DiMasi 'Cared Deeply About the Disadvantaged,' Mayor Mike Readily Attests

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Before leaving office of his own accord early in January, 2004, Mike Albano was one of the giants of Western Massachusetts politics.

In his four terms as mayor of Springfield, "Mayor Mike," as he was popularly known, proved to be both a strong hands-on manager and a high-minded, inclusive leader of his decidedly downtrodden city. He also possessed that most valuable and ineffable of political attributes: a first-class temperament. He was warm, approachable and light-hearted. No stranger was ever afraid to walk up to Albano. In a crowded elevator, he'd be the first guy to get you laughing with a wry comment, and by the time he arrived at his floor, everyone wanted to shake his hand good-bye.

I got to know Albano in the late-1990s when we both happened to be in the gallery of the Massachusetts House on random spring evenings when the lower branch was working through its version of the state budget for the next fiscal year. There's lots of dead time in the budget deliberations, long stretches when nothing really happens, and it seemed to be the most natural thing for Mayor Mike to chat up the people hanging in the gallery with him, waiting for "their" budget items to be taken up. Like all of our older urban centers, Springfield depends heavily on state aid, so Albano was a regular at the State House, a charming and persuasive advocate for his city.

It turned out that Albano, who holds a master's in public administration from the University of Hartford and was a probation officer before being elected mayor in 1995, knew and liked my older brother, Jim, who was a college dean in Connecticut at the time and had hired Albano to teach some courses at night in the state college system. This accelerated the initial conversation, which was already going pretty well, and always gave us something to discuss later when we'd bump into each other at the State House or on the street in Boston. Like me, my brother Jim is a great admirer of Mayor Mike; also like me, my big brother is disappointed Mayor Mike walked away from elective politics entirely. We both think he would have been a good candidate for state-wide office.

While walking the halls of the State House on Springfield's behalf, Albano got to know many legislators well, including Rep. Sal DiMasi of Boston's North End. And, in Sal, he apparently found not just a sympathetic ear but also a man of power who was willing to use it to help a large group of people who could never vote for him, the citizens of Springfield.

As Albano put it in his pre-sentencing letter (Aug. 25, 2011) to Judge Mark L. Wolf of the U.S. District Court in Boston, "While he (DiMasi) had no direct political interest in the day-to-day operations of my city, his involvement at the State House was critical and he always answered the call for assistance."

Albano's appeal for leniency to Judge Wolf continued, "As you know, Springfield, like other urban areas, has a multitude of problems. Representative DiMasi was extremely helpful, along with the western Massachusetts legislative delegation, in assisting the City in areas of economic development; police grants; open space grants; education reform dollars; after-school programs and other human service initiatives which directly impacted the quality of life of our citizens. In many cases, he was the person to whom I went to make things happen for the city. He asked for nothing in return.

"For example: Representative DiMasi played a major role -- in a very quiet fashion -- in the appropriation of funding for the new Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and MassMutual Convention Center -- approximately $75 million of economic development funds creating hundreds of employment opportunities and changing the image of Springfield. There were no lobbyists or corporate bigwigs pushing the agenda -- just Sal DiMasi offering a helping hand to a needy city.

"Perhaps his major contribution to the City, however, was the saving of the Southwest Community Health Center. The Center, which serves thousands of low-income citizens with their health care needs, was on the brink of financial collapse.

"Representative DiMasi was instrumental in putting together a supplemental appropriation of nearly $1 million -- which essentially saved the agency -- and allowed Southwest to continue its health care services to the most needy citizens in the community, which continues to operate to this day.

"Your Honor, the Sal DiMasi that I know is a man who cared deeply about the disadvantaged. He was always willing to assist for the benefit of the citizens of Springfield and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

"I have been advised by some to expect retaliation for writing this letter of recommendation for Speaker DiMasi. I put that advice aside, however, because the actions of this extraordinary public servant reveal the totality of the man; the values he espoused; and, his record of accomplishment, all of which are important for your consideration at sentencing.

"Standing up for what is right and for those who are down is something of great value and something I learned a long time ago. I know Sal DiMasi shares those values. Now he is down and needs support from those he supported in the past."

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