DeLeo-Kaufman tale pulls back curtain on Beacon HIll ways

Against the backdrop of the usual State House ways, where lawmakers rise to voice opposition to an amendment offered by “the gentleman from Boston,” or part ways with the view of their “good friend” from this district or that one, a public disagreement that aired this week came in jarringly raw terms. 

It started when former state rep Jay Kaufman, in a conversation on The Codcast, said he grudgingly voted for a 2013 transportation tax bill because House Speaker Robert DeLeo told him he’d lose the chairmanship of the Revenue Committee if he didn’t. (Kaufman wasn’t against raising transportation taxes; he thought the bill didn’t go far enough.)

DeLeo not only challenged Kaufman’s version of events, he leveled a harsh personal attack on the former lawmaker, calling Kaufman “a liar” and insisting the threatened loss of his committee chairmanship never occurred.

The unusual public conflict has offered a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes operations on Beacon Hill. But is the exercise of hard-fisted leadership power that Kaufman alleges, and DeLeo denies, that far outside the norms of legislative conduct? 

In a follow-up story reported yesterday by CommonWealth’s Andy Metzger, who conducted the podcast interview with Kaufman, a former rep who was in the House for the 2013 tax vote, Cleon Turner, said he recalls Kaufman telling him at the time of the ultimatum DeLeo delivered. 

Other current or former House members offered differing takes on whether the scenario Kaufman described “sounds familiar or at least plausible.” 

Lots of observers have suggested DeLeo has maintained — or even tightened — the grip on House affairs that his two immediate predecessors, Sal DiMasi and Tom Finneran, put into practice. But former state rep John McDonough, in his 2000 book on the ways of Beacon Hill, Experiencing Politics, offers an insider’s take on how a similar situation played out under Finneran’s predecessor, Charlie Flaherty, in the 1990s.

McDonough, now a professor at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, was chairman of the House health care committee in 1995 when a controversial tax break for Raytheon was before the Legislature. McDonough, a liberal Jamaica Plain rep, writes that he opposed the measure, viewing it as “corporate blackmail” to keep the company from relocating to other states. 

During the roll call, he writes, “I pushed the red ‘no’ button on my desk. Within a minute, the House majority whip, Joan Menard, came over to me and said in her cheery, soft-spoken manner, ‘John, the Speaker wants green from you on this.’”

McDonough looked up to the rostrum, where Flaherty stood “directly eyeing me,” he writes. “He must have been about two hundred feet from me, but I could feel the weight of his stare as though he were two feet away. I walked over to my desk and pushed the green ‘yes’ button.”  

McDonough writes that he might actually have voted no had the vote been close. But he was also planning a big health care access expansion bill, “and I fervently hoped that when my turn came, the Speaker would deliver the votes of recalcitrant members as he was now delivering me.” 

McDonough then mulls the often murky world of political principles and practice. 

“Was my switch an example of naked, opportunistic self-interest or of a hard trade-off necessary to achieve a higher good? Anyone can characterize my action either way,” he writes. “The most honest answer is that both perspectives contain some degree of truth.” 

McDonough’s message: Chairing a committee carries opportunity to bring forward important legislation, but that clout comes with an implicit — and sometimes explicit — expectation of supporting the leadership position on an issue when asked. 

One key difference between the story and Kaufman’s is that the 2013 tax vote came on an issue directly related to the committee Kaufman chaired, yet he says he had no role in the transportation revenue proposal that was hatched by DeLeo and then-Senate President Therese Murray. That hints at a subtler change that has occurred in the dynamics in the House — the waning clout of many committee chairs as power has become more concentrated in the Speaker’s office. 

“I was the chair of the Revenue Committee at the time, and was not involved in any way in any conversations about revenue,” Kaufman said on the Codcast. “It seems to me that would have been a reasonable thing to do.” 

Kaufman claims DeLeo told him about the tax bill, “If you can’t vote for this, I can’t have you as part of my team.” Looking back, Kaufman seems to be questioning how meaningful a role he had on that team. 



The state’s business groups show broad support for new transportation revenues, but the backing is not unanimous and it gets a bit fuzzy when it comes to specifics. (CommonWealth)

Former rep Cleon Turner backs up ex-rep Jay Kaufman’s account of his confrontation with House Speaker Robert DeLeo over 2013 transportation tax legislation. DeLeo called Kaufman’s version of events false and called him a liar. (CommonWealth)

Education bill negotiations hinge on accountability issues — get the lowdown on why the carefully orchestrated agreement between the two branches fell apart. (CommonWealth

Boston area officials rallied outside the State House in support of allowing communities to impose rent control, which was outlawed statewide in a 1994 ballot question. (Boston Herald

Advocates are slamming the relocation of several Department of Children and Families offices from transit-accessible city centers to suburban locations, saying it is making it hard for already fragile families to arrange visits with children. (Boston Globe

Gov. Charlie Baker appoints Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan to a post at the Department of Energy Resources. (MassLive)

The failure to pass a closeout budget bill for fiscal 2019, which ended in June, is costing the state interest at a rate of $30,000 a day. (MassLive)


The city-owned Chevrolet Tahoe formerly driven by Fall River’s on-leave mayor Jasiel Correia II has been returned to the police department, and fuel use records indicate the twice-indicted politician saved thousands of dollars by filling up on the taxpayer’s dime. (Herald News) 

Lawyers for Civil Rights alerted Everett to an issue with its electoral system that might sideline minority communities and expose the city to litigation. Now City Clerk Sergio Cornelio is convening a meeting to consider electing ward councilors from the districts they serve rather than making them run citywide. (WGBH

The city council in Lowell approved a tax incentive package to bring a 125-unit mixed-income housing development into the city. (Lowell Sun

The Lynn Police Department is preparing to hire 26 new officers. (Daily Item)


Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council official, who was among those listening in on President Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told House impeachment investigators that the transcript of the call released by the White House omitted key words and phrases. (New York Times

The large Armenian communities in Watertown and Worcester cheered a resolution overwhelmingly adopted by the House that officially recognizes the early 20th century genocide that claimed more than 1 million Armenian lives at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor to modern-day Turkey. (Boston Globe)


Former Haverhill Mayor William Ryan and his son-in-law, Shaun Toohey, a candidate for city council, were caught on video stealing campaign signs for the challenger to Mayor James Fiorentini. (Eagle-Tribune

WBUR takes a look at the Boston race to replace Tim McCarthy, a district city councilor from Hyde Park. In the running is McCarthy education advisor Maria Esdale Farrell, who thinks there is too much development and much of the city has a not-in-my-backyard attitude, and Ricardo Arroyo, who is running on a platform of creating more affordable housing. 

The two Quincy City Council candidates vying to represent Ward 6 say fighting the Long Island Bridge and curbing over-development would be their priorities if they are elected. (Patriot Ledger) 


Boston-based DraftKings appears well-positioned to win approval to operate sports gambling in New Hampshire, which passed sports betting legislation in July. (Boston Globe)

State officials suspend the license of Worcester funeral director Peter Stefan, who is known for burying the poor as well as Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Details were sketchy, but the cause of the suspension appears to be badly decaying bodies found at Stefan’s funeral home. (Telegram & Gazette)


The chairwoman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe says the Dartmouth School Committee made a mistake when it voted against the idea of conducting a community dialogue about whether to change the name or image of the “Indian,” the Dartmouth High School mascot. (Standard-Times)


Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito takes a tour of Fallon Pier near the JFK Library, which is being considered as a stop for commuter boats. (Dorchester Reporter)


A card dealer at MGM Springfield has filed a federal suit against the casino, alleging he was not informed when hired that he would be paid below minimum wage because the job also drew tips from customers. (Boston Globe)


Police didn’t have too much trouble tracking down an alleged drug dealer who was arraigned in Brockton District Court, as he was wearing a court-ordered GPS ankle bracelet while conducting business. “It’s not the smart ones who get caught,” said a former Boston police lieutenant. (Boston Herald)

WGBH legal analyst Daniel Medwed surveys the bevy of scandals that have beset the State Police and concludes state and federal authorities have failed to hold the department accountable over the years. 

Barbara Goucher, who brutally murdered Florence “Bunny” Munroe during an hours-long attack in Gloucester in 1998 was deemed suitable for parole by the Parole Board. (Gloucester Daily Times


The Boston Globe launches a new investigative team covering education and inequality.

Chris Faraone takes stock of the regional news scene outside Boston, and says it’s a grim tale of unrelenting cuts. (Boston Magazine)