So one of the last of the major corruption cases, that of former Mayor Mike Albano's chief of staff Anthony Ardolino, has been settled with a plea bargain. Although the Feds have certainly not officially stated that the Springfield corruption probe is over, it is hard to believe it has much juice left in it. Nearly all of the major agents serving in Springfield have been either promoted or transferred away, and there is no indication that any new major indictments are still to come, although there are rumors that a handful of small fry may yet be brought down as part of a final wrapping up operation.
The corruption probes degree of devastation to Springfield's traditional political culture is astounding. The once untouchable Asselin family, who plundered the city's affordable housing projects for decades, are now all broke and most of them are behind bars. Francis Keough, who turned the city's homeless shelter into a money, sex and politics empire and was considered by many to be the real brains behind the Albano Administration, is awaiting sentencing. Gerry Phillips, the likable but sleazy bingo inspector who rose to become Police Commissioner and head of a multi-million dollar job training center, served hard time in federal prison and has recently been released, but with his life, reputation and finances in ruins. Many other lesser characters in these scandals also lost their money, their freedom or both.
Some suffered who were never charged with any crimes. Our local media, in particular the Springfield Newspapers, saw their reputations tarnished due to their almost complete inability to recognize or report on the rampant corruption, and in many cases they supported and protected those who were ultimately indicted. It's hard to claim credibility when, as the Springfield Newspapers did, they endorsed Mike Albano every time he ran and called him one of the best mayors the city ever had as he was leaving office. Anyone with close ties to the Asselins, from cronies like Mo Jones to the prominent citizens who served on the board supposedly supervising the housing agency, ended up looking like fools or worse.
What was interesting was who the scandals did not touch. Mike Albano, with the entire top echelon of his administration in disgrace, somehow escaped indictment himself. Congressman Richard Neal had a close relationship with the Asselins, but no mud ever splashed on him. Other figures rumored to have shady connections, like Saco Catjakis, Heriberto Flores and Raipher Pellegrino also escaped unscathed.
But of all the scandalous figures, Anthony Ardolino was perhaps the most tragic. I first became aware of him when he was an idealistic kid just out of college and he bought a subscription to my The Baystate Objectivist. Many young people entering local politics start out as fans of mine, although that fandom is usually abandoned if they become "serious players." Politicians like to have people like me around during a campaign, hoping my presence will give them a good government seal of approval, but no one wants such do-gooders in a position to look over their shoulder when it's time to govern.
So when Mike Albano was elected mayor and picked Ardolino for his chief of staff, that was pretty much the end of any dealings I had with Anthony. At first most people were pleased with all the young people Albano surrounded himself with, thinking it would bring innovation and vitality to his administration. I must give Kateri Walsh credit for being suspicious of the hype, telling me at the time, "I wish I saw more grey hair in this administration." She was right, the young guys in Albano's inner circle ultimately brought mostly arrogance, incompetence and corruption.
It was primarily Mike Albano's fault. Albano proved to be a surprisingly weak leader, with an almost pathological fear of displeasing anyone. Instead he began leaning increasingly on Anthony to make the hard decisions. Ardolino became his enforcer, deciding who would be allowed access to the feeding trough and who would be banished. Eventually Albano would openly tell the media, "When Anthony speaks, it is as if I am speaking."
So just a few years out of college, Ardolino had become one of the most powerful people in the Valley, and he did not wield that power well. He was openly contemptuous of the local media, causing the Springfield Newspapers to turn against him. Later he would threaten TV reporter Jim Polito in a matter that was settled out of court. It became well known that Ardolino could fix traffic tickets, and that he and his popular brother Chester the cop were wheeling and dealing in real estate and business, although the details were unclear. More and more there was grumbling that Anthony was out of control.
Mayor Albano staunchly defended his aide, but then Ardolino was arrested for drunken driving. Although he was ultimately acquitted, the details of the case were unflattering, with the arresting officer claiming that Ardolino had tried to use his political influence to avoid arrest. When Albano found himself being challenged for re-election by the powerful State Representative Paul Caron, the Mayor feared that the increasingly unpopular Ardolino would become a campaign issue. Mike Albano always put Mike Albano first, and so Anthony was quietly kicked to the curb.
He didn't seem to mind it much. By this time City Hall was packed with people who were his friends and allies, and Ardolino began offering himself as someone who could reach the right people and influence the political process in favor of those who could meet his fees. Once upon a time that was called bribery, but today it is called being "a consultant."
The new consulting business was a booming success at first, but then things started to go downhill. Albano lost all ambition for the mayoralty after the city's finances collapsed on his watch. After he left office, he sold his house and moved out of the city altogether, making himself a figure of little or no influence. His political heir, Linda Melconian, got embroiled in a tax scandal and lost to Albano's longtime political enemy Charlie Ryan. Once in office, Ryan began systematically firing most of the key figures from the Albano era, eliminating many of the people Ardolino was dependent upon for his influence peddling. Eventually Ardolino had practically no reason to go to City Hall except perhaps to pay a parking ticket he could no longer fix.
Soon rumors were rampant that the FBI was focusing on Anthony, as revelations surfaced that he had been a hidden owner of some of Springfield's most notorious bars. Ardolino scoffed that the Feds would never get him, but eventually he too went down in a hail of indictments. Anthony still boasted that he would prove his innocence, but this week he had to face reality and bargain a guilty plea. Sentencing guidelines suggest that he should do two and a half years, although the ever merciful Judge Ponsor will probably shave something off that. So the career of Anthony Ardolino, the idealistic kid who once subscribed to The Baystate Objectivist, then went on to the heights of political power but finally sinking into the cesspools of corruption, now ends with the slamming of a prison cell door.
What a ride. What a fall.
I saw this person in Northampton the other day standing on the traffic island by The Academy of Music with an upside down flag. It wasn't apparent what exactly he was protesting.
Finally, here is a movie I made called, "Enroute to the UMass Library."