She broke a nondisclosure agreement and called then-Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo a liar when he denied knowing about the use of such agreements to silence victims from speaking out about sexual harassment on Beacon Hill.
Now that state Senator Diana DiZoglio of Methuen is running for state auditor, she believes it’s no coincidence that the former speaker was spotted at a recent fund-raiser for Chris Dempsey, her Democratic primary opponent. “Needless to say, he [DeLeo]) and his friends on the inside are anything but thrilled about my campaign to hold the Beacon Hill establishment accountable,” DiZoglio told me.
Given her history with DeLeo, she’s probably right about that. Her fighting words are a sign of how much she’s trying to cast herself as the candidate who is ready to challenge the status quo and take up issues like equity and social justice. Yet the statutory description of the job, as pointed out recently by CommonWealth magazine, is pretty boring — to audit more than 200 government entities at least every three years.
DeLeo, who took a job as “University Fellow for Public Life” at Northeastern University after resigning from the Legislature in December 2020, sent this comment about his $100 contribution: “I came to admire Chris through his work with two major issues: his advocacy for reform and investment in our transportation system and his leadership in the No Boston Olympics campaign. What impressed me about Chris was his desire to stand up to protect the public interest.”
Asked about DeLeo’s presence at a March 24 fund-raiser, which was first reported by Politico, Dempsey said via e-mail: “When I took on the biggest power brokers in Boston as the co-founder of No Boston Olympics, Speaker DeLeo gave us an audience when others shut the door. And when I advocated for more investment in public transit as the director of transportation for Massachusetts, Speaker DeLeo listened and the House supported a bill that made new resources available to the MBTA. I interpret his decision to contribute to my campaign as a sign of appreciation for what I am offering the people of Massachusetts, including a strong track record of independence and advocacy for the greater good.”
Dempsey, who has a Harvard MBA, also worked as an assistant secretary of transportation under former Governor Deval Patrick. Those credentials, no doubt, give him entrée, even when he’s standing up to power brokers. DiZoglio has had a tougher path. She was born to a 17-year-old single mother, waitressed and cleaned houses to pay her way through community college, and ultimately earned a scholarship to Wellesley College. State Senator Lydia Edwards of Boston, who endorsed her, said DiZoglio will bring her life experience to the job and be “the people’s auditor.” DiZoglio, she said, is “battle-tested,” and knows how to ask tough questions and answer them.
Her experience certainly speaks to that. “I have been known to be an an independent voice and take on the Beacon Hill establishment, regardless of party affiliation,” DiZoglio said in an interview.
Her Beacon Hill battles date back to 2011, when she was working as a House aide and discredited rumors about inappropriate behavior made her the target of gossip and sexual harassment. She was fired and, with the help of a lawyer, negotiated a severance agreement with the speaker’s officer. The agreement gave her six weeks’ pay, based on a salary of about $30,000, and included a requirement that she not talk about what happened to her.
She subsequently won election to the House and, in March 2018, she broke the nondisclosure agreement in a speech delivered on the House floor. When she brought Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox TV anchor who sparked the nationwide #MeToo movement, to Beacon Hill in January 2020, DiZoglio addressed her fellow legislators with these words: “Your speaker lied to you.” DeLeo denies that.
DiZoglio, who was elected to the Senate in 2019, continues to push for an end to nondisclosure agreements. The Senate passed a bill prohibiting them, but the measure has been held up in the House.
On the campaign trail, DiZoglio promises that as auditor she will investigate the practice of NDAs. But she said her platform is bigger than that, and that she will lead the charge on bringing transparency, accountability, and equity to state government.
Doing the auditor’s job right takes courage and, so far, DiZoglio has shown a lot of that.
Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.