Beacon Hill’s 7 brave souls

By Yvonne Abraham | The Boston Globe

Say you’re one of the 135 Democratic legislators who voted to keep Sal DiMasi as House speaker back in January. Right now, you’ve got to be feeling even chumpier than usual, which hardly seemed possible until a few days ago.

After all, how much dumber could you look? On Jan. 7, you reelected DiMasi, even though you knew about his shady connections to a software firm that won millions in state contracts. You did it because he brought you back from legislative Siberia, or because he shared your priorities, or because you didn’t want to risk his wrath.

Whatever the reason, you stuck out your neck for him. And three weeks later, he stuck it to you by resigning. Then he got indicted on federal corruption charges, which made you look like even bigger dopes. The whole thing was fading from voters’ memories until Tuesday, when the feds added extortion charges to the mess. When it comes to other shoes dropping, this guy is Imelda Marcos.

Man, that must hurt. And I’m not going to add to your pain.

Instead, I want to pay tribute to a tiny group of Democrats you must envy these days. They’re the seven who said no to Sal: Representatives Cory Atkins, Jennifer Callahan, Thomas Calter, Stephen Canessa, John Quinn, Thomas Stanley, and David Torrisi. All of them had backed DiMasi in the past, but they refused to hold their noses and vote yes in January, even though they knew it could cost them dearly. They thought backing DiMasi would bring the entire House into disrepute. They were right.

Torrisi, of North Andover, had been close to DiMasi. The speaker went to his wedding. They played golf together. But DiMasi’s business dealings “didn’t pass the smell test,’’ Torrisi said. A few weeks before the vote, “I told him it would be hard for him to lead the House at this time, and I thought he should step down.’’

Atkins, of Concord, had no relationship with DiMasi to begin with. Still, others who had as little to lose as she couldn’t match her gumption.

“It didn’t matter if I stayed in Siberia another two years,’’ she said. “My constituents sent me up here to use my best judgment.’’

Canessa soured on DiMasi before the Globe began its investigation into his business dealings. His opposition to expanded gaming offended Canessa, whose Fall River constituents might benefit from it, because the speaker arrived at his conclusions unilaterally. It didn’t help that DiMasi involved himself in legislation that resulted in a windfall for his good friend, developer Jay Cashman, on a land deal in Fall River.

“I couldn’t support another two years of the same suffocating leadership style,’’ Canessa said.

Quinn, of Dartmouth, said he felt “very strongly that members of the Legislature should be held to a much higher standard of behavior, and I did not think Speaker DiMasi was meeting that standard.’’ He didn’t like what he saw when DiMasi pushed for a legislative amendment that would benefit a wind farm Cashman planned in Quinn’s district.

The seven have had interesting conversations with some of their fellow legislators lately who are, understandably, kicking themselves for not being among them.

“I feel prouder each day that I stood tall on that vote,’’ Quinn said. “I’ve had more pats on the back or whispers in my ear saying ‘John, you were right, you had the backbone to stand up there and I wish I had done that.’ ’’

Their bravery is less obvious to others, however.

“The public thinks we all voted for DiMasi,’’ Torrisi said. “It’s very difficult to differentiate yourself.’’

Which is a shame. Those seven legislators made brave decisions that, even back then, should have been the envy of their colleagues. They’re looking smarter by the day.

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