Robert A. DeLeo of Winthrop, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1990 and went on to serve as Speaker of the House for 12 years, delivered his farewell address in the House Chambers at the Statehouse in Boston Tuesday afternoon.
The speech marked the end of a legendary political career for Winthrop’s favorite son who served as a Winthrop Town Meeting member and a member of the Board of Selectmen before running successfully for a Winthrop-Revere seat in the House.
In a letter to House Clerk Steve T. James Monday, DeLeo wrote: “It has been an honor and privilege serving as a Member of this institution for almost 30 years. The faith and trust my colleagues placed in me by electing me as their Speaker for a record 6 consecutive terms fills me with a profound sense of gratitude and appreciation, My pride in what we have collectively accomplished over the last 12 years will never be diminished.”
DeLeo is beloved in Winthrop, where such honors as the naming of the senior center, the Robert A. DeLeo Senior Center, affirmed the respect and admiration townspeople had for the man many knew warmly as “Bob.”
Some residents, like former WHS sports star Mike Vatalaro, remember DeLeo fondly as one of their Winthrop Little League coaches. And no matter how busy his statewide schedule of events, DeLeo always supported Winthrop teams and attended the biggest games, including the 2011 boys basketball state championship contest when the Speaker sat courtside and rooted on Coach Dave Brown’s Vikings to a 58-55 victory over Cohasset. He sponsored weekly team dinners for the football team and was a fixture at Miller Field for home games.
DeLeo also experienced the joy of seeing his children, Rob and Rachele, excel as scholar-athletes. Rob has gone on to become an accomplished long-distance runner.
DeLeo took particular pride in boasting to his colleagues across the state about the town’s athletic successes, notably the Super Bowl teams coached by Bob DeFelice and Tony Fucillo, this being the hometown of Olympic hockey gold medalist and captain Mike Eruzione, and the national championship and All-American status earned by such superstars as Courtney Finn of Bentley and Nicole Giaquinto of UMass Lowell.
Town Manager Austin Faison and Council President Phil Boncore praised DeLeo in a statement:
“As it is for many, the news that House Speaker DeLeo will be stepping down from his role to pursue a job at Northeastern University is bittersweet for us.
“Speaker DeLeo has been a dedicated public servant for the nearly 30 years, serving as a strong advocate for the residents of Winthrop. He has had a big impact on the community and he has truly set a legacy for Winthrop. He will be missed.
“On behalf of the entire Town of Winthrop and the Town Council, we wish him all the best as he takes this next step in his career and thank him for his many years of service on behalf of our residents.”
Following is the text of Speaker DeLeo address to the House of Representatives in the House Chambers:
I’ve spoken to you from this Chamber many times. This time is different for many reasons. While this isn’t the farewell speech I’ve contemplated, I’m pleased to join you – even if remotely – because this format is a reflection of the way this Chamber has adjusted to COVID and accomplished so much this year. I’m proud of that.
And it’s different because this is the last time I will speak to you as both a Member, and as Speaker, of this esteemed body.
As I begin, I’d like to recognize some very important people, the people who were behind me before I became Speaker and stood by me through both triumph and, well, less than triumphant times. As elected officials we all go through difficult moments. It’s part of the job description, especially the Speaker’s job description.
Our families, however, must also go through the difficult moments with us. Through my almost 30 years as member of this body and through every day of my almost 12 years as your Speaker, my family has been there in good and bad times. Words are inadequate to express my gratitude to my partner Vicki, my daughter Rachele, my son Rob, my sister Carol and of course my two granddaughters, Autumn and Anna. I love you more than you will ever know.
I can’t be here without thinking of those who didn’t get to see me become Speaker but who provided the foundation for so much that followed – my parents, Al and Anna, who taught me values like hard work and persistence, fairness and respect. My mother worked in the school cafeteria.
She was the type of lunch lady who could tell when a student was hungry. She made sure each kid was fed – whether or not they had money – and was treated with dignity. She taught me everyone deserves an equal shot in life. It’s the job of legislators to make sure people get that.
I stand before you with great humility. Sitting in my office last night for one of the last times, I thought back to the night before I was elected as Speaker. I remember visiting the Chamber at dusk, thinking of it like one of the famous ballparks I like to visit, and feeling immense gratitude that I would be leading this esteemed institution; an institution I had revered my entire career.
Sometimes it feels like those 12 years went by in an instant. Yet during that time Massachusetts has been led by two governors, from opposite parties, and four Senate Presidents.
And this House has passed major legislation with all of them. I send my thanks to Governor Baker and Senate President Spilka, the latter with whom I also served in the House.
Madam President – I am grateful for your leadership and friendship, particularly this session, as our two Chambers collaborated to meet the moment. Governor Baker – I know you’ll continue to have a productive working relationship with the Legislature. I value our friendship and I’ll miss talking North Shore sports with you.
I took office only days after President Obama was inaugurated, and now we stand on the eve of a new Administration. Our sports teams have exceeded my wildest expectations: during my time as Speaker we’ve seen 6 sports championships, three Super Bowls, two World Series, and a Stanley Cup, and those trophies have come to this Chamber. And don’t forget the multiple Beanpots for Northeastern!
If there were a trophy for legislative achievements, each and every member of this House deserves it. And no one is prouder than I to call you my teammates. The laws we drafted, debated and worked to implement have become national models – such as our landmark gun safety and health care cost reform laws.
I highlight these laws because they speak to the power of what we can achieve when we approach policy making with open minds – leaving behind entrenched ideas – and a commitment to being a force for good. Mr. Leader – both of these nation-leading laws would not have been possible without your wisdom and negotiating skills. With your commonsense knowhow and your understanding on how policies affect people, you have provided inordinate value to the House of Representatives.
You are a tremendous friend and a wise counselor. Perhaps most importantly, in our three decades serving together, I have witnessed you mentor many Members — the House is better off because of your openness to the relationships that make the House what it is, at its best. Thank you.
I came to this Chamber in 1991 as the representative from Winthrop and Revere. I had been active in town meeting and a selectman, and I arrived with a strong desire to represent my district – so much so that my colleagues liked to say “Bob, you’re not a selectman any longer.”
In the ensuing years, I would come to learn that central to the role of Speaker is recognizing that each and every Member, regardless of their political persuasion, is sent to Beacon Hill with the exact same mandate: To ably represent their 40,000 constituents. Throughout my tenure, I strove to listen deeply to my colleagues, keep an open mind, and identify solutions that work for the Commonwealth – from the Berkshires to Boston.
As Speaker, I’ve been fortunate to have a unique vantage point into each Member’s district. During much of my tenure here, I sat near Ellen Story who represented Amherst. She was a proud progressive from an academic and rural community, and I was an urban centrist. We didn’t seem to have much in common.
But we talked and debated and, became friends; she ultimately became a member of our leadership team. While just one example, that relationship demonstrated to me the incredible value of listening, exchanging ideas and crafting workable solutions that serve the Commonwealth . . . as a whole.
And while our solutions may not always receive accolades with those who want us to move faster; or win the blessing of political pundits, our legislation fulfills the exact mandate I spoke of earlier. Our deliberative process results in laws that are representative of the diverse perspectives and needs of this great Commonwealth’s constituents. As such they carry “the moral force that the American political system can summon when it acts as one,” to paraphrase President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Contemplating the distinct needs of your communities has showed me how to balance my responsibilities as the representative from the 19th Suffolk District with those as Speaker.
With that, let me take one moment to give you a piece of advice: If you are invited to your colleagues’ districts, go. Go humbly, and listen. Listen to each other. You will learn more than you could imagine.
But I learned this lesson the hard way – dress appropriately! You don’t need a suit and tie on a farm.
It may be out of fashion – though I hope it will come back into vogue with President-Elect Biden – my experience as Speaker has underlined the importance of valuing differing perspectives and learning from people. This is something I have done so often with my friend, the Minority Leader, and more broadly, our friends across the aisle. Mr. Leader, thank you.
I always like to say politics is about people. Simply put – I refuse to bow to cynics. I will always believe the role of state Representative is a force for good. During my years as Speaker, the most impactful meetings I’ve had have been with young folks and families facing hardships, often in situations I couldn’t relate to. In the early part of my legislative career, it was listening to families who faced cuts to special education. I understood we had to stand up for the children that needed those services. More than once, these conversations have resulted in landmark legislation:
• Protections for transgender individuals. There are many Members, past and present, I have to thank here, but would like to especially recognize the Gentlelady from Provincetown.
• A series of Economic Development packages that placed a premium on students and our youngest innovators. I must recognize my friend from Chicopee for his unyielding work to spur growth and create a more resilient economy.
• The creation of the nation’s first autonomous Early Education and Care Department. There are so many here to recognize as we continue to advocate for meaningful funding, but I must single out the Gentlelady from Somerset.
• Criminal justice reform, and more recently, police reform. My sincerest gratitude to the Gentlelady from Easton for her guidance and friendship.
• Funding for high-quality education to students across the state, regardless of zip code or income level. I will be forever grateful to the Gentlelady from Wellesley for her intellect, insight and dogged dedication.
As I look back, I can see the faces of the young people I’ve spoken to, their passion and their pain, and know that this House made a difference.
In each way these bills have been the product of the relationships the members of this Chamber enjoy. I treasure my friendships with each of you. It is from you that I have learned so much. Thank you.
And, even now, thanks to video conferences and conference calls, I’ve been able to continue to learn. While I have to admit I prefer in person meetings, I felt fortunate to be able to hear from folks, via conference calls and Zoom, on issues like police reform and reproductive rights this year. Yes, we had to remake our storied traditions and create a new way of holding session due to COVID-19, but our work product has been more vital than ever.
Key to our consistency and success has been sound budgeting. Aided by the Committee on Ways & Means, we’ve built up the rainy day fund and prompted rating agencies to give Massachusetts the highest bond rating in our history.
With Chairman Dempsey, we reformed municipal health insurance, saving the cities and towns of the Commonwealth $500 million a year. And Chairman Sanchez showed me how EEC providers, like the folks at Nurtury, make a lasting difference in the lives of children.
But I have to single out the Gentleman from the North End for his extraordinary efforts this challenging and entirely unique session. He has been a superior chair of Ways & Means, and I thank him. Moreover, he has been a true friend. He is a special person in every sense of the word, whose relatively short tenure has been marked by values of listening to his colleagues and learning from them. In turn, he has become a trusted confidant who I always know I can trust – whether it is for political advice, policy input, or who should hit clean up for the Red Sox.
I wish I could take the time here to single out each and every Member of leadership and our outstanding chairs. The Gentlemen from Medford, Brighton and Stoughton; The Gentleladies from Gloucester and Stow: Your contributions to the House, to the team and to me as a friend are too many to list. Thank you.
I have to recognize the members of my staff for their work. First two people who were with me long ago and meant so much to this Speakership:
My longtime friend, Lenny Mirasolo.
House Counsel Jim Kennedy
My current staff:
Rose Marie Ottaviano
I also want to take a minute to thank all of the staff who keep this organization running—our House Clerk, Steve James, and his staff, the attorneys in House Counsel, the House Business Office, Ray Amaru and Gene DiPersio, our Court Officers, LIS, Engrossing and House Broadcasting, and of course our dear friends who are invaluable to this House, Michael and Chip.
I also want to send a special thanks to the staff of the Committee on Ways and Means. As a former chair I know firsthand the dedication you have and the hours you invest. I also want to acknowledge all the committee staff, researches, staff directors and legislative aides who work tirelessly on behalf of this House and its Members. Thank you all.
I’ve been so lucky to get to know and advocate for the people of Winthrop and the City of Revere. These are two distinct places, where each and every individual means something special to me. From the time I was elected as a town meeting member in Winthrop, I’ve been so grateful to the people of my district for giving me the honor of representing them. I came from a town that played Revere on Thanksgiving, and the people of that city have always treated me like one of their own. My gratitude to the elected and appointed officials from both Winthrop and Revere, past and present; and to Representative Vincent and Senator Boncore.
I’m grateful too for the knowledge that my work has afforded me the opportunity to help folks from not only my district, but from around the Commonwealth. It will always be the privilege of my life to know that I made a difference when and where I could.
Finally, as I close, thank you. It’s so hard to say goodbye to this place and to people with whom I’ve worked so closely and love.
I know Massachusetts faces as great a challenge now with the pandemic.
But I have unyielding faith in this institution, its people and its leadership. The House will rise to the occasion, and our great state will continue to lead the nation. Thank you, my friends. Thank you.