by Frank Conte
Senator Michael LoPresti retires with the belief that he is perhaps the only elected official in the area never to have lost an election. Since winning a special election in 1973 held to choose a successor to Judge Mario Umana, LoPresti, following in his father's footsteps, was mildly threatened only three times. First in 1974 when George DiLorenzo mounted a joint effort with Emanuel "Gus" Serra running a ticket as the team's state representative candidate. DiLorenzo bombed; Serra survived.
Second in 1984 when a liberal reformer named Mark Govoni stirred up Democrats in a bid to unseat the more moderate LoPresti seemingly because the latter did nothing more than back a friend, Edward J. King, for the governorship in 1978 and 1982. Govoni soon disappeared.
And third in 1988 in which district 1 city councilor Robert Travaglini, sensing some sea change two years too soon, challenged him in what was considered a hard-fought even dirty street campaign. Dubbed the Cambridge Senator from East Boston, LoPresti was singed by the loss in his hometown's 14 precincts. "East Boston is a neighborhood where people vote personalities, not issues," LoPresti told the Boston Globe's Brian Mooney after the 1988 Democratic primary, "If you vote on issues, you vote for me. If you vote for who's going to be at the Victory Pub, you vote for my opponent...The neighborhood's more constituent-oriented and palsy and some people said Mike's not one of the boys."
The last campaign was the hardest and by far among the most expensive. LoPresti spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars to win re-election. But as in the two earlier efforts, LoPresti, building upon rich family links and renewing a loosely-knit liberal to moderate, East Boston to Cambridge coalition, turned back that challenge as he did the others.
Along the way there was the hope that LoPresti would find himself in Congress -- a hope which was dashed in 1986 when a carpetbagger named Joseph Kennedy entered into the foray to succeed US Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. There were chairmanships and even talk of a mayoral run but they were less satisfying than earning the Congressional seat insiders believed was stolen from his father in the 1950s.
And while LoPresti did not lose an election of any consequence, the grand prize eluded him. His announcement handed down on a Friday afternoon - a time guaranteed for minimum splash impact on Saturday news pages -- was boilerplate. "Since 1973 I have had the honor of serving the people of the Suffolk and Middlesex District and have done my best to represent them in a manner which reflects the pride they have in their community. They, in turn, have elected me to ten terms in the Senate," he said in a prepared statement sent to the press, "During these years I have been fortunate enough to help people and causes across my district and across the state. It has been a most gratifying experience."
But beneath the cordiality towards constituents were what many believed were the mounting financial problems. The image of a once-proud, tradition-bound state senator hawking NuSkin, an anti-wrinkle cream sold with all the Amway conviction, betrayed the stature of a classy, young savvy chairman of the judiciary committee. The questionable investment in former colleague Joseph Timilty's Gumball condo complex on Orleans Street also took its toll. As the real estate market slid, the image that came across the political radar screen was one of a LoPresti in debt and disarray.
Among insiders there was talk about bankruptcy and other personal problems. Whether LoPresti was cutting his losses or genuinely hurting was unclear. But on the outside people began taking notice at a legislative record marked by absence. A 1991 legislative scorecard by the Massachusetts Human Services Coalition, what could be termed as natural allies, made note of key legislative votes LoPresti missed. When the human service types needed him to fight back repeal of the services sales tax, restore AFDC benefits and student loans, and protect General Relief, LoPresti was nowhere to be found. Even Cambridge was starting to lose faith.
The aloofness, the near lack of enthusiasm fed the rumor mill. A supposed deal in which LoPresti was to be offered a judgeship - an effort supported behind the scenes with folded hands supposedly by Travaglini's allies - was the talk of the town. Another deal involved a supposedly gentlemen's 'agreement with Michael Sullivan, an assistant state attorney general and son of the well-known Cambridge city councilor which LoPresti would pull out and endorse Sullivan in the fight against Travaglini. There were other similar rumors.
But this past week --one week after he formally withdrew from the race -- Sullivan said the talk was nothing more than rumors mucking up the political grape-vine. "There was no deal with Mike LoPresti or Trav," said Sullivan, who said he will explore other electoral options including a possible run for the seat Travaglini may win in November.
But Travaglini now finds politics in the Suffolk and Middlesex District sweeter the second time around. Four years later it is forward-looking Travaglini, following his instincts, almost tired of his nearly ten years in City Hall, who reaps his own grand prize: a virtually assured no heavy lifting effort to election as the next senator from the Suffolk and Middlesex, a dirty dog Democratic, crazy quilt of turf which may no longer exist intact after next year's mandated redrawing.
Head-strong in his efforts, Travaglini was determined to put up another challenge at any cost. His perseverance, built on constituent services and not ideology per se, paid off. Nearly indifferent to LoPresti's future, Travaglini set out late last year to lay the groundwork for a second try. Doggedly he worked East Cambridge and Winthrop, where strategists believed the outcome would be determined. And while Republican newcomer Marc Pascucci will mount a challenge, Travaglini, upon almost party loyalty alone, can save his strength for another day.
In the interim LoPresti awaits a decision on a judgeship -- a judgeship for which he cleared background checks and breezed through the nomination process. In the past he could write his own ticket. But now, on the breach, at the edge, LoPresti's fate lies in the hands of Republican Governor William F. Weld, who for whatever reasons must decide whether LoPresti is as fit for the robes as he was for the state senate. If that doesn't work out there's rumor he'll reconsider the Senate counsel job he supposedly turned down.
But his decision is no longer a rumor. It is a fact. And in the last hours afforded him to make one, LoPresti made what he thinks is the best choice.
"While I cannot say I have made the decision easily, I do so with no regrets. I treasure my years of public life. I will leave with great respect for the Massachusetts Senate, my colleagues past and present, and all people who choose to serve in public life. I will leave with a great deal of gratitude to the people who have elected me, to my friends who have supported me, and to my family which has always stood behind me," he said. When the last rumor is put to rest, when the future is more secure, when his last vote is recorded, Mike LoPresti can walk out with his head high when the Governor will swear in his successor. Because for most part Mike LoPresti has served his constituency very well.
Copyright Frank Conte. All rights reserved.