Sal DiMasi: Beacon Hill's Most Fascinating Politician

A couple years ago, I profiled Sal DiMasi, a prelude in some respects, to yesterday’s criminal conviction. None of the coverage I’ve read thus far really dwells upon what I find most fascinating about DiMasi: his ability to compartmentalize. This was a man who delivered to the Commonwealth universal health care (don’t let Mitt Romney’s minions tell you otherwise), who teared up when the bill became law, thinking of all the lesser souls it would benefit. This was a man who, as a Catholic, nevertheless wanted gay couples to marry in Massachusetts, a man who vehemently opposed casino gambling in the Bay State because he remembered the effects that the vice took on his North End neighbors as a kid.

Perhaps he even saw that effect first hand. One person very close to Sal — and it’s always first-name only when talking about the ex-Speaker — told me that Sal opposed gambling with such absolute conviction because his father was a bookie. The DiMasi family told me that that is absolutely not true. But what can be said, unequivocally, is that Sal cared about life’s little people and did not want to see corporations squash them or state governments forget them. On the major issues of the day, Sal could not be swayed from his sense of right and wrong, just and unjust. That’s why he ruled the House with dictatorial fervor, and also why Massachusetts was the first in the nation to pass substantive, progressive laws like universal health care and upheld gay marriage.

Now, apply his moral conviction to what the U.S. Attorneys Office proved yesterday. Sal was also a man who, four months into his tenure as Speaker, received his first kickback from representatives of a software developer that had business before the State. Sal championed the people at the same time that he bilked them. His trial showed, repeatedly, how he felt no remorse doing this. He kept asking for more dirty cash. And yet, throughout Sal’s reign, he listened to the interest groups most often neglected by politicians, for want of power or, especially, lobbying dollars. He made so many friends among the forgotten that he seemed to them, and many others, the ideal politician.

Of course, a cynic could now say he still looks that way.