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State House Roundup: Swept Away

This article is more than 11 years old.

When Massachusetts can become the setting for prairie-style disaster and Democrats are looking to Scott Brown for inspiration, residents got a reminder this week that the improbable, equal parts dream maker and breaker, has a startling capacity to flip anything upside down.

Blizzards? Yes. Hurricanes? Occasionally. Tornadoes? For the Midwest.

And yet unlikelihood provided little consolation when not one but three funnel clouds touched down in western and central Massachusetts packing winds of up to 135 miles per hour and cutting a swath of heartache and destruction through Springfield, Monson and at least seven other communities.

Gov. Deval Patrick, putting on the emergency-response hat he has worn with a level of comfort during his governorship, conveyed to reporters a conversation he had with Sen. Stephen Brewer even as the severe thunderstorms were still tracking their way east toward Boston Wednesday evening: "He said, you have to see Monson to believe it, and I think he made a reference to the Wizard of Oz as well."

The images, however, said it all - photos and video of houses turned on their roofs or crumbled into tiny pieces, the waters of the Connecticut River being sucked upward into a twisting wrecking ball, and trees splintered by storms that marched west to east, killing four, including a mother who dove on top of her 15-year-old daughter in the bathtub to save her from the debris falling around them.

As the clouds parted, elected officials left Beacon Hill and headed west to survey the damage. House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray each made their way to Springfield and Monson - two of the more heavily damaged communities - on Friday after Patrick, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and area lawmakers spent much of Thursday coordinating cleanups and consoling shaken constituents.

With the front pages temporarily turned over to tornado coverage, the prosecution wrapped its case against former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and his alleged co-conspirators Richard McDonough, a lobbyist, and Richard Vitale, DiMasi's friend and accountant.

Drawing out testimony from former DiMasi communications guru David Guarino and Vitale's business partner Richard Caturano, federal attorneys tried to paint a picture of a speaker who shielded his most trusted aides from his involvement in pushing for a performance management software contract, and an accountant who hid a $100,000 Cognos payment from his colleagues.

Lacking the smoking gun, prosecutors have acknowledged that they're counting on this wealth of circumstantial evidence to convince a jury that someone who acts guilty must, in fact, be guilty - a leap of faith that the defense argued as cause to dismiss the charges altogether.

For those wondering why DiMasi would be willing to risk everything, an auditor in the U.S. Attorney's office testified to the debts DiMasi and his wife Debbie had amassed while keeping up with the Joneses, so to speak, piling up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card bills from January 2005 to June 2008 on restaurants, golf, travel and clothing.

So while DiMasi awaits his fate and the residents in western Massachusetts tried to reclaim control of theirs, U.S. Senator wannabes prepared to take matters into their own hands.

With the off-year state Democratic Convention on Saturday providing the first and best chance for the declared candidates to sway the party faithful into signing up for their campaigns, state Rep. Thomas Conroy and Newton engineer Herb Robinson became the latest entrants to a field with no clear front-runner where everyone could realistically be described as a long-shot.

"It's like me saying I'm going to run for president, quite frankly," deadpanned vanquished GOP representative Susan Pope, who lost to Conroy twice in 2006 and 2008.

But if not Conroy, who? Newton Mayor Setti Warren, perhaps the highest profile candidate (or at least the most politically connected) has stumbled out of the gate, hitting a nerve among Newton voters who feel like they're being used as a stepping stone. He also got ensnared in an uncomfortable exchange with WBZ's Dan Rea over his grasp of the marginal tax rate.

Inside-the-beltway Democrats have hinted at the possibility of a white-knighted goliath swooping in to topple the still popular U.S. Sen. Scott Brown a year from November, but short of Elizabeth Warren - who has her own name recognition and untested candidate qualities - there's little indication who that might be. A few Congressmen are still thinking over the race and their odds in an ever-widening Democratic primary field.

The perceived feather-weights don't seem concerned, taking their optimism from an unlikely, if not ironic source.

"First of all, because Scott Brown won in the first place," activist and candidate Robert Massie told the News Service, explaining why he thinks he can win. "He was an unknown candidate who represented a tiny fraction of the people of Massachusetts who did the hard work you have to do at the grassroots level and persuaded people he should be the person to represent them."

Brown's own improbable victory defying conventional wisdom has given Democrats everywhere hope that one of the six will be able to give the everyman from Wrentham a taste of his own medicine.

Another election, though not for the voting public, promised to grab the attention of those around the capitol after the AFL-CIO's $129,812 a year president Robert Haynes announced he would not seek reappointment when his term expires in October.

After drawing heat over the past several months for accepting a $72,000-a-year stipend from Blue Cross Blue Shield for sitting on the health insurer's board and coming up on the short end of the debate of municipal health care reform, Haynes insisted his decision was about watching more Red Sox games and being with the family.

Haynes said it was time for the younger generation of labor leaders to step up, but his endorsement of legislative and communications director Tim Sullivan as a successor has not gone unquestioned, and names like Rep. Marty Walsh (D-Dorchester) and Sen. Steven Tolman (D-Brighton) have crept into the conversation.

With the budget sent to conference committee, the House and Senate had a relatively light week, even when factoring in the House's unanimous vote in favor of anti-human trafficking legislation that took half a decade to write and about 30 minutes to pass with nary a squeak of opposition.

Goes to show anything can be accomplished when the Speaker puts his mind to it.

STORY OF WEEK: Power abhors a vacuum.

This program aired on June 3, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


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