“Actions lie louder than words.”
Life in Boston is much faster paced than it is in Fall River or Providence. The tone of political discourse is much more hard nosed as well.
Politics in Fall River is sloppy and messy at times. Under the table shenanigans are crude and open to discovery. A school committeeman, an assistant school superintendent and a former mayor all crashed in disgrace and wound up in the federal can for just a few shekels. Nothing big, just big enough to put all three in the pokey. The big players are slick and always operate under the radar and put the “fix” in before they act.
Providence (and generally all of Rhode Island) is sloppy as well with mayors and even a chief justices of the state supreme court exposed as frauds. Again the big stuff like the banking scandal (more on that in a later chapter) nearly all the big players escape detection. Part of the problem is that Rhode Island is small state. Sort of a city/state.
In Boston the stakes are higher because the dollars amounts are greater. A few marginal players spend time in the various reformatories. The rest walk.
Political chicanery is Boston way of life, going back to the days of James Michael Curley and earlier. Curley is the fabled mayor of Boston during a bygone era.
Then there are the stories which become emotional magnets.
Sometime in the mid-eighties, mandatory seat belt fever swept the nation, including Massachusetts. Rhode Island and New Hampshire stemmed that tide as they had avoided mandatory helmet laws for motorcycle drivers as well. New Hampshire still resists both helmet and seat belt laws, but Rhode Island caved in to the “Do-Gooders”.
I was working at both WRKO and WHJJ then and spent a lot of time in New Hampshire skiing and mountain climbing so it was interesting to observe the people in the three states. They were much the same when it came to the intrusive nose of government poking into our private lives.
There is a brain malfunction which occurs when someone is elected to public office. A sense of big-brotherism takes place, the “I know what’s good for you” syndrome sets in. Being a “Do-gooder” is a good way to deflect attention from the behind the scenes things taking place.
Hence the desire (or was it need) on the part of many of our elected wunderkinds to make us all safer from our own choices. Such was the case in the forced seatbelt laws, Massachusetts included. They knew better.
The national movement got its start at about the same time “The Duke”, Michael Dukakis, was returned to the office of governor in1982. The auto insurance companies and auto manufacturers were on the side of mandatory seat belt legislation.
Dukakis had been bounced from office in the primary election of 1978 by Eddie King, a conservative business type Democrat. The Duke couldn’t pass up any opportunity to do for us those things which made him feel good. The mandatory seat belt law was right up his alley.
One other reason for his concern for us may have been the initial stages of his quest for the presidency. Funny how these things work. A man wants to move up to the presidency and he needs to have all sorts of accomplishments on his resume and saving lives with seat belts was one of them.
The first efforts were made in early 1984. No one thought it had much of a chance. We had legislator “Do-Gooders” like the queen of do-gooders, a Republican (later turned Democrat) state representative from Framingham, Barbara Gray. She also became the queen of mandatory margarine as well. No that’s not a typo, mandatory margarine in restaurants became her game after seatbelts.
By 1985 some heavy hitters got into the game. General Motors and assorted doctors groups began the mantra that “Seat belts save lives”. “We need a law”. By Spring it was full bore. Lobbyists from the big companies and “Do-Gooder” groups were crawling all over the place. There was no organized opposition except Jerry Williams and Gene Burns on WRKO. I recall David Brudnoy from WBZ in Boston was set against it as well, but the real input came from Williams and to a limited extent, me. Limited only in that I was only on Saturdays on WRKO and an occasional fill in on weekday time slots.
The Big Three auto makers were worried they would have to install air bags in their cars beginning in 1989 if a majority of states did not pass mandatory seat belts laws. They led the full court press to get all the New England states to pass the same rules.
The insurance companies wanted the law so it would have arguments of neglect on the part of drivers and passengers injured in accidents. Maybe they would not have to pay out so much in pain and suffering claims. The insurance lobby was also able to put in provisions that would make it more difficult for people injured in motor vehicle accidents to bring personal injury suits against auto insurance companies.
Dukakis, who had been supported by trial lawyers took considerable heat for the insurance provisions. They were fuming at the section which sharply limited the number of automobile tort cases which would be filed.
All was not peace and happiness on the side of many of the proponents.
After two days of debate the Massachusetts House of Representatives, passed and sent to the Senate a seat belt law requiring drivers to buckle up or pay up.
The bill passed on a roll call vote of 81-60 shortly before 8:30 p.m. on July 16, 1985. If passed by the senate and signed into law by the governor it would make Massachusetts the 15th state in the country with some form of mandatory seat belt law. The proposed law included amendments requiring the state to conduct a public education program, such as films and advertisements, and for the Department of Public Safety to issue reports on the compliance and benefits of the law.
The fun and games were just beginning.
On September 18th the Massachusetts Senate passed by 24-14 a bill which would be buckle up or pay up after January 1, 1986. The bill was similar to one already passed by the House and supported by Governor Dukakis, which made it a virtual certainty the state would have some form of seat belt requirements. Both legislative measures called for all automobile drivers and passengers to wear seat belts or face a $15 fine.
By the end of the month the Governor Dukakis signed seat belt legislation into law.
Immediately Jerry Williams got involved with a number of private citizens to put the issue on the ballot for the 1986 November elections. Public meetings were held in places like historic Faneuil Hall in Boston and other meeting places throughout the Commonwealth. The job of collecting the necessary 30,754 certified signatures seemed daunting. Unfazed Williams and his listeners not only raised the signatures but nearly twice as many as necessary.
On January 16, 1986 the signatures were filed with the secretary of state and the battle was on.
With an army of listeners and the support of the politically savvy Barbara Anderson and her chief lieutenant Chip Faulkner from Citizens for Limited Taxation and Chip Ford, a small town printer, they organized the umbrella group that led the referendum drive.
On the other side, in opposition to the repeal was the hundreds of thousands dollars and professional campaign types to lead the effort to see to it the proposed repeal of the mandatory seat belt law was defeated. The Williams forces were limited to a handful of dollars. It was a battle with big wallets and heavy hitter campaign consultants. They ran ads everywhere. Lots of them. The marched out doctors who described the debilitating head injuries sometimes associated with auto accidents.
This was truly a David and Goliath battle. Pea shooters versus howitzers. We stood no chance. The Boston Globe, a big trumpet in the governor’s orchestra and the TV stations, saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate the weakness of talk radio. We were going to get crushed.
The governor, legislature, The Boston Globe and major TV stations made one mistake. They underestimated the well focused counterattack of the “David’s”. Williams repeated over and over the issue is freedom. It’s our right to chose whether or not to buckle up. Rejection of the law would not prohibit anyone from wearing a seat belt. Many of the opponents of the law said on air they regularly buckled up.
Freedom, freedom, freedom. Over and over again, the issue was freedom.
All the polls indicated the repeal would fail. Early polls had us losing 2-1.Those opposing repeal began to take a smug and arrogant approach in their arguments. We heard them on WRKO daily, the condescension dripped from their lips. Their parting shots at Jerry, Gene and me often indicated we’re too stupid to see the value of the law and that we’re in favor of people getting their heads battered or die in car accidents. Repeal of the law would leave the blood of accident victims not wearing seat belts on our hands.
Freedom, freedom, freedom. We never wavered. The issue was freedom.
As we got closer to the election our rallies and the intensity of the phone calls indicated we had a chance. Just a chance, slim maybe, but a chance. Day in and day out, Jerry pounded away. From the get go at five AM on Saturday mornings people were calling before I went on the air to vent their feelings about repealing the law.
Freedom, freedom, freedom. We never took our eye off the ball.
Somehow in October we lived through the shock of the Mookie Wilson ground ball slipping through the legs of Bill Buckner and with it any hope of the first World Series win since 1908. (We ultimately had to wait until 2004 for that miracle.)
November 4th finally arrived. Election Day. It was a rebellious day. The seatbelt law was repealed by a landslide and Ronald Reagan, a Republican, carried Massachusetts as well. Why couldn’t Buckner have caught that ball, what a year 1986 could have been in Massachusetts history. Then again, we may not have been angry enough to push very hard in the final weeks of the campaign. I later wondered if Buckner’s big boot of the ground ball didn’t contribute to our win.
November 5th and the verdict was in. We won by more than ten percentage points. In a political race that’s a landslide.
Did we crow?
You bet we did.
We crowed for at least a week. Victory was sweet and proved once and for all the power of talk radio. Until then many of us were not certain. From then on we knew.
It was not merely talk radio which turned the trick. It was the issue and the people who rejected yet one more slice of our freedom being taken from us. Talk radio is their vehicle. A call to a talk show is an instant letter to the editor without the editing.
It is an inexplicable paradox the issues of freedom nearly always win in Massachusetts ballot initiatives. The people of the state vote against the desires and designs of the heavily Democrat controlled legislature. We passed the toughest property tax reform anywhere in 1980 and it still stands.
Despite the rejection of the seat belt law and a win by Ronald Reagan, Michael Dukakis, who led on the issue of a seat belt law, was elected by a comfortable margin too.
How do I explain it?
I don’t because it’s a mystery.
Other building blocks to the presidency for Michael Dukakis were more subtle.
What is the single most important element in any politicians’ campaign?
Money. Lots of it.
Where does a politician get the money?
Small contributions from millions of people?
The money comes from major donors such as corporations, lobbying groups and political action committees.
Let me ask the best question of the day.
Why do corporations, lobbyists, and political action committees give large sums of cash to those seeking office?
Because they like the candidate?
Because of they feel a civic responsibility to do it?
The answer is easy, influence and access.
How does a candidate raise those millions of dollars necessary to win an election? He sells his influence and access.
Why else do you think corporations and the others give the big bucks?
Am I a cynic?
No, just a realist.
Which brings us to a Dukakis issue.
It’s called the Big Dig.
Sometimes it’s called the Big Pig.
The present difficulties concerning the huge project, there are many, will be dealt with later in this chapter.
The origins of The Big Dig are interesting.
Where was the original objection to what has turned out to be one large flimflam?
You guessed it. WRKO.
Boston has two tunnels which carries traffic to and from the City and East Boston and Logan Airport. The major artery through the City was a three lane elevated highway called, appropriately enough, the Central Artery. It suffered from high cholesterol regularly, sort of a hardening of the artery. Much of the problem was Logan Airport traffic from the Massachusetts Turnpike carrying people from the west and the western suburbs and part of the city.
There is also a strong flow from the southeast, Cape Cod and the southern part of the state along the Southeast Expressway. The Expressway is also the only way for commuters from the southern part of the state to get to Boston. The two converged just south of the two tunnels, Sumner and Callahan, creating massive jams on a regular basis.
The administration of Governor Edward King recommended a third harbor tunnel to move traffic more easily to and from Logan Airport connecting directly to the Expressway and Turnpike. The thinking was the third tunnel would eliminate the logjam and the Central Artery would flow more freely.
Michael Dukakis stopped the construction of Route I-93 during his first administration because of the cost and a desire to better utilize public transportation.
Forget the public transportation issue. Once returned to office Dukakis became the champion of not only the third harbor tunnel, but a gigantic hole beneath the center of the city to eliminate the elevated Central Artery.
No sooner had Dukakis taken office the third harbor tunnel became central to the planning done by his Transportation Secretary Frederick Salvucci. He persuaded the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) to consider a third tunnel and he and his new deputy transportation secretary, a former state senator and candidate for lieutenant governor, Lou Nickinello, worked out a deal with the FHA whereby the recent environmental impact study (EIS) on the feasibility of building another harbor crossing be expanded to include a look at widening and possibly even depressing the Central Artery.
What began as a less than a billion dollar project grew to a four to five billion dollar fiasco.
I had just started at WRKO when the early stories of the third tunnel and shortly thereafter the “Big Hole” were circulating.
Jerry Williams began to smell a rat and started to do programs on the issue.
It was then I piggybacked on Saturday morning what he was doing during the week.
We were too late. The plans to move ahead were likely in place shortly after Dukakis returned. From the time he was elected in November in 1982 the Dukakis team began to lobby Washington.
It was not until some news accounts in the papers that the early interests were made public. When I started at WRKO on June 11, 1983 the snowball was already rolling down the hill. The momentum was already there.
Some experts who looked closely at the projects scratched their heads wondering how this all would be financed. Jerry reasoned any numbers we were fed would probably double or triple in cost before completion. Four billion could easily become ten billion. During the five years leading up to the Dukakis campaign for president The Duke pressed and pushed for the “Big Dig”.
Show after show was done on the subject and the more we learned the more we knew the third tunnel may make sense but the “Big Dig” was a pig (as in political pork).
Why was there a huge turnaround in highway policy by the formerly anti-highway building Dukakis?
Is it really necessary for me to answer that question?
Whenever we pointed out the likely run up in costs we were called alarmists. We had caller after caller armed with well planned talking points. There was an obvious concern the public should be kept out of the loop in the planning for the project. Normal callers don’t use talking points. After a few years in the talk business we all develop a finely tuned ear for such a thing. (Just wait until you hear the one about the so-called concerned citizen call I got in Providence on WHJJ.)
We were the only objectors to the project. The so-called mainstream media was very much behind it.
One day, even Transportation Secretary Fred Salvucci called Jerry on the air pressing him on where he got his figures? He implied we in talk radio knew nothing, a comment repeated by the Duke on a talk show in mid-July, 2006, shortly after a major tragedy occurred in one of the tunnels.
The question kept coming back, “Why would Dukakis have such a change of heart?”
Gerry Williams was wrong about the run up in costs for the Big Dig. He figured it could hit 12 billion dollars.
Originally the control of the Big Dig was in the hands of Salvucci. When he left office Dukakis tried to influence incoming governor William Weld to retain his former transportation secretary to supervise the construction of the hole.
Dukakis and Salvucci recommended the project be supervised by both Massport (the entity responsibility of Boston Harbor and Logan Airport) and The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.
Both authorities (authority, what a choice of name for hack laden operations) would later be responsible for the maintenance and operation of the completed project.
According to the MassPike web site the following is the basis for their authority:
“The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority was created by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature in 1952 and does not receive state or federal tax revenue. The roadway, including the Boston Extension in the MHS and the two tunnels, operates on toll revenue, supplemented with revenue from leasing, development of land and air rights, and advertising.
“The MHS [Metropolitan Highway System] law assigned the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority the responsibility of overseeing the Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel (CA/T) Project. Upon completion all CA/T roadways will become part of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority's MHS.”
In 1997, when the Legislature passed the above mentioned MHS act, it gave MassPike responsibility for supervising the completion of the entire Big Dig project. This effectively appeared to take away whatever responsibility the governor or any other elected officials had in dealing with the project. “Ownership” passed to the authority as well. Thus bonding and the paying of bills and awarding of contracts was in the hands of the MassPike board.
The legislation even went as far of handing over the continued control of the system to the MassPike board after the completion of the project.
The MHS law, approved during the James J. Kerasiotes’ reign as chairman, rewrote the MassPike’s enabling legislation. That led to some serious problems in a short time.
You may recall this is the same Kerasiotes who bungled his run for governor as a Republican so badly he brought down a very capable campaign for State Treasurer by Joyce Hampers and campaign for Attorney General by now federal senior judge Ted Harrington.
The two words which come to mind for me when I reflect on the times I met Kerasiotes are bumbler and egotist.
At the time construction began, the whole project (including the Zakim Bridge) was projected to cost about $5.8 billion. That was already twice the initial projected costs of $3 billion made by Salvucci.
Federal contributions to the project were then capped at of $8.549 billion. So the remainder of dollars needed to be found elsewhere.
Eventually overruns were so high that Pike chairman Kerasiotes was fired in 2000 and his replacement was another political hack, former state representative Andrew Natsios.
When Kerasiotes left the project it was in complete disarray. He had also hidden the financial difficulties from the bondholders. This elevated the temperature of the hot waster he was in to the boiling point.
Kerasiotes was a caller to talk shows whenever anyone had the temerity to voice any negative opinions about his project. This continued until the day we learned he had hidden the financial shortfall information from the bondholders and that large sums of money could not be accounted for.
As mentioned above the total expenses to date have surpassed $15 billion. And with the remedial work found necessary after the collapse of the ceiling panel which took the life of a lady traveling through the I-90 Connector Tunnel that figure could increase significantly. The problems caused by the many water leaks in the O’Neill Tunnel could make matters even worse over time.
Andrew Natsios served many years in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He was known as a fiscal conservative. From there he went to Washington with the administration of the first President Bush. He had been a friend and colleague of close Bush adviser, Andrew Card. That may have been his entrée to the Federal Government.
Natsios worked at USAID, first as director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance from 1989 to 1991 and then as assistant administrator for the Bureau for Food and Humanitarian Assistance (now the Bureau for Humanitarian Response) from 1991 to January 1993.
Before assuming his position at Mass Pike, from 1987 to 1989, he was executive director of the Northeast Public Power Association in Milford, Massachusetts and from 1993 to 1998, Natsios was vice president of World Vision U.S. He was secretary for ad-ministration and finance from March 1999 to April 2000 under then Governor Paul Cellucci.
Natsios stayed only one year and returned to Washington at the first opportunity, again with an appointment from a President Bush, this time George W. And yet again, his buddy Andrew Card had the ear of a Bush.
Enter Matthew Amorello.
From 1990-98 Amorello was a Massachusetts state senator, who became the ranking minority member of the Joint Committee on Transportation. After his failed bid for congress against ultra-liberal James McGovern, he was appointed commissioner of the Massachusetts Highway Department in December of 1998. The department has 2,000 employees.
After Andrew Natsios returned to Washington Amorello was appointed chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority by his old senate colleague, acting governor Jane Swift who ascended to the office after Cellucci was made ambassador to Canada by President Bush.
At MassPike he oversaw more than 1,400 employees. His salary was set at $223,000 a year plus numerous perks.
After he resigned in disgrace in July of 2006, barely five years after his appointment, Amorello left with six months pay (per agreement with Governor Mitt Romney), $55,000 for unused vacation pay, and tens of thousands more in unused sick pay.
Again, we must ask the question, “Why would the frugal Dukakis push so hard for the project?”
When the Dukakis for President train was leaving the station we began to understand why his change of heart.
The big corporations like Bechtel and others are huge political contributors. Oh yes, Bechtel manages the project. Some say “mismanages”.
What a coincidence.
Yet another coincidence, Bechtel handled many projects supervised by Andrew Natsios.
Coincidences here, coincidences there, coincidences everywhere.
Since I wrote this chapter a woman lost her life when three tons of concrete and steel crushed her to death.
Monday night, 11 PM, July 10, 2006, thirty-eight year old Milena De Valle of Jamaica Plain and her husband were driving through the Logan Airport I-90 Connector Tunnel when a large concrete panel fell on them. The one and a half ton panel crushed Mrs. De Valle to death while her husband tried in vain to free her from the wreckage.
Shortly thereafter Governor Romney attempted to fire Amorello, whom he said in his campaign for governor in 2002 he would replace. He claimed the legislature had made it so the chairman was beyond the reach of the governor.
That was not correct since in agreement with the federal government in 1997 and 1999, the state had the final oversight of the project.
Close scrutiny of the remainder of the panels in the tunnels have led to the discovery of thousands of problems and the closure of some of them.
That led to the public’s demand for Amorello’s head. He immediately went on Television and insisted the tunnels were safe. Months later much work needs to be done before they could safely be opened.
The political atmosphere in Boston is so polluted that during the famous political breakfast held in South Boston each Saint Patrick’s Day, the leaks and cost overruns concerning the Big Dig were the focus of the politicians attempt at humor. That was especially so during the breakfast of 2006 when many joked at the overruns and tunnel leaks.
It was all a big joke to them.
Until now, the story behind the story concerning the Big Dig was the old fashioned graft and corruption type of thing.
The death of Mrs. Le Valle brings the Big Dig into a whole new element.
I wrote the following in my blog, Issues of the Day and Musings:
“The disgrace that is the Big Dig, until now, was dirty politics and payoffs. Now it's a killer.”
A couple of years before Mrs. Le Valle’s death I asked Christy Mihos on WRKO, who was then a member and vice-chairman of the board of the MassPike Authority, if he felt the tunnels were safe. He replied emphatically, “NO!”“Christy, do you use the tunnels?”
“And I won’t let my family use them either.”
Christy was held out to be a “Chicken Little” by board chairman Matt Amarillo, then acting Governor Jane Swift, the big labor unions, mainstream media, and anyone else taking their piece of pork.
God bless Milena De Valle who had tons of steel and concrete fall on her head. She is the first victim of what could be many.
More problems lie ahead. The economic vitality of Boston and the entire region, are at stake now.
How bad is it? I'll tell you how bad:
Who hired Matt Amarillo as the virtual Big Dig czar, a man I wouldn’t hire to operate a self serve gas station? Answer, Jane Swift.
Who looked the other way throughout the construction process? Many, starting with the governors, our congressmen and senators, state legislators and especially the attorney general (sounds like Tom Riley), state auditor, state engineers, etc. They all got something out of the big dig from toll taker jobs to some pretty neat appointments.
The major media in the city was in love with the project.
The mayor of Boston, Tom Menino, became silent Tom. This was built in his city. (Would Rudy Giuliani have remained silent throughout?)
Governor Mitt Romney, who recognized the precarious nature of the Big Dig and did nothing, though his key lieutenants were aware he could cease control. He complains his hands were tied. Oomgalagala. He had the power and support of the people as well should he have suspended or fired the entire authority and done what he did with the Winter Olympics. He didn’t have what ballplayers refer to as having the stones to do what was right.
Here are some other things we now know about project:
As far back as 2001, Turnpike Authority officials and private contractors knew about thousands of leaks in the ceiling and wall fissures, extensive water damage to steel supports and fireproofing systems, and overloaded drainage systems. A $10 million contract, signed off as a cost overrun, was used to repair these leaks. Many of the leaks were a result of Modern Continental and other subcontractors failing to remove gravel and other debris before pouring concrete. This was not made publicly known to the media.
A major leak in the O‘Neill Tunnel, north bound forced the closure of the tunnel while it was patched up. This also forced the Turnpike Authority to release information regarding prior leaks we were not aware of.
We learned the leaks were more severe than state authorities had previously acknowledged. We were told there were more than four hundred leaks. We now know the numbers run into the thousands.
On August 11, 2005 we learned the Massachusetts State Police searched the offices of the Big Dig’s largest concrete supplier in June and found evidence of faked records that hid the poor quality of concrete delivered for the highway project.
It was claimed then that the low-quality concrete is connected to the hundreds of leaks discovered in the tunnels that take vehicles under Boston. No word has ever been mentioned whether this concrete had anything to do with the I-90 Connector.
Six current or former employees from the concrete supplier Aggregate Industries were arrested and charged with falsifying records regarding the poor quality concrete on May 4, 2006.
Governor Romney returned $3,900 in political contributions from employees of Aggregate Industries a couple of days later.
Disgrace is the only word that applies.
A scapegoat will be found and nothing will really be changed, at least not until more of these problems occur and more people die.
What would happen if we elected a governor who had the “stones” to move ahead and do the right thing? I’d love to find out.
Damn it, Christy was right then and he’s the only one who demonstrated the stones to do what is right.
Gerry Williams must be turning over in his grave.
I got a call one morning from Gerry Williams’ producer, Alan Tolz. “Moe, can you come in for Jerry today?”
“Would you want a NIMBY as a guest?”
“NIMBY. You know, a not in my back yard type.”
“What’s the deal?”
I thought for a moment, we need prison space, don’t we? We keep hearing how our prisons are overcrowded. Judges all over the country were ordering the early release of convicts in overcrowded prisons.
“Yeah, set up the interview.”
I intended to be tough on Dorothea Vitrac. She had been a selectwoman in the farming/rural town of 800, New Braintree, in central Massachusetts.
What had started as a state proposal to convert a closed-down boarding school into a facility for motorists convicted of drunken driving that later became a proposal for a medium security prison, complete with razor wire fences.
The proposed site was the Pioneer Valley Academy, operated by a religious group. Access to the town was by a narrow two lane farm road leading up from Brookfield to its south on Route 20, a main highway.
By show time I had already made up my mind the proposal might well be a good idea. I told Tolz I was going to hammer her. Bring on this NIMBY. I was ready for a real battle.
The show was the Wednesday before Father’s Day in 1985. Dorothea painted the picture of a bucolic town whose character would be destroyed forever if a prison were built there. Also, many of the residents had already lost their homes sometime back when land was taken to build the nearby Quabbin Reservoir to supply water to Boston. This would destroy the community. They did not oppose the building of a school and would have no problem with a proposal to put a new school there. A medium security prison was another matter.
The Dukakis people said it would be far less expensive to take the existing facility and convert the buildings to a prison. They denied they had plans for a medium security prison. That lie was a whopper as we would later learn.
People related to the Dukakis administration had offered to buy the facility to put in a mental health hospital and had an option on the land. Daniel Striar, a Newton Center businessman later purchased Pioneer Valley Academy from the Southern New England Conference of Seventh Day Adventists in December 1985 for just over $3 million, according to registry records.
The ultimate plan was for the state to cite a prison there. Plain and simple. The proposal included far more money for land acquisition than the partners had paid, nearly $10 million. Bingo, instant profits.
Well, my wife Helen, the kids and I spent Father’s Day going for a drive to New Braintree and seeing for ourselves just what a prison would do to the town.
When we hear the word medium as it applies to a prison we think it must not be too bad. No, there would be no turrets. There would be the big rows of fences and razor wire and barbed wire. Armed guards and secure windows. And, no, the buildings with plaster walls and wooden outside walls could not be converted. They would have to be leveled to do what the state contemplated.
I agreed with Vitrac and apologized for the rough treatment she had received at my hands.
When Gerry heard me discuss the proposal for New Braintree on my Saturday morning show he called me and asked if he could take the issue on. He didn’t want to “step on my toes”. I told he I had no problem with it. Because of his high profile and hours on air he would be far more equipped to assist the town.
It turns our that Williams had done some house hunting in New Braintree a few years before. He decided against it because it would have been a very long commute to Boston. Nevertheless, he had fallen in love with the town.
So did I.
The battle was on. Article after article in the papers talked about prison overcrowding. The number of articles about the need for more prison space accelerated over the years. We maintained our focus on this sweetheart deal. The medium security prison plan for New Braintree was now completely in the open. Fresh off the big victory over the politicians on the seat belt mater we were all enthused about our prospects of blocking the prison.
Finally on Saturday, June 4, 1988, thousands of people gathered in the small town for a rally against the prison. Lots of heavy hitters were there. William Weld, who would later become governor of Massachusetts and propose and sign legislation in 1992 to convert the former school into a police training academy, addressed the crowd.
That was a far more acceptable use of the land than a 500 bed medium security prison.
Of course, there is one headline which summarized the protracted battle between the powerful state government and the town of 500:
FBI PROBING NEW BRAINTREE PRISON DEALPublished on June 24, 1988 in The Boston Globe.
Sadly, that was the last headline.