in prison cannot stay in the state and is required to live in Rhode Island as part of his parole. (Patriot Ledger)