There have been, at the State House, stool pigeons, dirty rats, strange birds, and at least one governor who boasted of his prowess at bagging small game.
Where is Mitt Romney when Massachusetts really needs him?
To hear Senate President Therese Murray tell it, the landmark building with the shiny dome is overrun by mice. And Romney, who famously declared that he was a hunter of “small varmints, if you will,” could be of value in a way that Beacon Hill, which is overrun by Democrats, never truly cherished him for while he was here.
Murray told colleagues Thursday afternoon that mice had gnawed through wires in the Senate chamber, which is among the most venerated rooms in Massachusetts. The Plymouth Democrat blamed colleagues who brought food into the room for the rodent incursion.
“The old microphones were old, but the reason they didn’t work sometimes is because you keep food in your desks and the mice chewed through them,” Murray said, according to State House News Service.
Mice, among other animals, are nothing new at the State House. David Guarino, a public relations executive who worked first as a State House reporter and later as an aide to Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, recalled mice racing down fourth-floor hallways after hours. On one occasion, a mouse climbed the pant leg of a male colleague in the press gallery, “stopping somewhere north of the knee, in a very precarious position.”
“They certainly outnumber tourists, often outnumber Republican bill signings, and on certain Fridays in the summer, outnumber state workers,” Guarino said of the mice.
This time, though, the rodents have inflicted damage, to the tune of $83,295, according to a Murray spokeswoman. Murray told colleagues that if they must keep food at their desks, they should do so in sealed containers.
A spokeswoman for Speaker Robert A. DeLeo confirmed that mice also infest the House side of the building, but said they have not wrought the infrastructural harm they have in the Upper Chamber.
“Mice have always been a part of life, at least of my life, at the State House,” said House Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia A. Haddad, who, in a show of empathy, speculated that some of the invaders were probably “little tiny field mice that come in out of the cold.”
“We had so many mice in the State House we were naming them,” Haddad recalled of the time she joined the House in 2001 and had an office in the basement. “I’ve matured, learned, and grown in my job, and now I know to keep everything in plastic. We know that we have visitors, nocturnal visitors, so we keep everything in plastic or in the refrigerator.”
Haddad shrugged at the gravity of the situation, chalking it up to the age of the building and its location in downtown Boston. The main structure of the State House was completed in 1798, got an annex in 1895, and expanded again in 1917.
Senator Richard J. Ross, a Wrentham Republican, said he had seen mice scamper across the floor of the Senate during late-night sessions.
Like Haddad, Ross said the appeal of an aged edifice has probably proved too tempting for the rodents to resist.
“In a city like Boston, which is built on piers and all kinds of other stuff, it’s going to happen,” said Ross. “I’m not bothered by the furry little critters at all. I’ve seen them scurrying around our office from time to time.”
Other members of the Legislature, speaking anonymously, said the industrious and diligent nature of the mice was admirable, and could serve as something of a template for some of their less assiduous colleagues. Noting that the financial damage to Senate technology was significantly higher than the base salary of state legislators, one House member cheekily suggested that depriving his colleagues in the Upper Chamber of a means of communicating with the public might not, actually, be all that bad.
Nonetheless, when workers conducting improvements to the Senate webcasting cameras and sound system over the summer discovered evidence of the toothy destruction, Murray decided that enough was enough.
Whether Murray’s edict on edibles will prove effective remains to be seen. Frequently, long-running debates will be interrupted by meals bought by and hosted in the Senate president’s office. But, when budget sessions drag on and the hours grow late, members can grow peckish, and food begins appearing in the chamber.
Ross said he had noticed colleagues with food in their desks drawing visits from the mice. But, he said, he stores Gummy Bear candies in his desk without luring any unwanted guests.
“I’ve seen no indication of any rodent infestation in mine,” said Ross. “I suggest if people want to keep food in their desks, they switch to Gummy Bears.”