King Sal

He's drawn heat for defying Governor Deval Patrick and taking his sweet time with reforms. Get to know the guy behind the mustache, though, and you learn this: Our speaker of the House has always done things his own way. And now that he's made himself the most powerful man in the state, he just wants people to play by his rules.

By Paul McMorrow | Boston Magazine |
sal dimasi

Sal DiMasi, enthroned on the House speaker’s chair. (Photograph by John Goodman)

On Beacon Hill, Salvatore F. DiMasi is “Mr. Speaker,” but in the North End, he’s always Sal. Or, more accurately: Sal!!! Walking through his old neighborhood, he knows everyone, and everyone knows him. Because of this, he is obliged to frequently stop, hug, kiss, and shoot the bull. Oftentimes, the exchanges include policy advice, which DiMasi promises to mull over. Invariably, he finds himself buried in praise, moving through the streets in the same way he moves through the House chamber, as if on a wave of affection, pausing occasionally to slap his hand down on something—a table, a constituent, a colleague—and unleash a great, full laugh.

Back in December, DiMasi promised me an extensive tour of the neighborhood, but on the appointed day it was so cold, and he was so underdressed (overcoat, no hat, no scarf), that we were forced to duck inside repeatedly to warm up. Over cappuccinos at Caffè Graffiti on Hanover Street, he was holding forth on the government’s moral responsibility toward the downtrodden when he was interrupted by an old-timer who sauntered over and yelled, “I agree with your stance on the casinos! One hundred percent. But don’t tell Deval.”

“A familiar refrain!” DiMasi shot back, before assuring the table, “That wasn’t a plant.”

Earlier, we had crashed a bingo game at a community center on North Bennett Street. The senior citizens struggled to their feet to give Sal a standing ovation. As he bent down to kiss his well-wishers, one thrust a Christmas present into his hands (later revealed to be a homemade scarf). DiMasi introduced me, and delivered a well-worn line about how in the North End you didn’t have one mother, you had a hundred. One woman got so excited upon learning I was writing this article that she insisted on giving me a kiss, too. “Sal’s with us,” said Frank Romano, a neighborhood lifer lounging outside the bingo hall. “He’s a kibitzer. You stop anybody in the North End and ask them what they think about Sal, and you’ll never hear a bad word.” The man sitting next to him, Pete DeMarco, added, “He gets a lot of bad press. It’s unwarranted.”

Not that DiMasi cares much, one way or the other, about that negative coverage. It’s a small price to pay for the kind of immense clout he wields. DiMasi has been speaker for three years now, amassing a formidable record on big-ticket issues ranging from healthcare reform to gay rights to the state’s new energy policy, but if he’s known at all outside Beacon Hill, it’s as a mustachioed caricature clutching a gavel. His gruff voice, occasional disregard for enunciation, and effusive personality have given rise to the perception that he’s just a good-timer, a man who wants nothing more than to joke and golf his days away while padding his pension. (In fact, when a Globe columnist graded DiMasi’s first year running the House, the writer did it not by recapping his legislative record, but by detailing the improvement in his golf game: DiMasi had shaved two and a half strokes off his handicap.) That perception has fueled persistent whispers that he’s not long for the chamber, that he’s getting ready to bolt for a lucrative career in lobbying, or some such, rumors that boiled over last fall when the State House News Service published a list of would-be successors. Afterward, DiMasi was forced to publicly vow to remain speaker for a “long, long, long, long, long, long time.” (“I had a member call me the next day and say, ‘That’s it! He’s gone!'” says Representative Dan Bosley, a House ally.)

Beyond the glad-handing exterior, there isn’t much consensus as to who Sal DiMasi is, what he’s all about. His friends extol his humor and his commitment to social justice; his enemies paint him as a vengeful power whore. In fact, he’s both, as well as a quick-to-tears crusader for the poor and a stubborn fiscal hawk, and a consensus builder who steers the House with an eye toward minimal public conflict and an old-school brawler who revels in political blood sport. To get bogged down in those contradictions, though, is to miss the larger point. Above all else, DiMasi is a breed of politician Boston doesn’t see much of anymore: one that values pragmatism above ideology, and wields his power without apology. And it’s that, chiefly, that has placed him on a nasty collision course with Governor Deval Patrick, creating a dynamic that, more than anything else, will shape the direction of Massachusetts in the years ahead.

Last year was a rocky one for Patrick, the idealistic newbie who spent a considerable amount of his time being repeatedly hammered and outmaneuvered by DiMasi, often in ways seemingly designed for maximum humiliation. Patrick is new to government, something he parlayed into an advantage on the campaign trail, but DiMasi has been playing this game since Patrick was in law school and, as history has shown, doesn’t feel a particular need to kowtow to executive power—which means he’s not an easy man to sway, even with the most exquisitely crafted speeches and the loftiest ideals. The sooner Patrick resigns himself to this, DiMasi would have him believe, the easier things will get for him. If he tries to buck the speaker, well, things will just get harder. “There are people,” says a source close to the administration, “who believe [DiMasi] would not be unhappy if the governor were not successful, and everything returned to the way it was. The governor believes he has gone out of his way to be deferential to the speaker; I don’t think the speaker can say the same.” A second administration insider is even more succinct. The speaker’s single biggest point of contention with the governor, says this person, is that “he doesn’t ‘get it.’ Which means: He doesn’t do it Sal’s way.”


DiMasi, the House’s first Italian-American speaker, grew up next to the Old North Church in the North End, in a cold-water tenement heated by a kerosene stove in the kitchen. His grandparents lived downstairs. The toilet was in the hallway. The shower was two blocks away, at the neighborhood bathhouse. He says he started playing football and basketball in school so he wouldn’t have to feel ashamed about showering there.

“We used to play pimpleball against the church wall,” DiMasi says, standing outside his boyhood home. “Every time I walk through this fence, I feel like I’m going to get chased out by the vicars.” (The church long ago took its revenge: When Hurricane Carol hit in 1954, the steeple fell on top of DiMasi’s father’s car.) Back then, DiMasi says, “all the kids were afraid of our parents,” though it’s his grandmother who sounds particularly terrifying: “She could hit you with a shoe from 20 feet away. She was better than Tom Brady!” DiMasi wasn’t bad himself: Before an injury derailed his football career, he received a call from a recruiter representing Notre Dame—”back when that meant something.”

DiMasi returns to stories about his neighborhood often when explaining his political views. “If somebody was out of work injured, we’d bring food over,” he says. “When much has been given to you, much is expected for you to give in return. That’s what we do around here.” His friends and House colleagues frequently repeat this spiel verbatim, retelling the stories of Sal’s youth, and not a detail out of place. It’s become lore. But just because it’s well rehearsed doesn’t mean it’s an act. Jack Connors, the legendary cofounder of Hill, Holliday, and chairman of Partners HealthCare, saw firsthand DiMasi’s empathy when the speaker was brokering the state’s healthcare reform. “When people began to talk about what a difference this would make in the lives of those who didn’t have healthcare, I saw tears well up in his eyes. This is a guy who really cares. This is not some game he’s playing.”

In 1976, a 31-year-old DiMasi lost his first race for state representative. He was challenging an incumbent, and came up 140 votes short in a four-way contest. Two years later, the seat opened up, and he won it in a tight seven-way race. He wasted little time establishing a reputation for being willing to take swings at heavyweights. In 1981, Kevin White, the most powerful mayor Boston had ever seen, pressed the State House to pass a $75 million budget bailout, claiming he needed the money to hire cops. DiMasi intimated that White might just funnel the money back into his sprawling political machine, and called for restrictions on how the funds could be spent. White responded by calling DiMasi a quisling in the papers, and took out a billboard against the young rep that essentially said if residents called 9-1-1 and nobody showed up, it was this guy’s fault. Boston cops began ticketing and towing the cars of DiMasi’s campaign contributors. And through it all, DiMasi basked in the limelight the conflict brought. He gave a television interview and said, “The mayor is harassing people in my neighborhood to extort my vote. I said, ‘People in my community voted for me to be in office so that I would do the right thing, and that’s what I’m gonna do.'” In the end, the bailout went through, with the restrictions.

Four years later, DiMasi would be presented with the opportunity to take a whack at another giant when he and his buddy Tom Finneran (the two sat next to each other as freshmen reps) put themselves on the track to leadership by helping overthrow Tom McGee, the autocratic House boss from Lynn. “He was a strong, do-as-I-say speaker, and he wouldn’t leave,” DiMasi recalls. “Even though his time had come.” The last House revolt, 20 years earlier, had failed, and the retribution that followed shattered careers. This time, however, the rebellion, led by Everett’s George Keverian, succeeded. DiMasi and Finneran both netted chairmanships; just over a year later, DiMasi was heading the influential Judiciary Committee. However bold the move appears in retrospect, the pair likely wouldn’t have risked angering McGee if the speaker had had the votes to hold on to his post. But they read the political winds correctly, broke in front of them, and profited handsomely.

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Photograph by John Goodman

During his 30 years in the legislature, DiMasi has come to deeply respect the House’s role in shaping state affairs, as he’ll tell you, repeatedly. He has also seen how well-intentioned but myopic policy can have disastrous consequences for the chamber’s standing (not to mention its members’ reelection campaigns), such as when, back in 1988, Governor Michael Dukakis pushed through a bill mandating universal healthcare. The business community had opposed the legislation fiercely, and after the bill was passed against their wishes, they rallied and managed to get it repealed before it was ever implemented. The lesson was that big legislation has to be consensus legislation, or else it won’t survive.

Things would get worse in the years that followed, as the state suffered through a fiscal crisis brought on by chronic overspending. With the economy crippled, social programs had to be cut, and Speaker Keverian found himself in the unenviable position of having to enlist support for a multibillion-dollar tax increase. Twenty-five representatives and state senators lost their seats in the aftermath, and another 32 chose not to seek reelection. DiMasi, though, was spared: He was home recuperating from a minor cardiac episode. Keverian had called him up and asked if he was well enough to come to Beacon Hill and help vote through the hike. DiMasi’s response prefigured his dealings with Deval Patrick: “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “with all due respect, I’m home recovering from a heart attack, not a lobotomy.”


It is lines like that that make it hard for a lot of people to get past DiMasi the wiseass. In public life, especially in Boston, humor gets you easy press, but it also can prompt others to dismiss you as little more than a funny guy—and DiMasi certainly is a funny guy. During an Ireland-Italy soccer match in 1992, he got former Mayor Ray Flynn to close down Hanover Street. Before the game, DiMasi addressed the crowd, floating a wager with Flynn: free dinner for the winner in the loser’s neighborhood. Then he had second thoughts. “I said, ‘What am I talking about? Dinner in South Boston? I lose either way!'” In 2004, when Representative Reed Hillman’s farewell speech to the House consisted of saying, “Thanks,” DiMasi dubbed it “his best speech yet.” Former Governor Paul Cellucci recalls when, during his own tenure in the House, he would be haranguing the Democratic leadership, and “Sal used to come up and whisper in our ears, ‘Why are you wasting our time? You’re Republicans. In Massachusetts. You’ll never amount to anything!'” After hugging Mitt Romney in 2004, DiMasi told the press that the only thing he got out of it was “frostbite.”

The breezy punch lines, however, obscure a formidable intellect. “I used to tell him, ‘Sal, people don’t realize how smart you are,'” says Arline Isaacson, cochair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus and a longtime fixture in the halls of the State House. “People just don’t see it coming.” That’s probably no accident. Jack Connors says DiMasi has “one of the greatest minds I’ve ever seen,” but notes that “he doesn’t lead with the smart. And I think that disarms a lot of people.”

Certainly, he’s been smart enough to know how to get what he wants. DiMasi was in his fourth year as House majority leader when Speaker Tom Finneran became embattled by allegations of perjury and found himself the principal target of Mitt Romney’s bitter 2004 bid to elect Republicans to the legislature. Finneran parachuted into a high-paying job atop the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and then into a federal plea on felony obstruction of justice. (His predecessor, Charlie Flaherty, succumbed to federal tax-evasion charges. His predecessor, Keverian, is known to joke that he’s the only speaker in the past two decades not to become a federal felon, adding that, since DiMasi is from the North End, his streak should be safe.) During the ensuing skirmish for the speakership, DiMasi was confronted by a strong challenge from Ways and Means chair John Rogers. He overcame it with a tactic that took finesse for him, as a former Finneran henchman, to pull off: reaching out to the same liberals Finneran had run roughshod over during his tenure.

After DiMasi won the speaker’s post, the media predicted that if the jokester’s House didn’t just drift around, rudderless, it would swing wildly to the left—something that initially worried the business community, which had preferred Rogers. DiMasi still bristles at those early predictions. If anything, he’s been a hands-on speaker who takes great pleasure in playing around in policy minutiae. Ideologically speaking, he’s taken complex (or nuanced, or slippery, depending on your mood) positions, and it’s been difficult to gauge where his leadership team will fall on a given issue—a dramatic departure from the way the House ran under Finneran. Members also haven’t complained about the lawmaking process as vociferously, or as often, or as publicly as they did under “King Tom,” largely because DiMasi has taken pains to keep reps from both ends of the political spectrum happy. While centrists hold the House’s key leadership posts, DiMasi has continued to empower—co-opt, critics might say—the leftist opposition that nipped at his predecessor’s ankles. Social progressives chair several committees, and their bills now at least come up for a vote, which is far more than they used to get. Meanwhile, the House’s conservative ranks are mollified by the speaker’s hawkish fiscal policies. DiMasi has managed, for the moment, to be all things to all people—or at least most things to the people you most need to keep happy. And because of that, he can get away with wrapping himself in teary-eyed concern for the poor at the same time he’s fighting tooth and nail to hold the line on spending. “The House traditionally has been the steady hand of the budget,” he says, invoking the lessons learned in his decades on the House floor. Of the fiscal crisis of the late ’80s, he adds, puffing out his chest slightly, “We’d never want that to happen again. I’ve always been fiscally responsible. If people understood what was going on at the State House, they’d understand [that].”

If Finneran ruled by fiat, DiMasi crafts legislation largely by the Socratic method. When he meets with his leadership team, he seldom hands down edicts, or even takes a stance on the issue up for debate. He prefers asking questions, poking holes in positions, and forcing his deputies to defend the choices they’ve made. “They learn quickly that they’ve gotta be prepared to answer questions when they come in,” he says. Representative Paul Donato, one of the speaker’s closest House confidants, says members know that if they disagree with a bill, they’re welcome to visit DiMasi’s office to air their concerns. But while DiMasi has made good on his promise that his post-Finneran House would engender more openness, that openness, it appears, is a relative thing. In DiMasi’s system, all the talking that happens as members mull legislation and House leaders strive for consensus tends to happen behind closed office doors, far away from reporters’—and occasionally his own legislative colleagues’—prying ears. Representative Frank Smizik, one of the liberals who suffered under Finneran and who is prospering under DiMasi, praises the speaker for being “more willing to let something come to the floor” than Finneran (who, to cite just one example, routinely stonewalled every environmental bill in committee). But he bemoans the fact that most heavy lifting happens “behind the scenes,” outside the House chamber proper. When a piece of legislation finally emerges from those backroom sessions, that means it’s been fully subjected to DiMasi’s rigorous vetting, and therefore should be considered a finished product, not to be tampered with.

For DiMasi, keeping deliberations private helps minimize public conflict, and allows him and his House to speak with a more-or-less-united voice. That’s a striking stylistic contrast to Patrick, who doesn’t float trial balloons so much as trial zeppelins, issuing flurries of press releases addressing some problem or other, and then hoping the proposals, backed by his sweeping oratory, will win over the legislature—about as far from Sal’s way as he could possibly be.

During the run-up to last summer’s vote on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, DiMasi and Arline Isaacson would sit together, scrutinizing lists of House members’ names and how they were likely to vote. The speaker would summon legislators to his office, and they’d talk. “Most people assumed he’d threatened them,” Isaacson says. “Truthfully, I wanted him to. He wouldn’t. He went through painfully long conversations, one after the other, to get them to vote the right way.” Some legislators did try to cut deals. By every indication, DiMasi refused to bargain with them, and most wound up voting against him. “The gay-marriage vote was huge,” says Representative Brian Wallace, one of the late converts who helped sink the amendment. “And Sal never pressured me. He’s never twisted my arm on one vote.” The same was true of the state’s landmark 2006 healthcare reform bill, which hovered near death on many occasions as DiMasi wrangled diametrically opposed interest groups and gradually talked them into agreeing with each other. Rick Lord, president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, worked closely with DiMasi on the bill. “The speaker would only pass this when we had broad consensus, and he pushed really hard” to get all the parties there, says Lord. Now, thinking of how Romney has traveled the country touting his healthcare bill, DiMasi chortles. One Time article called healthcare “Mitt Romney’s defining moment.” The article “gave Romney an awful lot of credit,” he says. “It’s easy to make Power-Point presentations without specifics.”

If the high-mindedness DiMasi brought to the gay-marriage and healthcare debates showed him at his best, it also only makes it that much harder to comprehend the borderline churlishness he’s displayed on other issues. Take last year’s energy bill. To get it passed, DiMasi seized another large, divisive issue, and brokered another unlikely coalition, this one among environmentalists, businesses, and the administration. But this time, not without also inflicting harsh punishment on members who had gotten out of line, and, more importantly, setting aside some time to mercilessly kick the governor around.

Patrick had garnered praise for his campaign rhetoric on energy policy, and he looked likely to make it a cornerstone of his environmental and economic development portfolio. But in December 2006, on the same day the governor-elect was scheduled to address an energy summit, DiMasi announced he’d be filing comprehensive energy legislation, and that it would be the House’s top priority in 2007. He then involved the administration in the debate on his bill—for which he was hailed as a great compromiser. Given that among the more significant compromises DiMasi struck with Patrick was agreeing not to strip the executive branch of several important oversight powers, the governor can be forgiven if he fails to appreciate the magnanimity. It also couldn’t have helped when, during a press conference announcing the breakthrough, DiMasi used the occasion to happily twist the knife. “I did say it was a great cooperative effort,” he told a roomful of reporters and policymakers. Then he turned to Patrick—a man he towers over—and tossed a grenade at him. “It took 11 months, by the way. Sometimes, when you go slow and steady, you come up with something really, really good.” He made a point of peering at the governor, then asked, “Did you get that?”

“I got it,” Patrick replied, trying to play along.

“Jeez,” DiMasi shrugged. “Very pushy, this guy.”

In the end, DiMasi’s energy measures didn’t make it to the House floor for a vote until the final day of last year’s formal sessions. DiMasi had imposed a strict cutoff date for submitting amendments to the bill—of which members submitted dozens—then blew his own deadline. While the House remained in recess for hours, with members chatting on their cell phones, milling about and snacking on leftover Halloween candy, his leadership team worked in private to consolidate the amendments they were willing to accept, and discarded the ones they weren’t. The green-lighted amendments were introduced on the floor, but as the House clerk began to speed-read each one, DiMasi cut him off. They passed instead on voice votes, without debate. “You’ve got 20 minutes to look at 20 pages and figure out what’s what,” a discontented backbencher says. “I defy anybody to do that.” Nobody could, which seems to account for how DiMasi and his lieutenants were able to sneak through a late rider opening the state’s coastal waters to unfettered wind-turbine development. Blasted as a giveaway to a DiMasi pal, developer Jay Cashman, it’s now the subject of a showdown with the Senate.

In the energy bill’s wake, the same backbencher, who asked to remain anonymous, says, “there’s a lot of discontent in the House with the way things are working. A lot of my colleagues are afraid to confront the speaker. They’re afraid to lose their perks, and I don’t blame them.” The backbencher believes the speaker’s leadership team is becoming “vindictive.” Representative Jim Marzilli is cited as one victim of that new trend. His crime: He filed an energy bill that competed with DiMasi’s, which promptly got him bounced from his vice chairmanship of the influential Health Care Financing Committee. (He did not return calls for comment.) “It’s Sal’s bill, so it goes through Sal’s way,” says a Beacon Hill insider. “Marzilli got a bullet in his head because he had his own ideas on the bill that was the cornerstone of Sal’s agenda.” House minority leader Brad Jones notes the irony. “I’ve said to Tom Finneran, ‘It’s amazing—now people will think of you as a process liberal,'” he says. “Whatever excesses or shortcomings there were [under Finneran], many people would say the current speaker has taken those even further.”


Over the fireplace in his office waiting room, DiMasi displays a framed photo of himself and Patrick. In it, the two are at a groundbreaking ceremony, wearing wide smiles. It’s an apt political metaphor—though, given the year he’s had, Patrick might have been wise to don a hardhat anytime he found himself near the speaker. While the rivals try to play down the conflict, scenes like the energy press conference seem to unfold weekly. When Patrick complained about the slow pace at which the legislature operates, DiMasi teased that he might not have time to take up Patrick’s casino gambling bill for a few more years. Last March, he pointedly labeled the governor and his entourage “dopes” at Southie’s annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast. Both men say they like each other on a personal level, and DiMasi says his relationship with Patrick is infinitely better than with Mitt Romney, because Patrick is a governor who’s actually interested in governing. But that in fact may be the core of the problem. Patrick’s people expected DiMasi to be a close ally because of their shared liberal positions. On Beacon Hill, though, ideology isn’t as important as raw power. Yes, Patrick and DiMasi “agree on most issues,” says an insider, before outlining the not-insignificant areas where they disagree: “details, process, and who’s the big dog.” An administration source notes that, for a decade and a half, the speaker and the Senate president have been “de facto co-governors.” The governor’s job, this person says, has been limited to handing out state jobs. For nearly two decades, DiMasi thrived under weak Republican chief executives, but now, “all of a sudden, Deval Patrick gets elected governor, and he assumes he’s actually going to be governor. ‘Oh, no! Your job is to fill offices; we do the big thinking around here.'”

DiMasi says Patrick is in line with “a lot of the principles of what we want to do. But, of course, he’d never served in government before.” And, like Romney, Patrick is a CEO governor, accustomed to being the boss, not a partner. “There’s a tremendous learning curve,” DiMasi says. “He’s bright, capable, has some great ideas. And he’s dedicated and passionate about what he wants to accomplish.” Still, DiMasi hasn’t been shy about saying that the governor must show a greater appreciation for the way the legislature does business. “He needs to understand that when he wants 200 police officers and he gets 100, that’s a success,” DiMasi insists. “That’s not a failure. That’s government. It’s all compromise. I didn’t get everything I wanted in the energy bill, but we accomplished a great energy bill. I worked with him on that bill for 11 months to change the things that he wanted. I didn’t go around saying, ‘How come you didn’t agree with my energy bill six months ago?’ I claimed victory, didn’t I? That’s it. That’s a learning process.”

As naturally disinclined as DiMasi is to show deference to higher officeholders, Patrick’s initial fumbling made him even more so. The governor’s first sin was staking a claim on DiMasi’s turf with his reformist rhetoric; his second was a now infamously sloppy first few months in office that dropped his approval rating 20 points and left a lot of political capital sitting on the table. DiMasi quickly stepped in to sweep it up, pretty much in a single flourish. In a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce in March, he mocked Patrick’s first budget as an obstacle to economic prosperity, saying, “We’re going to have to tell people that this is not a year to expand any programs, it’s not a year to expand any department or initiative.” If there was ever a chance that Patrick, as the new kid, would get a pass while he settled in, it was clear he’d blown it by then.

So far, Patrick’s biggest failures—his push to let cities and towns set their own taxes on things like restaurant meals, his attempt to close corporate loopholes, his stab at revoking the telecom tax exemption—have all come on fiscal proposals. And all have been blocked by DiMasi. The speaker doesn’t yield often, so there’s no reason to expect him to toss two decades of fiscal hawkishness in the trash and expose his members to tax votes that could only hurt their reelection hopes—not for a rookie governor tripping over his own feet. For Patrick, that’s a major problem. He promised lots of people lots of stuff back in 2006, and the governor and his supporters know he has to find new money to put a dent in property taxes and cover a massive transportation funding gap (to say nothing of hiring new cops, investing billions in education and biotech, and the like). And because Patrick’s supporters view fiscal policy through a political lens, when they see DiMasi, a guy who’d earlier raised the minimum wage and battled big business on healthcare, suddenly making a big show of crying, “Hands off the economy!” they can’t help but think things are amiss. “This isn’t about business,” says a person close to the administration. “It’s about a power play. It’s about saying, ‘You may be governor, but I’ve got the biggest dick on the block.'”

Patrick’s casino proposal only heightens the tension. Members are weary and resentful of the attention that gambling has received since last autumn, but the governor’s casino bill represents as major a challenge to DiMasi’s leadership and legacy as gay marriage or healthcare ever did. Casinos have put DiMasi in the unfamiliar position of having to react to another politician’s agenda, and to hash out a highly contentious issue in the full light of a formal hearing process, rather than behind closed doors. Still, when it’s suggested to him that gambling is a wedge issue on Beacon Hill, DiMasi glowers incredulously. “In what way is it divisive?” he asks. “Why is it divisive?” He insists that simply because there’s absolutely no room for compromise, “that doesn’t make it divisive.”

Someone should tell this to the rest of Beacon Hill, because Patrick appears to have found his feet, and has started taking the fight to the speaker. The governor staged an impressive show of force in late December when he packed an unofficial casino hearing full of cheering supporters from the casino lobby and the powerful hotel workers union. DiMasi neither showed up to the event, nor offered comment afterward. Patrick has kept the pressure on since, threatening to include projected casino revenues—a potentially irresistible windfall for House members thirsting for new money that could be had without the nasty stigma of taxes—in his 2008 budget (which he was due to file a week before this article’s publication).

At the same time DiMasi is parrying with a reenergized governor, he also finds himself locked in an uneasy dance with John Rogers, who became DiMasi’s number two as House majority leader after losing his bid for the speaker’s slot. Last fall, DiMasi told the reps hoping to succeed him, including Rogers, to quit their behind-the-scenes jockeying for his job. When Rogers didn’t comply, DiMasi threatened to remove him from his post (the same type of demotion that sparked the Keverian rebellion and brought DiMasi into leadership 20 years ago). DiMasi’s warning eventually wormed its way into the Globe last month. If it continues, the palace intrigue fueled by the renewed rumors that DiMasi is keeping an eye on the door threatens to hamstring his authority, and has already provoked a few eruptions for a speaker who has liked to promote his even-tempered style.

Lounging in his cushy State House chambers—a room full of dark wood, overstuffed leather couches, and yellowing portraits of men who, at one time, used to be like him, used to wield considerable power over the state’s affairs—DiMasi seems unconcerned by the gathering storm clouds. He can’t imagine why things wouldn’t go his way. “We’re an institution,” he says, lightly. “What’s the old expression? ‘Governors come and go, but the legislature is always there.'” Over the legislature’s winter break, he even found time to fit in some political extracurriculars. While Patrick was in New Hampshire, making headlines by stumping for Barack Obama, DiMasi quietly decamped to the Granite State as well. But he was there to work for Hillary Clinton, on whose behalf he campaigned, doing his Sal thing, charming voters and doing what he could to make sure that contest, too, went his way. In the end, it did.

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