Pre-Sentencing Letters Drive Home the Tragic Dimension of the DiMasi Case

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sal DiMasi, the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, must report tomorrow to a federal prison in Kentucky to begin serving an eight-year sentence for accepting bribes in the Cognos software sale scandal. It will be a sad day not only for DiMasi and the members of his family, but also for the thousands of people he helped during more than 30 years in public life. The man has a legion of friends and supporters.

Before DiMasi was sentenced a couple of months ago, 44 persons took the trouble to write individual letters to Mark Wolf, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court in Boston, telling him about the Sal DiMasi they know well and asking him please to be lenient in sentencing. It's hard to read those letters and not be struck, again, by the tragedy of a man who did an extraordinary amount of good in his life, became one of the most powerful politicians in the state, was widely loved for his warmth and generosity and ebullience, and threw it all away with one large, stupid mistake.

Because those letters reveal so much about the genuine DiMasi and how he conducted his life, and because they remind us, inadvertently but poignantly, of how far DiMasi tumbled in his fall from grace, I am going to reprint extensive excerpts from three of them this week. I'm starting with the letter from Jim Aloisi, a prominent Boston attorney and former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation, and will follow with one from Mike Albano, the former mayor of Springfield, and one from Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

"I've never written a letter regarding a proposed sentencing before," Aloisi began, "but I feel compelled to add my voice to those who find the requested sentencing (note added: 11 years) of former Speaker Sal DiMasi to be inordinately harsh, not reflective of the kind of person Sal is, and lacking in consideration of the many good works and positive examples of principled leadership that marked his time in office.

"I have known Sal DiMasi for close to two decades. Sal asked me to write his inaugural address when he became Speaker. I remember clearly, as we spoke about the content of the speech, how deeply focused he was on reminding himself that he came from humble beginnings, and that he would strive mightily to represent not just his district, but those who were chronically left behind by society -- the poor, the elderly, and those who are disenfranchised as a result of race, sexual orientation or other factors.

"I have thought about that experience as I have observed the trial and its aftermath. I don't know anything about the facts and circumstances that were the subject of the recent trial, but here is what I do know: Sal DiMasi was a good Speaker, a thoughtful man, a progressive thinker, a man who had a deep commitment to improving the lives of people who all too often do not have a voice in the halls of our State House. That is why I believe he championed health care reform. That is why I believe he held firm on making marriage equality the law. That is why I believe he held firmly against a gaming bill -- believing strongly, as I know he did, that gaming is nothing more than a tax on the poor and the middle class, simply another way to prey on those who have no access to power, no means to lobby legislators. People in Massachusetts are better off today, and their children will be better off in the future, because Sal DiMasi had the commitment and the vision and the courage to stop gaming, and to enact health care reform and marriage equality.

"...When I was State Transportation Secretary in 2009, I led an effort to raise the state gas tax as a way to increase revenues to support our aging transportation infrastructure. The gas tax increase would have enabled critical state-of-good-repair work, and would have improved funding for public transportation throughout the state -- an important mobility and social and economic justice issue. This was, as we all know, very unpopular politically, but Sal was prepared to support it with all the strength of his office. He would gain nothing but political pain from his support, but he understands that he was chosen to be Speaker to make tough decisions, to risk unpopularity, and to lead. I consider that kind of moral and political courage to be rare, but Sal had it in ample quantity....

"The Sal DiMasi I know is a person who ought to have more to give -- more to contribute -- to society. A harsh sentence in this matter may satisfy some rigid notion of justice, but I am reminded of the wisdom of Shakespeare's Portia, that mercy is 'an attribute to God himself/and earthly power doth then show likest God's/when mercy seasons justice.'

"If ever there was an occasion when mercy should season justice, it is this one. With respect, I would ask for your consideration that such wisdom ought to have a place in the sentencing decision you are about to make -- taking the entirety of the man and his life and his public record into account."

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