Sex in the State House

Beacon Hill prostitution isn't what it used to be. The hookers who work the Hill took a tough hit when the legislature quit holding all-night budget sessions. That put the brakes on a long-running State House tradition, traced back at least 40 years by a former state rep who went on to become a well-known political figure.

His story: It's after midnight during an early-1960s all-nighter. Another rep hauls our man off to a committee chairman's office on the promise of free booze. Sure enough, there's a bar set up in the waiting area. Just beyond, the door to the chairman's inner sanctum is ajar.

“I heard giggling and other noises,” our source recalls. “Then another rep walked out, fixing his pants. My friend laughs and says, 'Hang around — you're second in line.'”

Isn't that sweet? A beacon of love on a hill shrouded in the fog of debauchery.

The married father of two took a pass. But those were the old days. Back then, Beacon Hill was stocked strictly with paunchy white men in varying stages of crustiness. Guys who needed to hire hookers.

Times have changed. Legislators and staff now come in all ages, races, genders, and sexual preferences. The State House, once the exclusive province of potbellied hacks, teems with the young and buff, free of spouses, kids, or mortgages. Toss in a similarly young and single press corps, mix these ingredients in the close quarters of a labyrinthine building, add oil drawn from any Beacon Hill gin mill, and, presto — it's a bipartisan party. “The sex and romance scene at the State House is, for the most part, the best kind of innocent frolicking, benign, being young, being single,” a former aide to governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci wistfully reflects.

The only actual prostitution in evidence at the State House these days is the kind that goes on between legislators and lobbyists. But the old place still has its sinsational stories to tell. And some of them suggest that when it comes to sex and romance under the Naked Dome, the cast may change, but the script stays more or less the same.

One notable difference: Forty years ago, if a gubernatorial aide circled the bases with a coed after hours on top of a table in the governor's office just inches away from His Excellency's prize stuffed armadillo, he wouldn't write a book about it. But our tell-all culture has yielded the tale of former Weld speechwriter Robert E. Byrnes, who claims, in his book Brush with the Law, to have escorted two Radcliffe sophomores into the corner office and “rolled naked” with them on the mahogany conference table. According to Byrnes, the two women found Weld “strangely sexy” and transferred “their idolatry onto me.”

Any port in a storm. And the choice of venue wasn't an unusual one for Naked Dome romance. It's said that two well-known current House members took the opportunity to pool their resources in a manner described by one State House wag as “desk piloting.” You don't need a degree from the Air Force Academy to fly that mission. “I bet somebody has had sex in every single room of this building,” says the wag, based on hearsay from State House cops and cleaning people. “We hear stories all the time of somebody opening office doors at night and there are two people in the dark.” (Actually, you can walk into the building in broad daylight and find whole roomfuls of people in the dark, but those are the committee hearings.)

Why do they do it under the Dome? As Byrnes notes, power is an aphrodisiac. Eligible legislators have been known to successfully impress their dates with after-hours tours of the House chamber. Add the whiff of power to the sheer physical proximity forced by long hours spent in overcrowded office suites and conference rooms, and you do the math. “As silly as it sounds, given the relative lack of prestige associated with Beacon Hill, it makes a lot of guys and women feel that they're powerful,” notes a longtime State House operative.

Most of this intimate lobbying goes unreported. But once in a while, the public gets a glimpse behind the veil of hush-hush. Carolyn Boviard, the state's economic development director during the administration of Governor Paul Cellucci, and her close personal friend, chief of staff David Shagoury (no, we're not making up his name or title), were the subject of an investigation in the wake of suspicion that they were having an affair. Shagoury resigned. Boviard denied the allegations.

Office romance and office politics can be a volatile mix in any workplace, but in the superheated political culture of Beacon Hill, it's especially tricky business. Says a former State House press secretary: “State House politics is about allegiances and alliances. If you have a romance, people see it as an alliance.” That was certainly true in the early 1990s when a reporter covering the governor for one of the Naked Dome's most prominent news organizations was said to be involved with one of the governor's foremost political critics. The two later married. And after a high-profile legislative initiative was shot down in the mid 1990s by a single switched vote, there was much discussion within the building of the role the linchpin voter's girlfriend, a fellow rep, might have played in — pardon the expression — flipping him. “When people are aware that somebody's in the hay with somebody else, especially if they're from a different party or a different office, all sorts of suspicions come into play about what the pillow talk is,” says a former gubernatorial aide.

To avoid the gossip and potential backlash, State House romances often go on the road. Out-of-town junkets, even modest “retreats” to conference centers on the Cape or in the Berkshires, are seen as choice opportunities for woo-pitching. An apartment within an easy walk of the State House is a prized commodity. When a Naked Dome lovebird lives nearby, notes one veteran political hand, “you start to see people go home for 'lunch.'” But for courting purposes, anything more intimate than office or hallway flirting routinely seeks another venue, preferably farther flung than the restaurants closest to the Dome. “If you're trying to keep it a secret, you've really gotta be stupid to have lunches at No. 9 Park or the Black Goose,” says the former press secretary. Instead, couples walk another few blocks to the Kinsale Irish Pub across from City Hall Plaza, Harvard Gardens on Cambridge Street, or the dimly lit Playboy After Dark environs of the Red Hat Café at the foot of Beacon Hill. Observes one Naked Dome veteran: “If you see someone at the Red Hat, you know something is going on.”

While the office gossip machine gleefully devours any fresh tidbits, management sometimes looks the other way. Byrnes claims that the state trooper who discovered him with the Radcliffe glee club allowed them to stay on in Weld's office, a party Byrnes himself finally ended when he discovered his friends seated at the governor's desk reviewing pending legislation. Weld, after leaving the governorship, was publicly amused by Byrnes's escapades. “It's a free country,” he said.

By contrast, Cellucci, described by one aide as a “straitlaced family guy,” was less tolerant of hanky-panky. He unceremoniously dumped Massport chief Peter Blute hours after press accounts appeared of Blute's taxpayer-subsidized “booze cruise” on Boston Harbor with political cronies and a woman who flashed her breasts for news photographers. According to the State House News Service, Cellucci informed reporters during the Boviard/Shagoury episode that “office affairs are discouraged because they often lead to misuse of power or money.” One insider recalls Cellucci as being somewhat more blunt in private. “He was bullshit,” this source says.

The smart money on Beacon Hill these days is betting that the Governor Mitt Romney era will make the Cellucci years seem like a full moon over Amsterdam. The governor himself confides to Boston magazine: “I think the workplace is a great place for single individuals to find compatible soulmates among the single population.” Sounds tolerant, but with an underlying tone that might well frown on desk piloting. “The affair-type business is frowned on,” says one former executive-branch adviser with close ties to the Romney camp. “There are a lot of people in the administration who don't drink.” Confirms a top Romney aide: “Nobody in our office does anything. We're boring compared to the Weld administration.”

In the end, the reality of modern-day State House romance is that for every titillating tale of nocturnal “roll calls,” constituent “debriefings,” and closed-door “executive sessions,” there are a dozen stories of tedium. One veteran Beacon Hill manager recalls her date with a state representative notorious for wooing scores of State House women. “It was boring,” she recalls with a sigh. “When you're on a date, you hate to sit there and talk about your job for two hours.” Even speculating about what goes on during trysts between legislators risks permanent damage to the image of romantic love. For the most part, claims a close observer, the State House scene is not far different from that grim memory of the hooker in the committee chairman's office. “It's a bunch of 28-year-olds with potbellies thinking about their pensions during sex.”

Which brings us to a final naked truth about lust under the Naked Dome. With the annual round of late-night budget sessions at hand, and the state's finances in complete disorder, it seems timely to note that if the guys and dolls on Beacon Hill are romantically active, perhaps it's because they get so much practice. After all, as one political type puts it: “They're screwing us all day.”