Charlie Baker rode his way into the governor’s office in part because of his background as a high-profile Cabinet member for Governors William F. Weld and Paul Cellucci. He was among a stable of smart, ambitious newcomers, seen as the future of a revamped Massachusetts Republican Party on the verge of emerging from a long political deep freeze.
But of all those future GOP leaders from the 1980s and 1990s, Baker alone has succeeded in public office in the 21st century. He has capitalized on his reputation for management, policy wonkiness, and budget smarts — talents honed during that period — to get off to a good start in his first few months in office.
As for Baker’s fellow Weld/Cellucci alumni? Numerous former GOP bright lights are long forgotten — except perhaps for the colorful scandals, fatal political missteps, and blunders that forced them out of public life. Here’s a look back at some of the biggest downfalls of the bygone era.
If there was ever a political star on the move in the late 1980s and ’90s, it was the young, football-playing, Harvard-educated Joe Malone. He learned politics watching his mother work for Governor John Volpe and eventually managing campaigns and the state party. He emerged as a political figure in his own right in 1988 when the GOP needed a candidate to go up against Senator Ted Kennedy. He handled himself well, setting himself up for a successful run for state treasurer in 1990.
But ambition overtook his good sense in 1998 when he challenged then-Acting Governor Cellucci for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. He lost badly — but the worst was yet to come. Within days of his leaving the treasurer’s office in 1999, the biggest cash theft in Massachusetts government ($9.4 million) was uncovered — carried out by some of Malone’s close allies. He was never implicated, but it deflated his political standing for years. A 2010 run for a Congress didn’t go well; Malone lost in the primary to a state legislator, a former cop who had been implicated in covering up a sexual abuse case. Worse was the fact that Malone’s old political crew, who had shifted allegiance to Mitt Romney, worked for the legislator. It prompted Malone to leave the GOP.
He stayed relevant as a political commentator, but his attempt to get back into the political game last year by persuading a wealthy venture capitalist to run as an independent for governor and collecting some hefty fees to oversee the campaign further diminished his political stature. The candidate got less than 1 percent of the vote.
Talk about flaming out. Christy Mihos squandered a $25 million-plus fortune, partly, according to his wife, on high-priced prostitutes and porn stars, and ended up in divorce court with charges of spousal abuse. It was a fast and furious fall from grace.
Back in the 1990s, Mihos looked like the future of the state GOP. He ran a good campaign for state Senate in 1990, just barely losing the party’s nomination.
Cellucci put him on the Massachusetts Turnpike Board in 1999 where he made a ruckus over the Big Dig costs, so much so that Acting Governor Jane Swift tried to remove him — making him a sort of populist hero. He tried to use the notoriety to run for governor as an independent, and his campaign included TV ads with cartoon versions of political figures and a Big Dig engineer putting their heads up their rear ends. It got the political world talking, but not in the way he wanted. Four million dollars of his own fortune later, he got less than 7 percent of the vote.
Mihos tried to run again in 2010, this time as a Republican, but got caught up in allegations he was violating state campaign laws (he was eventually fined a record $70,000 by state regulators) and lost so badly at the convention to Charlie Baker that he failed to make the party ballot.
Post-election, his financial problems mounted, his divorce was ugly, and his wife charged he hired prostitutes, strippers, and porn stars for sex. She also said he threatened and pushed her in an argument. He lost his oceanfront home on the Cape, and he retreated to Florida to write a book.
The original Big Dig czar never spoke softly, nor did he carry a big stick. He had an ax that he kept near his desk, particularly when he called in hangers-on from the Dukakis administration to tell them they were fired. His tough style, shrewd political instincts, and image as a tough administrator made him a big favorite in the Weld administration. He took a serious look in 2000 at a run for Senate against Ted Kennedy.
But it has all ended up in a federal prison in Brooklyn, N.Y.
James Kerasiotes began his public life as a minor figure in the administration of Governor Edward J. King. In 1991, Weld made him highway commissioner, and it did not take long before he ran over his boss, Secretary of Transportation Richard Taylor, and took his job. When it came to organizing the infrastructure for managing the Central Artery project and the harbor tunnel construction in 1996, he was clearly the favorite to be the czar.
But that led to his downfall. By 1999, he stubbornly refused to acknowledge the extent of the rising costs of the project. When federal auditors swooped in, their criticism of Kerasiotes was devastating. They accused him of knowing of the extent of the overruns two months before a bond issue for the project but saying nothing. That silence, the report said, “stands as one of the most flagrant breaches of the integrity of the federal/state partnership in the history of the nearly 85-year-old federal-aid highway program.’’
Cellucci had no choice but to fire him.
Kerasiotes moved back into the private sector, until the IRS caught up with him 2014 with an indictment on charges of underreporting his income. Despite a plea by his lawyer, Bill Weld, for leniency, Kerasiotes was given a six-month sentence.
When Matthew Amorello beat a young Democratic comer, state Senator John Houston, in 1990, his future looked bright. He had grabbed a long-held Democratic Senate seat in Worcester, a great prize for a Republican Party convinced the 1990 election was a new beginning for the once-dominant state GOP.
It didn’t work out that way.
After a few years in the Senate, Amorello saw his shot — to run against freshman Democratic Representative Jim McGovern of Worcester. He lost badly, but, with the help of his good friend then-Lieutenant Governor Swift, he was appointed highway commissioner by Cellucci. He immediately ran into some problems.
First the Globe reported his congressional campaign committee was shaking down road builders and contractors that did business with the highway department for donations to pay off his debt from the race against McGovern. He had to give the money back and pay a $10,000 campaign fine.
Then there was a “fender bender,” as he described it, one night when he was barreling down the turnpike at 65 miles per hour in his state-issued car. Amorello, whose last stop that night was a saloon next to his state office, claimed the driver of the other car left the scene. Instead of reporting it or using his radio to alert the State Police of a hit and run, he went home and got the car patched up at a local auto repair shop — at his own expense. Cellucci’s legal staff cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Swift then appointed him to be the Mass Turnpike chairman — and therefore the person in charge of the Big Dig — in 2002. When Romney became governor, he let it be known he wanted Amorello out. He didn’t have enough appointments on the turnpike board to fire him, but a July 2006 tragedy in which a woman was killed by a falling ceiling panel in a Big Dig tunnel gave Romney the leverage to force his resignation.
It was hell after that. In 2008, he was fined by the State Ethics Commission on charges that, as turnpike chairman, he violated conflict-of-interest laws. His marriage failed, he couldn’t find much work, and then in 2010, a mug shot of a very inebriated, passed-out Amorello (his head held up by police officer) went viral on the Internet, social media, and newspapers.
But things have improved. He has taken control of his life and is working for a large engineering firm.
Peter Blute arrived on Beacon Hill in the late 1980s, a newly elected state representative from Shrewsbury. It all came crashing down in 1999: a drunken cruise around Boston Harbor at taxpayers’ expense, an attempt to cover it up, and scantily clad women, one of whom lifted her shirt to a Boston Herald photographer who had mysteriously been tipped to what became known as the “Booze Cruise” — a phrase that lives in infamy in state politics.
Blute seemed to be a perfect image for the resurgence of the GOP. And indeed, in the flush of the 1990 statewide election that brought Weld, Cellucci, and Malone, two years later Blute challenged Representative Joseph Early, a Worcester Democrat. It was perfect timing. The blood was in the water. Early struggled through a crowded primary only to lose to Blute in the general election.
The congressional experience was a good but brief ride. With Democrats surging to the polls for President Clinton’s reelection in 1996, Blute couldn’t survive. Then came the fateful decision by Weld after the election to arrange for Blute’s selection as the new MassPort executive director. Things went well until the GOP’s rascal operative Sandy Tennant persuaded him to lease a boat for a summer cruise around the harbor.
After the scandal drove him out of office, Blute went on to cohost a morning radio talk show in Boston. When that dried up, he retreated to his native Worcester area, licking his wounds, convinced he had been a victim, as he said, of a “coup d’etat.”
John Lakian had the chiseled good looks, the self-made fortune, the Harvard education, and a Vietnam War medal — a perfect candidate for governor in 1982. But the Harvard degree was phony, and he lied about his military record. His candidacy crashed.
Amid the Republican surge in the early 1990s, Lakian, a Worcester native, reappeared on the political scene, apologizing for his lies and saying he wanted to challenge Ted Kennedy. Mitt Romney crushed him in the primary, but not before Lakian spent a small fortune.
Frank Phillips can be reached at email@example.com.