The Boston Globe
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Voting 'No' on Question 1 will send a message too
By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist
The "Politician Payment Plan."
That's how FBI Special
Agent Krista Corr, a 17-year veteran of the Public Corruption Squad at
the bureau's Boston office, characterizes the pay-to-play system that
operates in the Massachusetts State House and Boston City Hall. Her
32-page affidavit outlines the FBI's case against Democratic state
Senator Dianne Wilkerson, who was arrested last week on bribery charges.
It's a must-read - especially for anyone inclined to vote against
Question 1, the ballot measure to repeal the Massachusetts income tax.
According to the FBI, the
"Politician Payment Plan" was described to undercover agents by
"Associate A," a Boston businessman seeking to acquire a parcel of
state-owned land for development. Posing as out-of-state developers, the
agents had "asked Associate A whether anyone needed to be paid to obtain
their support," the affidavit recounts. "Associate A confirmed that
Wilkerson's support was most important and the most expensive: 'The
biggest chunk that we gotta worry about is the senator. . . . If she
says no, you're [bleeping] dead. If she says yes, you're golden.'"
Bribes would also go to two state representatives and a city councilor,
according to the FBI.
In return, Wilkerson
allegedly threw her weight behind the project, persuading the state
agency that owned the land not to lease it to another business and
promising to introduce legislation awarding the land directly to the
"developers" who had paid her off.
In another episode outlined
by the FBI, Wilkerson took bribes in return for pulling strings and
pressuring government officials to issue a liquor license to a Roxbury
nightclub operator. The pressure included blocking a pay hike for
members of the Boston Licensing Board until they approved the license.
Agent Corr's affidavit does
more than explain why Wilkerson was surreptitiously photographed
stuffing wads of cash into her bra. It shines a light on the ethical
squalor that so often masquerades as public service in Massachusetts - a
culture of corruption and arrogance that will never be disinfected if
Question 1 doesn't pass.
One of the clichés of the
tax-repeal opponents is that those of us who support Question 1 are
ill-advisedly trying to send a message to Beacon Hill. "Find another way
to send a message," advises Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts
Taxpayers Foundation. The MetroWest Daily News, editorializing against
Question 1, says enacting it would amount to a demand for more
efficiency in state government, but "it's hard to imagine that message
will come as a surprise to the elected officials of Massachusetts."
Peter Meade, the chairman of the No on Question 1 Coalition, doesn't
hide his disdain: "If you want to send a message," he snaps, "get a
But make no mistake: Voting
against Question 1 will send a message too.
Vote no on Question 1, and
you're flashing a thumbs-up to the political culture that readily
indulged and empowered Wilkerson, notwithstanding her long history of
ethical and legal violations. Vote no, and you're reassuring the state's
political bigs that it's OK with you when they urge voters to re-elect
cheats - as Governor Patrick and Mayor Menino urged the reelection of
Wilkerson, despite knowing her to be a convicted tax evader and serial
violator of campaign-finance laws.
Reject Question 1, and
you're asking for more of the same: more of the corruption that
unchecked power spawns, more lifetime legislators and uncontested
elections, more logrolling with public-employee unions, more patronage
positions for unqualified hacks, more voter-passed initiatives that get
trashed by the Legislature. Vote no, and you're looking at more
irresponsible budgets, more "temporary" tax increases that turn out to
be permanent, more hostility to saving money through privatization.
Reject Question 1 and you're voting to perpetuate the whole fetid,
greed-glutted cult of the public trough - the lavish pensions for
"retirees" in their 50s, the paid holidays for public employees only,
the jaw-dropping overtime pay, healthcare benefits, and "disability"
You want to send a message?
Vote against Question 1 and you'll be another Oliver Twist: "Please,
sir, I want some more." And if that is what you want - if the status quo
suits you fine, if you're all right with the
you-grease-my-palm-and-I'll-grease-yours system of which Dianne
Wilkerson is but a symptom - then by by all means vote No.
But you might want to read
that affidavit before you do.
O Jornal (Fall River)
Friday, October 31, 2009
Immigrant service agencies blast Question 1 in Mass.
By Luís Filipe Dias
Immigrant advocacy groups
and the Massachusetts Governor are in agreement - if Question 1 passes
it would cause havoc in the state's ability to provide services.
Question 1 calls for the
reduction of the state's personal income tax rate to 2.65 percent on all
tax categories beginning on Jan. 1, 2009 and would eliminate the income
tax for all years beginning on Jan. 1, 2010.
A vote no on Question 1
will not make any change to the current personal income tax rate, which
is at 5.3 percent.
Gov. Deval Patrick during a
recent visit to the SouthCoast commented on the impact of Question 1 on
Massachusetts's if it passed.
"It will be devastating,"
said the governor. "I understand it, that people don't like to pay
taxes, but there is a price for the civilization we say we want. Taxes
is how we pay that price."
The Massachusetts Alliance
of Portuguese Speakers (MAPS) has taken a stand opposing Question 1 and
is urging people to vote against it, saying that if it passes it will
have a devastating effect on the state.
"There would be major cuts
in a lot of areas that the state funds, from education to public safety,
roads and bridges," said Lois Josimovich, Director of Development and
Communications at MAPS.
"Local communities would be
severely impacted. We are not just concerned about the non-profits. But
are people going to receive the services they need in everyday life,
including community policing?," questioned Josimovich.
However, proponents of
Question 1 such as Committee for Small Government and Citizens for
limited taxation argue that politicians have not kept faith with
their promises to the taxpayer.
"Your 'yes' vote gives back
$3,700 (on average) each to 3,400,000 Massachusetts workers and
taxpayers - including you," said Carla Howell, Chair of The Committee
For Small Government. "Your yes vote will create hundreds of thousands
of new Massachusetts jobs, not raise your property taxes and not require
cuts of any essential government services."
She added that the vote
would roll back state government spending 27 percent - $47.3 billion to
$34.7 billion - more than state government spending in 1999.
According to figures
released by those who oppose of Question 1, the human service sector,
which receives about $2.8 billion in state funding, could be reduced by
nearly 40 percent. The state government would see an estimated reduction
of $11 billion.
The New Bedford Immigrants'
Assistance Center (IAC) is also urging people to vote no on Question 1
and is planning to hold an informational session on the ballot questions
Helena Marques, IAC
executive director, spoke about the impact of possible cuts to immigrant
"Any time there is cuts,
guess who gets impacted the most? The immigrant community," said
Marques. "Their mentality is that they don't vote and that they can cut
their services. So we become very vulnerable and a target area."
Massachusetts Immigrant and
Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) is also advocating that immigrant
voters vote no on Question 1 as it would impact immigrant communities
"very severely" and "unfairly so."
"It would affect families,
schools... it would have a devastating affect on many of the services we
rely on," said Shuya Ohno, MIRA's Director of Communications.
The dire financial
situation facing the state is more than a numbers game, as it's being
felt in people's stomachs.
"We have seen an increase
in people, now there are more and more families coming in to access our
food pantry," said Marques. "There is a tremendous need in our
community. When there is a crisis, the first thing that gets eliminated
is social services and when things are tough it's when they are needed
the most. It's a huge problem."
attended a meeting for non-profit organizations in Massachusetts. She
reported the mood at the conference as mixed.
"We are optimistic that
when we work together we can make things happen and overcome adversity,"
said Josimovich. "But at the same time everyone is alarmed with the
prospect of Question 1."
It will be up to the voters
to decide this Nov. 4, the future of the Massachusetts's budget.
The Boston Herald
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Boston Housing Authority: Aunt Zeituni OK by federal rules
Barack Obama kin part of law loophole
By Laura Crimaldi
A Boston Housing Authority
official said yesterday the agency was never notified of a deportation
order issued for Barack Obama’s aunt, who has been living in federal-
and state-funded public housing in South Boston since 2003.
BHA Deputy Director William
McGonagle said Zeituni Onyango, 56, a native of Kenya, met the criteria
to live in federally funded housing when she applied in 2003. The
Associated Press reported yesterday that an immigration judge instructed
Onyango to leave the country in 2004 after her asylum request was
“The deportation order,
based on my understanding, based on what I’ve read in the newspaper, was
issued after she moved into public housing in Boston and we would have
no way of knowing if there was an order or not,” McGonagle said.
“We check with the
applicant about their citizenship status at the time of application. We
have no affirmative responsibility I am aware of to further check on
their status after they are initially deemed to be eligible.”
Onyango, who is the
half-sister of Obama’s late father, lived at the federally subsidized
Old Colony development in South Boston from 2003 to 2007. She moved to
her current residence, the state-funded West Broadway development on
Flaherty Way in South Boston, in January, McGonagle said.
To qualify for federally
funded public housing, tenants must prove that at least one household
member is a citizen or an “eligible noncitizen.” Eligible noncitizens
include immigrants with a resident alien card, temporary resident card,
employment authorization card or proof of refugee or asylee status,
according to the BHA’s Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policies.
Unlike the case with
federal public housing, tenants moving into state-funded housing in
Massachusetts do not have to prove their citizenship or immigration
status. According to the state Department of Housing and Community
Development, “As a result of a consent decree in federal court in 1977,
the state cannot deny state-subsidized public housing to undocumented
The U.S. Department of
Homeland Security screens all noncitizen applicants for eligibility, the
BHA said. McGonagle said he did not know which immigration class Onyango
fell into when she was approved in 2003.
“When she applied and
throughout the screening process, we applied all of the neccesary rules
and followed all the necessary rules and she was determined eligible,”
A one-person household must
earn less than $43,600 annually to qualify for a state or federal public
housing unit managed by the BHA. Rents at Onyango’s West Broadway
residence are calculated at 32 percent of a resident’s income.
Since 2006, state Sen.
Robert L. Hedlund Jr. (R-Weymouth) has tried three times to close the
loophole that makes state-funded public housing available to illegal
immigrants. All those efforts failed in legislative conference
committees, Hedlund said yesterday.
“It is a massive, absurd
loophole that we can fix very easily,” Hedlund said. “We’ve got some
people in the Legislature that think it’s acceptable because these
people are vulnerable and need housing, but it shouldn’t be at the
expense of some of the 100,000 people who are on the waiting list here
in the commonwealth.”
No one answered the door
yesterday at Onyango’s apartment at 111 Flaherty Way. One neighbor said
Obama’s aunt had not been home since Thursday.
The Boston Globe
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Obama says he wasn't aware of aunt's immigration status
By Scott Helman and Eric Moskowitz
Aides to Senator Barack
Obama confirmed yesterday that the Illinois senator has had some contact
with his aunt in Boston in recent years, but they said he was not aware
that she was reportedly in the country illegally.
The Associated Press
reported that Obama's 56-year-old aunt, Zeituni Onyango, who has been
living in a South Boston public housing complex, was told to leave the
country four years ago by an immigration judge who rejected her request
for political asylum from Kenya. Onyango, the half-sister of Obama's
late father, could not be reached for comment and did not appear to be
at home yesterday.
Aides said Obama was not
aware of her apparent immigration status and was not involved in her
asylum case. "Senator Obama has no knowledge of her status but obviously
believes that any and all appropriate laws be followed," the campaign
said in a statement.
Onyango had contributed
$260 to Obama's presidential bid in small installments, but with federal
law prohibiting foreigners from contributing to political candidates,
his campaign said it would return the money.
Obama had limited contact
with his late father, Barack Obama Sr., and much of his family. Obama
first met his father's relatives on a trip to Africa 20 years ago, which
he describes in his 1995 memoir, "Dreams From My Father." In the book he
calls her "Auntie Zeituni."
Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki
confirmed the AP report that Obama had seen Onyango on a few occasions
since, including a trip to Kenya with his wife, Michelle, and a trip she
took to Chicago on a tourist visa - at Obama's invitation - about nine
years ago. Onyango also attended Obama's swearing-in after he was
elected to the US Senate in 2004. Obama last heard from her about two
years ago, when she called to say she was in Boston, according to his
The Boston Housing
Authority, which oversees subsidized housing developments in the city,
said yesterday that residents who apply for federally funded housing
must prove their legal citizenship or residency, but those applying for
state-funded public housing do not.
When Onyango applied in
2002 for public housing, her asylum request was pending so she was an
eligible noncitizen, said Bill McGonagle, deputy director of the housing
The authority was not
notified by the Department of Homeland Security that her asylum request
had been rejected, and does not track immigration status on its own,
McGonagle said. Onyango, who moved into the federally subsidized Old
Colony complex in South Boston in 2003, moved to the West Broadway
complex this year after requesting a transfer for medical reasons.
Because West Broadway is
state-funded, McGonagle said, her immigration status may not matter.
"I'm not sure this will, or should, affect her tenancy," he said. "I
don't believe it is the housing authority's responsibility to enforce
federal immigration laws."
A spokesman for state
Department of Housing and Community Development said last night that as
a result of 1977 federal consent decree, the state cannot deny
state-subsidized public housing to illegal immigrants.
The AP said the deportation
case was confirmed by two sources, including a federal law enforcement
official, but said it could not establish whether there was any
political motivation involved in disclosing the information. Democrat
John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter
yesterday to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff asking him to
investigate the leak.
The AP also reported that
Onyango's case had prompted an unusual directive within US Immigrations
and Customs Enforcement requiring that any deportations before Election
Day be approved at least at the level of the agency's regional
"I think people are
suspicious about stories that surface in the last 72 hours of a national
campaign," said Obama's chief campaign strategist David Axelrod.
John McCain's senior
adviser, Mark Salter, declined to comment, telling reporters "it's a
Onyango, one of several
children of Obama's grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, has lived in the
South Boston complex for five years. In "Dreams From My Father," Obama
recalled that she was the first person to greet him when he stepped off
a plane for the first time in Kenya.
"'Welcome home,' Zeituni
said, kissing me on both cheeks," Obama wrote.
Onyango, who is paid a
small stipend for working as a health advocate in her housing complex,
has largely avoided the media since her whereabouts were first reported
by the Times of London on Wednesday. In a phone interview Wednesday
night with the Globe, Onyango suggested she wanted to lay low as her
nephew tried to win the presidency.
"We'll talk after the
election," she said.
Scott Helman reported
from Henderson, Nev., and Eric Moskowitz reported from Boston.
The Boston Globe
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Waves of scandal rattle Beacon Hill
By Matt Viser and Frank Phillips
Senator Dianne Wilkerson
seemed to think last week that her Senate colleagues would go easy on
her. And she had reason. All her past indiscretions had been overlooked,
and the collegial body that meets in a powder-blue room with cushy
chairs has never tried to oust one of its own before a conviction for a
"I trust that you will act
consistent with prior practice," Wilkerson wrote in a letter to the
But Wilkerson clearly
misjudged the size of the shock wave her arrest on bribery charges
triggered on Beacon Hill.
Members of the House and
Senate - and the Massachusetts public - have already been subjected to a
stream of news about the alleged ethical failings of House Speaker
Salvatore F. DiMasi and his close friends. As the taint of corruption
settled deeply over the State House last week and subpoenas from the US
attorney's office were delivered to top-ranking state officials by the
hour, Wilkerson's Senate colleagues quickly moved to purge her.
Beacon Hill is once again
awash in charges of political corruption, cronyism, and influence
peddling, a spate of scandals that seasoned observers describe as
perhaps the worst in three decades. And the sense that shoddy or
criminal behavior has become pervasive is peaking just as the state
confronts its worst financial crisis in years and needs strong
leadership from its elected officials.
"It's really other-worldly,
honestly," Senator Mark C. Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat, said of the
current atmosphere on Beacon Hill. "What happens at a time like this is
it reinforces the worst and the most cynical in politics. And the worst
thing a politician can feel is that the public thinks everyone is on the
take. Who knows how long we're going to be in the aftermath."
Lawmakers say they are
being confronted by angry constituents in the waning days of their
reelection campaigns. Top politicians have responded that Wilkerson's
arrest by the FBI is based on the alleged actions of one rogue senator
and that it does not reflect how Massachusetts politics really works.
But federal investigators
have cast a wide net in the case, and some fear that Wilkerson could
give up additional information to seek a lighter sentence. Mayor Thomas
M. Menino, Maureen Feeney, City Council president, and Senate President
Therese Murray have all received federal grand jury subpoenas in the
Wilkerson case and have been referenced in one another's subpoenas -
creating the appearance of a web of unseemly politicking that stretches
from the State House to City Hall.
As one grand jury prepares
for testimony in US District Court, DiMasi is under siege, with several
ongoing investigations, including a state grand jury probe into more
than $2 million in payments paid by a state computer software contractor
to three of his close associates. One of the speaker's associates who
received payments, his personal accountant, Richard Vitale, gave DiMasi
a highly unusual third mortgage on his North End condominium.
"This has got to stop,"
Representative Cory Atkins, a Democrat from Concord, said of the overall
atmosphere. "Voters hate it. Our greatest asset is our integrity, and if
we blow that, we blow the democratic trust."
Governor Deval Patrick, who
came to office vowing to change the culture, is now watching that
culture career out of control. But even the self-professed reformer
governor has taken his lumps, accused of using loopholes in state
campaign laws to leverage jumbo contributions from lobbyists and
businesses seeking favors from state government.
He also, like many
prominent officeholders, endorsed Wilkerson in the Democratic primary
despite her long list of previous legal problems, saying it was a matter
of loyalty because of her early endorsement of his 2006 candidacy.
"I came to Beacon Hill to
bring change," Patrick said Friday in announcing a special task force to
propose ethics reforms. "We need ethics and lobbying reform, and we need
The turmoil could not come
at a worse time, with legislative leaders huddling with their lawyers
behind closed doors, politically weakened and distracted when they need
to be focused on closing the $1.4 billion budget gap created by the
national financial crisis and dealing with chronic financial problems in
transportation, healthcare, and education.
"It's certainly a very
turbulent time for all of us," said Senator Steven C. Panagiotakos,
chairman of Ways and Means, referencing both the state's budget problems
and political climate. "There's a lot of uncertainty about what's
tomorrow going to bring."
The top leaders of the
Senate and House have been forced repeatedly to defend their
The Wilkerson arrest is
testing Murray, who faces her first political crisis since being elected
president in March 2007.
Murray was mentioned in an
FBI affidavit as being present at a closed-door meeting with Wilkerson
and other leaders to broker a deal for more liquor licenses in Boston -
five of which, Wilkerson allegedly claimed in FBI tapes, were hers to
control. Murray, who has publicly denied she was at that meeting, also
received a subpoena last week and is prominently mentioned in subpoenas
sent to other government offices, including one to the state's
technology division demanding that her e-mails be preserved.
"I'm comfortable and
confident that the integrity of the Senate - and my own integrity - will
remain intact at the end of this ordeal," Murray said Thursday during a
news conference, after she led the Senate to a unanimous vote calling on
Wilkerson to resign and urging an ethics investigation that could lead
to her expulsion.
DiMasi, meanwhile, has
repeatedly asserted that he had nothing to do with the award of a flawed
$13 million contract to Cognos ULC, the company responsible for hundreds
of thousands of dollars in payments to his friends. He suggested, in an
open letter to his colleagues this year, that a Cognos sales associate
was dropping his name for political purposes without his knowledge.
Despite his repeated
entreaties, the weakened DiMasi has been unable to quell organizing
efforts within the House by two people vying to succeed him: Robert
DeLeo, chairman of Ways and Means, and John H. Rogers, the majority
But in an indication of how
charged the atmosphere is, Rogers, too, is among those facing ethics
allegations. He has been defending himself over an arrangement in which
his campaign allegedly paid funds to a consultant who in turn made
mortgage payments on a vacation home on Cape Cod owned by Rogers and his
In still another
controversy brewing, in Central Massachusetts, Robert P. Spellane, a
Worcester Democrat and vice chairman of the committee that regulates
banks, has been forced to explain how he was able to forgo a year's
worth of payments on a $340,000 loan from a local bank with an executive
who supports him politically.
And while the charges did
not involve or conflict with his public duties, state Senator J. James
Marzilli's bizarre arrest on charges that the Arlington Democrat
sexually harassed and accosted four women in downtown Lowell has only
heightened the image that Beacon Hill is sliding out of control. The
Senate has not expelled Marzilli, although it referred his case to the
Senate Ethics Commission. There has been no action in the four months
since the referral. He is not running for reelection.
"It is a time of crisis,"
said Scott Harshbarger, former attorney general, who praised Patrick for
announcing formation of a special ethics task force Friday. "That is a
danger, but it also represents a great opportunity to make major
But the track record for
past reform efforts is spotty.
Over the years, reformers
have seen the political establishment cut the budgets and challenge many
of the powers of the State Ethics Commission and the Office of Campaign
and Political Finance. In the early 1990s there was a full-fledged
assault on ethics laws as state lawmakers sought to limit the
investigative powers of the Ethics Commission, including taking away its
subpoena powers in preliminary inquiries and forcing it to reveal
DiMasi, who was House
chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the time, challenged an Ethics
Commission subpoena of his records, taking the case to the Supreme
Judicial Court. The court ruled in favor of DiMasi, saying there was no
legal basis to subpoena his documents after his name appeared in a
lobbyist's records as taking more than $700 worth of meals, golfing
fees, and entertainment expenses.
"Each time they took action
over the next ten or twenty years, their powers were challenged and
eroded," Harshbarger said. "This is a real opportunity to get back on
Most recently, reformers
were dismayed when the Legislature in 2003 repealed a statewide
referendum approving the Clean Elections Law, a sweeping measure
designed to break the stranglehold that, reformers believe, special
interests have on the electoral process.
It remains to be seen
where, on the scale of past scandals, the current series of events will
In the early 1960's, a
special commission found fraud and payoffs in the state's construction
of Boston Common's underground garage.
The State House was
engulfed in scandal in the 1970's over bribes given to legislators by
the contractor building the University of Massachusetts' Boston campus.
The Senate majority leader, Joseph J.C. DiCarlo of Revere; a ranking
Senate Republican leader, Ronald A. MacKenzie; and James A. Kelly Jr.,
the Senate Ways and Means chairman, all were convicted in federal court
and sentenced to jail time.
In 1984, the House
assistant majority leader, Vincent J. Piro of Somerville, allegedly took
a $5,000 bribe, saying he had to "grease a few guys" to get him a
special liquor license. His first trial ended in a hung jury. He was
acquitted in a second trial.
"Each generation has had
their scandals," said Jack Beatty, the historian and biographer of one
of Boston's most famous rogues, James Michael Curley. "We will have a
high-minded commission named after someone, and there will be resolves
that Massachusetts will reform itself. But Massachusetts political
culture being what it is, the infallible patterns will be repeated for
the next generation."