Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo is in talks with his alma mater, Northeastern University, about a potential new job opportunity, signaling a coming end to his 12-year run atop the House amid a days-long stretch of swirling rumors about his potential departure.
DeLeo has not yet declared he is stepping down as speaker. However, in an ethics disclosure filing he notified House officials late Friday morning that he intended to begin talks with Northeastern about "prospective employment opportunities." The letter came just two days after DeLeo initially denied having any direct conversations with the university about a future job. He repeated that on Friday.
The letter indicated that DeLeo asked his personal legal counsel on Wednesday, Dec. 16, to consult with the Ethics Commission on his responsibilities under the conflict of interest law, and said he was filing the disclosure out of "an abundance of caution."
Lawmakers and people close to Majority Leader Ron Mariano, 74, have said this week that the Quincy Democrat and top deputy to DeLeo has the votes to succeed the speaker if and when he resigns, but Rep. Russell Holmes, an outspoken critic of DeLeo's and advocate for diversity, said Friday he would challenge Mariano for the title and stand up against what he described as a "backroom deal" and "structural racism personified."
Mariano, who has served in the House for 30 years (just as long as DeLeo), confirmed he will run for the top job in the House if DeLeo resigns.
But in a letter Friday, he urged his House colleagues not to lose focus on rejecting Gov. Charlie Baker's proposed changes to abortion and policing reforms.
"And, in the final days of session, the House must remain focused on rejecting Governor Baker’s efforts to weaken a woman’s right to choose and to dilute our police reform legislation," Mariano said.
In a press conference Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker echoed the sentiment, if not the specifics.
"If I have a concern about this ... it would be that we're toward the end of the session and there's a whole bunch of pretty important pieces of legislation kicking around," he said, referring to an unemployment insurance bill he was filing. "And I really hope that people find a way to focus on trying to get those through the process and to our desk so that we can sign them."
DeLeo's Rise To Power
DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, first entered the State House three decades ago. He rose to the top of the House after former Speaker Sal DiMasi resigned amid a scandal. DiMasi eventually went to prison.
This past February, DeLeo became the longest-serving speaker in the state's history. He was originally to serve only four terms, but the House did away with term limits, enabling him to be elected to the post six times. This earned him the nickname “Speaker for Life.” He had previously indicated he planned to run for reelection next year.
DeLeo has largely remained popular among the membership in part because he has protected the body from taking many tough votes. He very rarely lets close pieces of legislation go forward, opting instead on building an overwhelming consensus among members, or at least among the majority of Democrats. Most vote margins are either pretty close to unanimous, or will often be split along party lines.
DeLeo’s good fortune looked tenuous about seven years ago when federal prosecutors identified him as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a probation hiring scandal. Three former probation department officials were convicted for their roles in a patronage scheme.
The Federal Appeals Court threw out those convictions, and DeLeo said the court’s ruling was a “a complete exoneration for this institution and all of its members.” In the past, he has come under fire from progressive members who do not like his top-down style of leadership, and what they perceive as a lack of transparency.
This is a developing story and will be updated. With additional reporting from Matt Murphy of the State House News Service.
This article was originally published on December 18, 2020.