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Pro Tempore Today…On Probation Tomorrow…

Fallout from the release of a damning report on the administration of the commonwealth’s Probation Department has finally landed on the head of State Representative Thomas Petrolati.  The Ludlow Democrat, whose district includes Indian Orchard in Springfield was the Speaker Pro Temp of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.  He has held that position, which serves little, if any purpose, since the last Speaker, Salvatore DiMasi clawed his way into the speakership.  Speaker Robert DeLeo announced Petrolati will step down from the post when the legislature convenes in January.

Rep. Petrolati (
The Probation Scandal, about which you can read more at Boston Globe, in short consisted of rampant favoritism, corruption, mismanagement, and possible pay-for-play personnel decisions.  Petrolati was called the king of Western Mass Patronage, implicated as being among the more flagrant probation jobs-for-donations participants.

When the scandal broke, the Supreme Judicial Court appointed Boston attorney Paul Ware to investigate the corruption.  During his probe, he subpoenaed Petrolati who attempted to behind some legislative privilege as a reason why he need not testify.  The SJC told him otherwise, but reportedly, Petrolati made heavy use of his Fifth Amendment Protection against self-incrimination.

Gov. Deval Patrick (WMassP&I)
Petrolati may actually be remembered best as the sole dissenting voice of any consequence against placing the State Backup Data center at the site of Springfield former Technical High School.  For reasons never completely understood, Petrolati wanted the center put at the STCC’s Technology Park, despite the complex lacking the adequate security that could be easily built into the Tech building during its gutting and renovation.  The considerable sway of Petrolati’s constructed office gave him the power to change the bill that funded the data center to suit his needs, possibly out power-playing Cong. Richard Neal.  In the end, wishing to avert an inter-party war over a non-issue, the Legislature decided to leave that final decision of the data center’s location to Gov. Deval Patrick.  Patrick, to the surprise of few, picked Tech over Technology Park.

This controversy and Petrolati’s odd continuance in the pointless House office even after Robert DeLeo became speaker might have inspired somebody, anybody, to oppose Petrolati in his race to continue as representative.  Not so.  Even in a Republican year (or the impression of one in Massachusetts), nobody Democrat or Republican, opposed Petrolati.  If for no other reason, the GOP should be ashamed because, again in their logic, the town of Ludlow went Scott Brown in January.

Even in the dysfunction and complicity of Democrats in the Springfield area and Massachusetts as a whole, Petrolati has come to stand out.  His Pro Temp appointment raised eyebrows and his involvement in the data center raised objections–from virtually everybody.  Like many politicians he has remained glued to his seat in large part because of his intimate connection to the people of Ludlow (we are largely of the opinion Petrolati has done squat for I.O.).

Speaker DeLeo (
In dismissing Petrolati, WFCR reported that Speaker Robert DeLeo implied that Petrolati’s refusal to answer Paul Ware’s questions was part of the reason the Ludlow representative was leaving the leadership.  Although couched as a mutual agreement as reported by the Globe, the writing on the wall as it is, DeLeo’s account is very likely very generous in how things actually played out for Petrolati.

While the yawning scandal may very well capture more members of the legislature, the reports have only highlighted a few so far.  Inspector General Gregory Sullivan has begun an investigation and Attorney General Martha Coakley and US Attorney Carmen Diaz may yet open investigations, which may turn up more evidence and official corruption.  However, none locally or even statewide have been implicated quite so damningly as Petrolati.  It may be premature to call his political career over, but do not be surprised if the voters in Ludlow and Springfield find themselves springing for an election ahead of schedule.

If anybody will miss Petrolati, it may only be those diehards in Ldulow, who, for whatever reason, continued to support him even as his shine had long since dimmed.  It is hard to say what Petrolati’s fate is or for that matter what good he has done for his district.  However, if the allegations are true regarding his involvement in the Probation office and were there some malfeasance in his data center position, it seems likely if not certain the representative had his hand in many other less than honest endeavors.