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No Sure Bets, But DeLeo Goes With Safe Calls 06:41
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This article is more than 9 years old.

It's Super Bowl Sunday here at the Elks Hall. Along the icy harbor, recreational boats are huddled in shrink wrap, but inside, the local guy who went from selectman to speaker of the House is rolling out his election year ritual.

Over ham and eggs and dough boys, Speaker Robert DeLeo will announce he's running again, and then predict the Super Bowl winner.

He has apple cheeks, he's pudgy, but he's almost 60 and he's the speaker of the House and here they're still calling him Bobby. "I'm probably a little too old," DeLeo admits, "but it's something I grew up with."

Mass. House Speaker Robert DeLeo at Elks Hall in Winthrop. (David Boeri/WBUR)
Mass. House Speaker Robert DeLeo at Elks Hall in Winthrop. (David Boeri/WBUR)

And the people he grew up with are in the room. Over 300 of them, from Winthrop and Revere. You'll find no suits or Hermes ties in this crowd and none of the State House lobbyists from Gucci Gulch either. These are blue-collar folks, many of them still living in the house they grew up in, just like DeLeo, in a narrow stretch where the letter "r" drops like the beach into the Atlantic.

"Hi. How ah ya? Always a plesha."

Wearing a Revere High School football jacket, Mickey Casoli, of Revere, says Bobby DeLeo remembers where he came from. And if you want to understand who DeLeo is, what his politics are and how he may benefit from this year's current, just listen to his friends.

"I think this young guy" — that being shorthand for Republican Sen. Scott Brown — "brought out the message out there, that the people of Massachusetts aren't going to be fooled any more by these ultra-liberals," Casoli says.

A quick survey of the hall on the harbor shows that Casoli is no fish out of water. Not only did Senate candidate Brown win Winthrop big, and Revere too, Brown seems to have won the majority of this morning's crowd for DeLeo. Call them Reagan Democrats and you won't get an argument from the speaker.

"I think the regular citizen, one of the things they've also told us, is they're looking for a swing from the party to be more centrist," DeLeo says.

If there's a swing, though, it won't be DeLeo. He's already there in the center. With characteristic self-deprecation, DeLeo introduces his son as "me with brains." Then the speaker of the House — the Democratic Speaker of the House — explains with semi-feigned apology that his son is a liberal.

Unlike the three House speakers he's served with, DeLeo doesn't have the liberalism of Charlie Flaherty or Sal DiMasi, Flaherty's flash or DiMasi's regal style, and he comes without the edgy combativeness of Tom Finneran.

"One of the biggest things I've been proud of is being a consensus builder," DeLeo says.

Now with a sudden shift in the political climate, DeLeo sees a return to center, where he's been and other Democrats haven't been. And where he may be gaining more power. As he announces his run for re-election, the crowd likes what they hear, as if it was coming from Scott Brown.

“My heart and soul is with the New Orleans Saints. But I’m going to pick the Indianapolis Colts to win the game.”

--House Speaker Robert DeLeo

"The first rule is to do what we all expect from our doctors when they say: Do no harm," DeLeo tells the crowd. "In that spirit, the state budget which I will propose will contain no new taxes."

Bad news for Gov. Deval Patrick, who has proposed various taxes and schemes to raise revenues, like the so-called "Snickers and soda tax" on sweets, and fees on bottled water and sports drinks.

"Do no harm means continuing to fight against the twin evils to fight against gas tax and toll increases," DeLeo continues, to applause.

For all those Scott Brown voters, hearing about fighting twin evils was even better than having a pick-up truck. And in a state whose unemployment rate is climbing, DeLeo's call for jobs, jobs, jobs puts casinos and slot machines at racetracks front and center. He says it's a fight for jobs.

"That's why I will be filing a bill the first week of March to responsibly bring resort casino gaming and targeted slot revenues to Massachusetts," the speaker says.

Since the Winthrop Elks Club is within a quick dog or pony ride of Wonderland Park and Suffolk Downs, DeLeo is delighting his constituents. This is a home game.

Though Gov. Patrick is also in favor of casinos, he's against bringing slot machines to race tracks, and Senate President Therese Murray doesn't like the idea either. But by opposing all the governor's tax proposals, DeLeo could starve him of new revenues. Then — ka-ching! ka-ching! — those slot machines at race tracks to replace the missing revenue look a lot more attractive.

With the speech done, Bobby DeLeo's Super Bowl breakfast ends with his prediction. "My heart and soul is with the New Orleans Saints," he says. "But I'm going to pick the Indianapolis Colts to win the game."

Of course, heart and soul won at the Super Bowl, and the smart money lost.

Lesson: In matters of money and betting, it may be good to go with moderation, but there are no sure bets. Not in the era of Scott Brown.

This program aired on February 9, 2010.

David Boeri Twitter Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.

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