Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Democratic scandals are opening the door for a Mihos comeback.
by Kevin Sowyrda
Former House Speaker Sal Dimasi's perp walk last week, and his Monday arraignment, reveals more than the surreal fact that the South End can boast two former legislators and a current city councilor facing serious time in federal prison. Though it's probably yet to dawn on the gubernatorial head, I see it as a growing migraine for the chaotic and highly disappointing political machine belonging to Governor Deval Patrick and a boost to his likely G.O.P. adversary.

But first the meat of the matter. Sal DiMasi's gone rogue in the eyes of a grand jury because Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Loucks convinced the panel that the recently retired commander in chief of the State House pocketed some serious quid pro quo cash courtesy of the software company COGNOS. The portrait is ugly; sort of like staring at an Andy Warhol painting for way too long. DiMasi allegedly used a funny funneling scheme to garner a little under $60,000 in exchange for navigating some beefy state contracts to COGNOS with the approval of unsuspecting - we think - Patrick Administration politicos. News reports say that various gubernatorial lieutenants were successfully lobbied by DiMasi on behalf of COGNOS and the governor has stated that he himself had some vague conversations with the x-speaker regarding the matter.

If found guilty, DiMasi would get out of prison right about the time Barack Obama's daughters are in their thirties. Really.

Speakers being indicted in Massachusetts is about as unusual as Kirstie Allie going on a diet. We've just sort of become used to it. But just on the face of it we can see that the DiMasi indictment is far more egregious than the legal sledge hammers brought down on his predecessors Charlie Flaherty and Tom Finneran in past years.

The Flaherty indictment was quintessential proof that you really can indict anything including a bologna sandwich. During the "scandal" the Boston Globe reported that then U.S. Attorney Donald Stern spent about seven million dollars dissecting Flaherty's life on the planet, only to come up with a teaspoon full of dirt - that his tax preparer had made a minor error on a federal return dating back to God knows when. In Finneran's case, he was less than candid in a civil deposition, but no one's yet to pin any old fashioned, Tamney Hall like bribery charges on the Mattapan Democrat. Finneran's "sentence" is having to work at WRKO with the irascible Howie Carr, where Carr regularly berates Finneran as the station's resident "convicted felon". That should be sufficient purgatory for anyone.

But what we are likely to see in the DiMasi trial will make the past legal proceedings against Flaherty and Finneran pale in comparison. Dimasi’s alleged crimes are just too naked. A bunch of hacks cruising on yachts and hitting golf balls while deciding who gets what state contract and what they'll pay up for the favor. Is it really all that different from organized crime? And, are any of so naive as to assume that COGNOS is the only company for which DiMasi was twisting arms?

But there are other insinuations emanating from this indictment which warrant thorough investigation by the U.S. Attorney, as well as the state's attorney general. The speaker, whether it be Sal DiMasi or Harry Potter, does not have the magic to get state funds into any business purses. It is the sole purview of the administration to award contracts and dispense state funds. What Patrick staffers did or didn't know as they inevitably approved millions of dollars in contracts for COGNOS has to be vetted to the full satisfaction of the public. And that very process will not produce the perception Deval Patrick wants or needs as he gears up for his 2010 reelection bid.

Sensing trouble on the horizon and still licking his wounds from polling data showing he’d likely lose a primary battle to potential challenger Tim Cahill, Patrick recently hired the proverbial 800 pound guerilla to retool his political machine. Barack Obama’s ‘08 campaign manager David Plouffe will try to keep the guv afloat, just as a heavy weight Republican strategist has joined the campaign of an already announced G.O.P. contender.

Republican Christy Mihos was sadly ignored by many in the media when he blew the whistle on Big Dig corruption. He ran a solid campaign for governor in 2006, and has announced a political second coming with the help of former Bill Clinton confidante Dick Morris. It’s a brilliant move for the convenient store magnate. Mihos bringing Morris on board shows that he’s serious about running a more comprehensive campaign next year; and Morris is no babe in the woods, having given birth to political careers from here to Tel Aviv.

When you consider the current environment, it’s remarkably similar to 1990 when an unlikely Republican named Bill Weld was lifted to the governor’s office on a wave of voter discontent with how the Democratic establishment was running state affairs.

This year, the issue is corruption on Beacon Hill and the need for change. If Mihos drives that message home, and he has the credibility to do it, he’ll be a worthy opponent to Patrick in 2010.

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