Top picks for Massachusetts speaker show contrast in style

By 
Glen Johnson, Associated Press
Jan. 29, 2009

The way John Rogers and Robert DeLeo have handled a potential succession to House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi gives insight into the way the two longtime state representatives would be if they won their chamber's top job themselves.

Rogers, a brash upstart, e-mailed a statement last Friday saying "when" DiMasi resigned, he would be a candidate to succeed him.

DeLeo sent out his own statement hours later, suggesting such talk was premature.

The delay showed DeLeo calmly adhering to the more traditional Beacon Hill lines of authority: respectfully wait your turn before making a power grab.

The gesture may also show the Winthrop Democrat, who serves as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, has already secured the 81 votes necessary to succeed DiMasi. If that were the case, there would no reason to act anything but humble, especially since DiMasi gave him his leadership post.

DiMasi, who has been fending off a series of ethics charges, announced Sunday he was resigning effective Tuesday evening. A vote to replace the Boston Democrat - and join Gov. Deval Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray in the Beacon Hill power troika - was set to be held Wednesday morning.

As rumors swirled Friday that DiMasi's resignation was imminent, DeLeo issued a tight statement. "I am very encouraged by the increasing and growing support I have among the membership. I have been working with members for a long time, especially over the past several months, as we tackle the budget and global economic challenges we face, and look forward to continuing that work in the days and weeks ahead."

Rogers, by contrast, e-mailed what amounted to his own State of the State address, a full page in length. It was written as if DiMasi were long gone and the public - not his 159 fellow House members - were casting the ballots for the next speaker.

The longtime buzz within the Statehouse is that Rogers made a deal to accept the majority leader's job in 2005 with the understanding that when DiMasi left, he would be his successor. Yet DiMasi effectively undercut Rogers's authority when he created the job of speaker pro tempore and filled it with an ally, Rep. Thomas Petrolati, D-Ludlow.

Since then, DeLeo has used his committee clout - and campaign account - to build support among his colleagues.

"I pledge a new era of leadership dedicated to efficiency, transparency, accountability and overall effectiveness," Rogers said in his statement. "The vote my colleagues and I will take on who will become the next speaker of the House should be a referendum on who is the most qualified and capable candidate to successfully achieve the reform that is necessary to effectively represent the citizens of Massachusetts."

DeLeo, 58, represents the 19th Suffolk District, which consists of the town of Winthrop and all or parts of three precincts in Revere.

He graduated from Boston Latin School, Northeastern University and Suffolk University Law School.

He has been a Winthrop Town Meeting member since 1977, served as a town selectman and has been a longtime Democratic town committeeman. He has served in the House since 1991 and been chairman of the Ways and Means Committee - which sets tax and spending policy - since DiMasi was elected speaker in 2005.

In light of his position, he regularly joins DiMasi for his weekly leadership meetings with the governor and Senate president.

Rogers, 46, represents the 12th Norfolk District, which encompasses the town of Norwood and four precincts in Walpole.

He graduated from Catholic Memorial High School, Brandeis University and, like DeLeo and many Statehouse politicians, Suffolk University Law School.

He, too, has served as a Town Meeting member, and has been in the House since 1993. Rogers led the House Ways and Means Committee under then-Speaker Thomas Finneran, an experience he touts in his campaign for the speakership.

"The current challenges we face require a new style of leadership if we are to be successful in overcoming those challenges," he said.

That may be true, but some colleagues wonder if Rogers is the one to make that case considering DiMasi's problems. Last year Rogers paid $30,000 to settle a state investigation into his use of campaign funds.

The state Office of Campaign and Political Finance found Thomas Drummey, a longtime friend and political adviser, made the first 22 payments on a home in Falmouth while he was receiving $96,300 from a consulting company being paid with funds from Rogers' political committee.

State law prohibits the use of political funds for personal matters.

Rogers argued he and Drummey, president of Randolph Savings Bank, which provided the $351,000 mortgage, had a private co-ownership agreement making it permissible for Drummey to pay down the mortgage. While the property was deeded to Rogers and his wife, Drummey and his wife were co-signers on the mortgage note.

The OCPF determined that Drummey did work for Rogers that justified the payments from the consulting firm. But it also noted in its disposition agreement with the representative that "those payments created an appearance of personal use of campaign funds."

Rogers tried to temper the issue Sunday by saying the House should not vote until DeLeo explains what, if any, role he played in the ethics cases that prompted DiMasi's resignation.

DeLeo replied, "This is obviously a desperate attempt by a failed campaign."

Glen Johnson has covered local, state and national politics since 1985. He can be reached at glenjohnson@ap.org.

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