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Scot Lehigh

The road to the DiMasi departure

At the State House yesterday, visitors popped in and out of the speaker's office. At the State House yesterday, visitors popped in and out of the speaker's office. (David L. Ryan/Globe staff)
By Scot Lehigh
Globe Columnist / January 27, 2009
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WHAT CAN you say about Speaker Sal DiMasi on his way out the door?

Well, this, certainly: If self-justification and malarkey were precious metals, DiMasi could pay off his mortgages.

And this: If DiMasi is leaving with his head held high, as he told the Globe on Sunday, then Beacon Hill's standard for highly held heads has hit an all-time low.

In fact, the speaker is resigning amid ethical questions so thick one can scarcely see his head at all, questions which have the state's various investigatory agencies working overtime.

What will come of the various probes involving the speaker and his associates is hard to say.

But let's be clear: what's occasioned DiMasi's precipitous departure a mere three weeks after his reelection as speaker is hardly a sudden desire to turn the House over to a new leader who will be more engaged.

More likely it's the latest revelation from the Globe's Andrea Estes. To wit: In September 2007, Richard Vitale, the now-indicted DiMasi friend and former accountant, paid some $7,500 in debts for the speaker's in-laws. That happened around the same time that prosecutors contend Vitale was illegally lobbying the speaker on behalf of a group of Massachusetts ticket brokers. Vitale, of course, is also the man who in June 2006 extended DiMasi a $250,000 third mortgage, since repaid, on his North End condo.

The speaker has claimed he had no idea Vitale was working for the ticket brokers and that the two never discussed the legislation that group was interested in. Alas for DiMasi, when he uttered those statements, he apparently had no idea that Attorney General Martha Coakley would end up investigating the matter. The version of events her office laid out in indicting Vitale made it impossible for any but the terminally credulous - and certain members of the speaker's leadership team - to believe DiMasi's account.

To sum up in a way that both groups can understand: Compared to Sal, Pinocchio has a petite proboscis.

And then there's the masterpiece of self-justification DiMasi sent around to his colleagues Sunday.

"No matter what the cynics and critics will say, all of my actions as state representative and as speaker were based solely on what I thought was in the best interests of my district and the people of the Commonwealth," he wrote, adding: "I am proud of all I have done and I leave with no regrets, not one."

Those sentiments call to mind a line from the man who once preached at the Old North Church in DiMasi's district.

"The louder he talked of his honor," Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "the faster we counted our spoons."

But what's truly comical about DiMasi's departure are his dark mutterings about the potent forces he contends did him in.

"Powerful special interests" like the gaming industry, upset that he had blocked casinos in Massachusetts, were behind most of the ethical controversies swirling about him, he told the Globe.

"Yeah, right," one disgusted state representative said yesterday. "That may work for the people who don't know what's going on, but as for the rest of us, would you just shut up?"

Here's what actually happened. Last spring, after a critical column about DiMasi, a tipster concerned about the cost of the software contract won by Cognos ULC e-mailed the Globe to suggest a closer look. The state's inspector general was already investigating that same matter.

The inspector general's investigation and Estes's reporting peeled back the cover on an undercurrent of cash that had flowed from Cognos or its sales agent to Vitale and other DiMasi friends, including his law associate. Reporting by Estes and Stephen Kurkjian also revealed the role Vitale had played on behalf of the ticket brokers - and the loan he had extended DiMasi.

Once persisent journalism brought those issues to light, other investigations ensued. The idea that gambling interests were somehow behind it all is so absurd that it's hard to think DiMasi himself truly believes it.

Still, if he does, there's a silver lining for him here in Massachusetts.

After November's ballot question, whatever he's smoking may well be legal.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com.

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