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Weenie Roast!

The Phoenix 's second annual Memorial Day political roast
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  June 5, 2010

A year ago, with scandals and embarrassments swirling around Massachusetts state politics, the Phoenix tossed some well-deserving pols on the flames in our first annual Memorial Day political roast. I'm pleased that I've been invited back — and thanks to all of you who made a call to Probation Commissioner JOHN O'BRIEN to make it happen! (Don't worry, your campaign checks are in the mail!)

Yes, it's the traditional start of summer — when it's finally warm enough for Martha Coakley to shake some hands in front of Fenway.

Hey, Bay State politics is a never-ending source of comedy. So sit back, remember the three-drink minimum — you'll need it! — and laugh to keep from crying.

Seeing eye to eye
How about this Probation Department scandal, huh? For years, the state legislature has refused to move the department to the governor's control — as it works in 49 other states, and as it works for virtually every other aspect of law enforcement — citing concerns about "separation of powers." We now know that this means the separation from the legislature of the power of patronage.

As soon as the Boston Globe reported the seamy situation, in brutal detail, legislators sprung into action — leaping forward to pretend to be surprised. Horrors! We never knew!

As for doing anything about it . . . well, let's not get crazy. House Speaker ROBERT DELEO says we shouldn't do anything hasty until a full investigation can be completed. Which, incidentally, was what he said when voting to re-elect Sal DiMasi as Speaker last year. His judgment is clearly sound!

That's also been DeLeo's justification for keeping DiMasi's sidekick, THOMAS PETROLATI — who is center stage in the probation scandal — in the bogus, DiMasi-invented, $15,000-a-year pro tempore position.

Petrolati is expected to be called to testify if and when DiMasi and his pal RICHARD VITALE go to trial on their criminal charges. Prosecutors say that Petrolati had a suspicious number of conversations with Vitale just before a law got changed in committee to benefit the ticket broker, who was secretly paying Vitale. And when I say "a committee," of course I mean "DeLeo's committee" — back when Bobby was chair of Ways and Means.

Hey, I just remembered something else about Petrolati and DiMasi: a couple of years back, it turned out that ophthalmologists in the state were contributing en masse tens of thousands of dollars to the two of them, and that — by coincidence! — a law harmful to ophthalmologists' income, adopted by every state except Massachusetts, kept failing in the House.

And you know what? Now that DeLeo is Speaker, one of his first big fundraisers this year was thrown by — would you believe it? — a ballroom full of ophthalmologists with checkbooks in hand.

But that could all be perfectly innocent: maybe those eye surgeons weren't paying up to continue blocking that bill. Maybe they just all have incompetent nephews who need jobs at the Probation Department!

Safety last
One burning question on the minds of a certain segment of the political community is, now that O'Brien and former MBTA general manager DAN GRABAUSKAS are gone, where are ne'er-do-well, politically connected Bay Staters going to find work? Who's thinking of them?

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