Is Jack Connors the Last King of Boston?

Such behavior wasn’t the only reason Hill Holliday kept the Hancock account. In fact, “That’s only one of maybe 100 things that have happened between us,” D’Alessandro says. Nor is the funeral story really remarkable. Says Connors’s friend Dennis Farrington, “Jack’s a professional mourner, a professional wedding attender.” But it shows how Connors puts in the time — because he wants to, yes, but also because he knows it means people are more likely to listen to him.

Take his role in the passage of the state’s universal healthcare bill. In mid-March 2006, the bill seemed dead. Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi wanted to implement a payroll tax for companies that refused to offer their employees insurance. DiMasi’s idea of a fair tax was $600 per employee. The business community wouldn’t budge above $62 an employee. Connors called DiMasi’s office one morning and asked if he could come by for a visit.

Connors had a vested interest in this visit, of course: Partners HealthCare would benefit handsomely from a bill that mandated every person in the state have insurance. But Connors’s ego is as great as his ambition; he knew he could play a decisive role in the bill’s passage, and didn’t want a deal to be frittered away on something as pedestrian as a payroll tax. The next morning he walked into DiMasi’s well-appointed State House office carrying a copy of Animal House.

He slid the disc into a DVD player; the movie was cued to a scene where John Belushi’s character demands that Delta House not quit in the face of Dean Wormer’s evil machinations. “Over? Did you say, ‘Over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?! Hell no!… And it ain’t over now!”

DiMasi chuckled. Connors turned to him. “With all due respect, Mr. Speaker,” he said. “Nothing is over until I say it’s over.”

Connors returned to his office and opened his Rolodex. He organized meetings among business, insurance, and Partners executives. Then he went to good-government types, like the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. Four days later, Connors met with DiMasi again.

We have a compromise, Connors said. The business community would do a tax of $300 per employee. DiMasi liked it. Later that year the bill was signed into law. And lest anyone think that Connors was one to downplay his contribution, there was the dinner he hosted a few nights after the bill’s passage. About 20 people attended, including Governor Romney’s key staffers, several powerful business executives, and DiMasi. After the dinner, Connors gave everyone a gift. Many were small Steuben glass figurines that served as a metaphor for each person’s role in the bill. But Connors gave the last gift, the largest gift of all, to himself: a two-foot-tall peacock.