Dorchester delegation joins House in supporting DiMasi

Members of the Dorchester delegation stood squarely behind state House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi's re-election bid earlier this month as ethics questions cast a cloud over his close associates.

Local lawmakers, all fellow Democrats, said DiMasi has run the 160-member House well and has kept an "open-door policy." They also cited his focus on the economy as they head into the new legislative session, which officially started on Wednesday, Jan. 7 with the vote on DiMasi as their first item of business.

"He's done an excellent job," said Rep. Willie Mae Allen. "I believe he and the governor will work a little closer this year."

Legislators who have often clashed with DiMasi in the past, such as Reps. Marty Walsh and Brian Wallace, also voted to elect DiMasi to a third two-year term.

"He's been very good to my district," Wallace said.

Rep. Marie St. Fleur, a member of DiMasi's leadership team as vice chair of the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said she had the "utmost respect" for the North End Democrat, who succeeded Rep. Thomas Finneran as speaker at the end of 2004.

At a Democratic caucus before the full vote in the House, St. Fleur was one of four representatives from across the state speaking in favor of nominating DiMasi as speaker. She praised his skill in cultivating relationships.

DiMasi later called the display of diversity "a little experiment" he wanted to use to show the breadth of his support in the chamber. "From now on, it's going to be a lovefest," he quipped.

Other representatives noted his leadership in the House, with passage on bills dealing with health care reform, green energy, and the legalization of gay marriage.

"He has been a real progressive speaker," said Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, vice chair of the Joint Committee on Public Service. "People realize the work that he has done."

But ethics questions have lingered, as a close associate was indicted on 10 different counts related to alleged violations of the lobbying laws and Attorney General Martha Coakley charging that the associate, Richard Vitale, had secret and direct communication with the speaker over legislation that the House approved but which died in the Senate. Vitale was arraigned this week on the charges and pleaded not guilty.

In the House, the final tally for DiMasi, who has denied any wrongdoing, was 135 out of 145 votes.

Rep. Gloria Fox voted for the speaker, but did not respond to a request for comment.

The Democrats who voted "present" rather than for DiMasi were: Rep. David Torrisi (D-North Andover), Reps. Cory Atkins (D-Concord), Jennifer (D-Sutton), Thomas Calter (D-Kingston), Stephen Canessa (D-Fall River), John Quinn (D-Dartmouth), and Thomas Stanley (D-Waltham). Rep. William Greene (D-Billerica) voted for himself.

There were no other candidates to challenge the speaker, though a behind-the-scenes fight rages between Reps. Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) and John Rogers (D-Norwood). Both are seeking to take over the House whenever DiMasi leaves his post. DiMasi has repeatedly stated he plans to stick around.

Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.