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DeLeo looks to exit as the sheeple graze toward Mariano

Autocracy reigns in the Massachusetts House — that freshman class of 2020 won’t know what hit ’em.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo (left) and majority leader Ron Mariano.Globe Staff file

Good politicians, smart politicians, know when to exit. And Bob DeLeo — however old-school he may be — is a smart politician.

He’s had a good run — 12 years as Massachusetts House speaker and, unlike three of his predecessors, he was never convicted of a felony by the feds. (Although he was named an unindicted coconspirator in the wide-ranging case involving the state’s probation department.) Around here, that’s actually groundbreaking. So it makes sense for DeLeo to leave while his reputation is intact and with a few rather progressive bills, like the Roe Act and police reform, he can claim credit for.


I reported more than six weeks ago that DeLeo, 70, was telling a few close associates that this pandemic-plagued year has been particularly grueling and that he’s tired and wants out. Word like that has a way of getting around, and entities — like Northeastern University — have a sharp eye for picking politically powerful allies to bring into the fold.

The speaker made it official Friday, filing the required ethics disclosure statements indicating he was indeed about to negotiate a job with his alma mater. The job in question wasn’t mentioned, but even as a faculty member, DeLeo, who has been a prodigious fund-raiser for his own campaign coffers, would certainly know how to help tap funds for the school.

DeLeo has had 30 years on Beacon Hill, and for the last 12 of those years he has reigned from atop the good ol’ boys pyramid he created. And he has left more than a few bodies in his wake.

Representative Russell Holmes of Mattapan, a former leader of the Legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus, has publicly called DeLeo’s reign as speaker a “dictatorship.” Holmes, once vice chair of the Housing Committee, was ousted from that post in 2017. Now Holmes is looking to run for speaker himself if only to prevent another “backroom deal.”


Others, like former House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Sanchez and former assistant majority leader Byron Rushing, paid for their loyalty to DeLeo in the 2018 election, when they were ousted by voters in the Democratic primary. Sanchez lost to Nika Elugardo, who criticized him for failing to get a Safe Communities bill passed in the House.

Preceding Sanchez at Ways and Means was Brian Dempsey, who was viewed as DeLeo’s heir apparent but grew tired of waiting for the speaker to finally exit the State House stage. Dempsey left in 2017 to make use of his peak earning years in the private sector.

Which brings us to the latest heir apparent, majority leader Ron Mariano of Quincy, who has been lining up votes for more than a month for the speaker’s job. Of course, at 74, Mariano is hardly the kind of new and progressive leader the House needs. Rather, he’s a savvy player very much in the DeLeo tradition. That explains why he’s trying so hard to lock up votes ahead of the arrival of the freshman class of 2020.

Already signed on to the Mariano bandwagon is another member of DeLeo’s leadership team, Representative Michael J. Moran of Brighton, slated to rise to majority leader under a Speaker Mariano.

It would all be rather shameful — that is, if the House were anything resembling a democracy. But it has been an autocracy for so long that no one within the State House bubble thinks this is at all unusual.


The sheeple will once again fall into line in the Great and General Court. Long live the sheeple!

Rachelle G. Cohen is a Globe Opinion writer. She can be reached at rachelle.cohen@Globe.com.