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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mr. Speaker speaks

House Speaker Sal DiMasi has broken his silence about allegations swirling around him, his friends and his would-be successors. There's little doubt that he is outraged over the litany of problems that has led to his doorstep.
"Like any of us, I do not control the conduct or actions of others," wrote DiMasi, without mentioning names or specific instances. "As elected officials, we in the Legislature are all subject to the unfortunate inclination of others to use our name without our knowledge or authorization."
But outrage only works when you are a blogger who can sit back and cast judgment on the actions of others. You need specifics when you are an elected official under fire for actions that look shaky to outside observers.

DiMasi probably opted not to address specifics under advice of counsel. Good legal strategy but it does have holes as a PR move to quell questions. We look to the efforts of Geraldine Ferraro and John McCain to take questions from reporters publicly until they ran out of things to ask as an example of how to do it right. Call it the Tylenol strategy.

Instead, DiMasi sought to bring reporters in one by one, into his impressive office. Rather than a take-all-comers, no holds barred session (that no doubt would have been broadcast live somewhere), DiMasi opted for what he knows and does best -- bringing someone onto his own turf to use his considerable charm and powers of persuasion on them.

Of course, neither Ferraro nor McCain had four separate legal cases going against them. While DiMasi may feel snappish about the complaints brought by the Massachusetts Republican Party, there are real facts that can be found by the state Ethics Commission.

That body doesn't have overwhelming enforcement and punishment mechanisms. But they can most certainly make his political life miserable if they find in favor of even one complaint.

He also issued a two-page letter to his members that is long on assertions and short on specifics.

"I have made my decisions based solely on the best interests of my constituents and the people of the Commonwealth," he wrote. "I have never, ever conducted myself in a way that would favor the interests of any individual.

"All my personal relationships and financial transactions have been at arm's length from any state business, have been fully disclosed to the public, and have never influenced my decisions on any legislative matter," he said. "I am outraged that my reputation, my integrity, and my good name have been called into question."

DiMasi has clearly been damaged by these episodes -- which are far more grievous than Deval Patrick's failure to take into account how his decision on office decor, official transportation and personal time activities will look to the public.

Yes, there were public dollars involved in at least two of Patrick's poor decisions. And there was the very shaky Ameriquest call. But none of them rise to the level of potential conflict as conducting public business with friends.

If DiMasi was aware of those actions, he will pay a significant price. If, as he insists, he was unaware of the various matters involving Richard Vitale, Jay and Christy Scott Cashman, he at least needs to find friends who won't stab him in the back.

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