The Hill and the Hall Week in Review

Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This Week: The Boston City Council makes no secret of loathing the Herald; checking in on our politicians’ finances; Plus:The further (alleged) capers of Richard Scirocco.

1221235982And you thought John Tomase had it bad. On Wednesday morning, the Herald splashed with a terrifying scoop: The City Council was “mulling a scheme to keep their business secret from the taxpayers who elected them, creating a cone of silence that would make the Hub the only city in the commonwealth exempt from the state’s Open Meeting Law.” The story cited an 80-page internal report up for discussion that morning.

The report was indeed dealt with. But, as the council’s rules committee gathered to digest the document, they also addressed another issue at great length: The evils of the Herald.

“This is a dose of reality that no good deed goes unpunished,” council president Maureen Feeney said, as several of the assembled councilors shot icy looks at Herald’s reporter, who was present to follow up on his scoop. “Instead of being recognized for our efforts to be more transparent, to see how we can function better, we’re villainized and accused of hideous things. On a personal note, I was offended. I take my integrity very seriously. My goal for my political career was to leave with the same level of integrity I entered it with, and when people take your sincere efforts and turn them against you, shame.”

And there was more. Much, much more. (The Herald might not get a cooperative quote out of the council for a long time, but to its credit, it reported the various assaults on itself.)

“The press is positioning this body to look like villains,” Steve Murphy added. “They’re trying to stampede the public. I was completely outraged this morning.” The story, he said, “is false, outrageous, and disgraceful. The news media has decided that this is where we’re going. Thank God we don’t elect them.” He added, for clarity, “We won’t be stampeded by an out of control local media.”

Decrying the paper’s “inflammatory headline,” Feeney argued that the report, composed by a council staffer and in the works for well over a year, tried to address what the councilors can and can’t legally say to each other in an era when they’re facing perpetual Open Meeting Law lawsuits.

“Our focus has been, how do we continue our efforts to be transparent? It’s been turned on us, to where we’re asking how we sidestep transparency. We try to do the work of they people. Nobody here took an oath to circumvent the process. We are the process. And we’re all looking for reassurance that we’re not putting this body in harm’s way,” Feeney said.

For transparency advocates, the report will read a bit like the Yoo torture memo—a stack of sane-sounding legal arguments that wind up justifying an unjustifiable end. Half of it deals with the Open Meeting Law, which, it concludes, unjustifiably and unconstitutionally bars councilors from huddling behind closed doors to discuss city business.

“Speaking with a select group of colleagues or even a lobbyist with business before a legislative body, is what elective officials do and are expected to do,” the report argues. Preventing them from doing so, it says, assaults their rights to speech, assembly, and political association. For added effect, it claims that the Continental Congress and the Declaration of Independence would’ve run afoul of the law today.

And for that reason—because the Founding Fathers wanted it so—the council should be allowed to huddle with the BRA behind closed doors. It recommends three possible changes to the law, all of which could very well guarantee the public’s full right to witness the perfunctory approval of legislation that has been settled far away from the public view. It works for House Ways and Means, after all.

On its face, the Open Meeting Law seems clear: Lawmakers can have dinner together, but a majority of them can’t gather (as the Legislature, which exempted itself from the law, does) to hammer out their business behind closed doors. Having been found guilty of doing this a while ago, the councilors complained Wednesday that the courts had effectively barred them from talking to each other about constituent issues or asking each other to sign on to legislation.

The committee sent the report to the attorney general, the city’s lawyers, the Mass. Municipal Association, and the state clerks’ association. There’s at least one great irony there—when the council was sued for illegal meetings with the BRA, the city’s lawyers argued that the violations weren’t violations because, effectively, the city council doesn’t have any power.

Any action will get a full public hearing—a guarantee that Sam Yoon insisted be put in writing, and one that ultimately was, after several minutes of debate in which the councilors chased each other’s tails around in circles. Yoon later tied abysmally low turnout in the last council election to “the perception that we take action behind closed doors,” saying, “Ultimately, this is an issue that has to do with the council and the public, not with our interpretation of the law. It’s about that relationship.”

That’s much too even-keeled a note to end on. So, Chuck Turner, take it away: “After years of being kicked around by the mayor and the courts, I don’t give a damn. You can print that. I don’t give a damn what the mayor says. We’re going to stand up and say we have a right to have power in this city. The rights of this council have not been defended by the courts and the mayor. This report lays that out clearly. It’s an affront to democracy. The papers beat us up no matter what we do. I’m incensed by the fact that we’re treated like we’re nothing. Now we finally have the material to fight back. I don’t give a damn what you all think.”

That last bit was punctuated by, you guessed it, a hard stare at the Herald’s scribe.

OCPF pre-primary campaign finance reports for Reps, Senators and assorted wannabes just came online. For reporters, it’s like Christmas and Hanukkah and Christmukkah all rolled into one! So let’s see what everybody’s been up to these past nine months.

First up: Senate President Therese Murray. She hasn’t had a serious challenger since 2004, when she faced down some droplet of Mitt Romney’s sweat that grew up into a real live boy. Nevertheless, she’s raised north of $300,000 in the past year.

$250,000 of it went right back out the door in the form of powerfully terrifying communications services (a total of $27,200 to Regan Communications), office furniture ($3,517.80 worth from Jordan’s), consulting ($24,000 to Plymouth-based Creative Strategies), wicked good times ($10,208 for a holiday party), transport ($5,283 in vehicle lease payments), and, obviously enough, flags ($2,424.20 worth of them, actually).

There was also a $200 “charitable donation” to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council in August, and $1,141.50 in “professional fees” to Cosgrove, Eisenberg and Kiley. One of the firm’s principals, Tom Kiley, is former Senate President Robert Travaglini’s business partner and longtime friend.

Murray now has $243,971.02 in the bank.

Murray’s Senate colleague, Dianne Wilkerson, could certainly use that type of bankroll. She has just $5,233 in the bank after blowing through $156,647 this year. (After those numbers went public, a “Wilkerson campaign source” told State House News that the senator had just raised an additional $40,000.) Nearly half of Wilkerson’s expenses went to consulting and staffing, and another $11,600 for her awesome new website. For that kind of money, it had better be awesome. And able to vote 1,500 times on Tuesday.

By contrast, Wilkerson’s challenger, Sonia Chang-Diaz, ended August with $51,000 in the bank, after raising $132,585 and spending $81,575 in 2008. One wonders how much those numbers—and the polling data Chang-Diaz’s campaign released last month—had to do with Bay Windows jumping ship this week.

For what it’s worth, Chang-Diaz has spent less than half what Wilkerson has on consulting and staffing. And her office furniture? She bought $50 worth, and it came from Craigslist.

The election season’s other great exercise in the politics of bloodsport, the 34th Middlesex State Rep race, also yields some interesting finance data.

Carl Sciortino, who began the year with just $7,620 in his account, has raised an impressive $91,623 this year, and has $40,372 of it left. Among the campaign’s more hilarious expenditures: On June 6, the incumbent himself dropped $10 on a map of Medford. And the source of that hilarity: In this week’s Somerville News, Sciortino’s Speaker-thumping challenger, Bob Trane, suggests that “Carl Sciortino really should invest in a map of the 34th district.” Way ahead of you, Bob!

Trane has $6,215 remaining—slightly less than he began 2008 with. He has burnt through every penny he’s raised this year. Although signs don’t vote, he’s got a ton of them out there. Word from the left side of the left side of the aisle is that Sciortino’s field ops will impress on Tuesday (who’s bothering to vote in this primary, anyway?), but the Herald’s Wayne Woodlief says this one’s already over.

House Ways and Means chair Bob DeLeo and Majority Leader John Rogers have been sizing each other up for most of the year now. Let’s do the same.

DeLeo took in $229,339 this year, and he has $354,039 in the bank. That amount dwarfs Rogers’s $78,654. The Majority Leader has raised, and then spent, $56,000 this year. These differences could matter, if votes really are for sale.

One item on DeLeo’s tab stands out, and it’s not the $7,300 “office dinner” at Grill 23 during the height of the summer’s leadership battle. It’s the $78 meal he had two days later, at Comella’s in Wellesley, billed as “Lunch W/ Rep Petrollati.” SIC!

John Buonomo is dead (politically). Long live John Buonomo!

Or, alternately, long live whoever’s been pulling a John Buonomo—to the tune of twelve large—over in the Suffolk County register’s office. This stuff just doesn’t end.

How badass is it that Woody Kaplan lists occupation as “provocateur” on his campaign finance records? (Answer: Wicked)

Thanks to vicious deadlines and us being dumb and all, the Hill and the Hall neglected to mention last week that Richard Scirocco, the alleged Somerville domestic batterer who mounted a caustic, possibly death-threat-filled, and astoundingly unsuccessful bid to unseat Mayor Joe Curtatone last fall, was recently arrested. With a bunch of cocaine. And a double-edged knife. Natch.

Troopers busted Scirocco and a 21-year old man in Revere on cocaine distribution charges two weeks ago, after noticing the pol’s truck speeding and committing various marked lanes violations. The kicker? Scirocco, who once complained that media coverage of the various restraining orders the four mothers of his children had taken out against him was “completely the reason I lost” to Curtatone, got busted holding his coke package in a school zone. That’s usually a no-no for former Little League officials.

Photo from City of Boston website