By Michael Goldman
Back in 1983, a man named George Keverian decided to try and accomplish what no man in Massachusetts history had ever done before.
Keverian, a longtime Democratic state representative from Everett was then serving as the majority leader in the 160-member Massachusetts House of Representatives.
After waiting for nine years for his "boss," then House Speaker Tom McGee of Lynn to leave on this own, Keverian decided to try and cobble together enough votes to defeat McGee in a head-to-head leadership contest.
To accomplish that task, he hired a young, little-known political strategist who previously had worked in the first administration of Gov. Michael Dukakis in the 1970s, but had also acquired extensive experience before and after that working in federal, state and local political campaigns.
Campaigning across the state for candidates in open House seats committed to supporting him for speaker if they were elected, and adding to that a richly diverse ideological coalition of returning members committed to his reform measures, Keverian pulled off his upset victory, the first and only time it's been accomplished in state history.
I retell this tale today because the real subject of my column this week was one of those Keverian reformers: Sal DiMasi.
In 1983, DiMasi was then a lowly first-term state representative from the North End of Boston. Like so many other insurgents at the time, Rep. DiMasi was warned that should Keverian lose, Sal could kiss goodbye any chance for future advancement in House leadership.
DiMasi, then tall, lanky and brimming with the confidence of youth, stuck with his risky choice, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I, it turned out, was the lucky strategist who met and worked with Keverian, DiMasi and the other insurgents in that historic effort, one of the proudest achievements in my career.
And while DiMasi and I never became close, I was more than a little pleased when Speaker Keverian named DiMasi as chairman of the Banks and Banking Committee. DiMasi later worked his way into a variety of leadership posts, eventually becoming Speaker of the House himself.
Sadly, this story did not have a happy ending.
As most readers know, Speaker DiMasi was later indicted, tried and convicted of illegal actions while speaker.
Today, DiMasi sits in a federal prison in North Carolina, separated from his family and allegedly dying slowly of throat cancer.
Why exactly former Speaker DiMasi is not closer to home given his virulent illness may be as simple as the luck of the draw, but few in the legal community really believe that.
They note that while DiMasi has never been accused of committing a violent crime like murder or rape, he has chosen to continue to proclaim his total innocence despite the verdict of the jury.
Moreover, they note that DiMasi has also allegedly chosen not to be helpful to federal law enforcement when it comes to them making other cases against other elected officials.
The rules are, say those with intimate knowledge of how the federal criminal-justice system works, if you don't give, you don't get.
The sad truth is, were DiMasi not ill, I and others simply would accept the decision of federal prison officials to house him anywhere they see fit.
But DiMasi is ill, and as far as I know, a conviction for political corruption was never supposed to include as punishment a lonely and painful death sentence.
Some rightly will argue DiMasi is not the only sick guy in jail, yet no one seems to be fighting to get those other equally sick convicts closer to their homes.
Point taken, and I concur.
A review needs to be done quickly to identify all prisoners in this position, not just DiMasi.
Keep in mind, no one is talking of early release here, only that DiMasi do his remaining time in Concord, instead of North Carolina.
Some may have forgotten, but the word "just" is included as part of the phrase "criminal justice."
It's time to be "just."
Let's bring DiMasi home.
Michael Goldman is a paid political consultant for Democratic candidates and president of Goldman Associates in Boston.