When I heard last week that former Mayor Michael Albano had given an interview on WHYN radio to Morning Show co-host Bo Sullivan, I was only mildly sorry that I missed it. For one thing I knew that Albano and Sullivan are friends, so I figured it was probably a softball session. Besides, I couldn't imagine Albano being forthcoming on any subject of real interest. Therefore I assumed it was an interview that would be more annoying than enlightening to listen to.
But when I actually got the chance to listen to it, the interview had much more substance to it than I expected. For one thing, despite their friendship Sullivan asked Albano all of the major questions one would have expected him to in the time allowed. True, the questions were not asked in the sarcastic, accusing manner that many listeners would have liked, but the fact remains that the harsh criticism of Sullivan that I've heard for being too soft on Albano was mostly unfair. The only glaring omission was any mention of the person many critics consider to have been Albano's co-mayor: Francis Keough.
Despite the fact that it was Albano's first general interview in nearly four years, the former mayor didn't talk for very long. Technically he was on for an hour, but with all the advertisements, weather and sports breaks, plus introductory and closing banter, there probably wasn't even a half hour of real conversation. Yet, there were genuine tidbits of news and insight that surfaced in the interview that I had been unaware of. For example:
Albano claimed that when he was elected in 1996 there was pressure put on him by the state to accept a Control Board, but Albano flatly refused. If so, that demand and his refusal were not made public at the time.
Contrary to rampant rumors that Albano has in some way co-operated with the FBI investigations into his administration, he vehemently denied that he had offered any information to the feds, claiming never to have been interviewed by a single FBI agent at any time.
Albano claimed that over twenty million dollars was spent to convict his chief of staff Anthony Ardolino, which is the first time I've heard that number.
Albano stated that in his entire eight years in office he had held only one conversation with Raymond "Papa Ray" Asselin, implying he hardly knew him. Albano also appeared to agree that the Asselins had been involved in criminal activities before his administration, which is the first time I've heard a public figure concede that the Asselins were guilty of crimes for which they were never charged.
Albano disputed that Councilors Danny Kelly and Kateri Walsh were responsible for the loss of a twenty million dollar grant from the state, insisting the offer was never a serious one. He sited the Boston Globe as quoting then House Speaker Tommy Finneran as saying that under no circumstances would Springfield receive any free money from the state. In making this charge, Albano was implying that the matter was incompletely reported by the local media for political reasons.
He's been keeping such a low profile these past years that I'd forgotten just how charming Albano can be. Hardly penitent or sounding like a disgraced politician, Albano instead seemed full of his old confidence and good humor. As politically maddening as he can be, it has always been difficult to dislike Albano on a personal level. He sounds like a fun guy to have a drink with, and by all accounts he is.
The charm fades however when you consider what he's saying. Albano downplayed the conviction of Ardolino, dismissing it as "a tax case" while insisting Ardolino was "a stand-up guy." But of course stand-up guys don't avoid taxes in transactions that represent a grotesque misuse of political influence and huge conflicts of interest. Convicted Police Commissioner Gerry Phillips he described as his "best friend" and someone from "a wonderful family." Then again, perhaps the Puerto Rican welfare mother who was chased around a hotel room by a wiffle bat wielding Phillips might have characterized him differently. And does Albano's glowing praise of these individuals have anything to do with the fact that both Ardolino and Phillips refused to offer any testify against others?
To his credit, Sullivan asked Albano flat out the question the whole Valley has been asking for years, "How could you sit there in the corner office and not know anything that was going on?" Amazingly, Albano not only claimed ignorance, but declared himself a victim! It's a complicated story, but in essence Albano claims that his administration was unfairly attacked by the FBI because he worked as a parole officer on behalf of defendants who were unjustly accused of murder by the FBI. He doesn't offer a shred of proof to support this, but even if it were true, so what? The subsequent wrong doing that the FBI uncovered does not suddenly become irrelevant or right because of it. That is not a valid excuse for his administration's corruption, but it is a distraction he hopes will confuse the public into forgiving him.
Indeed something strange is afoot. Is it possible that the political rehabilitation of Albano is underway? This interview is not the only recent surfacing of the former mayor. In a recent article in the daily paper Albano is quoted about what he was doing when he heard that Elvis had died. What? After telling them "no comment" for years the paper finally gets him on the line and all that they ask him is where he was when freakin' Elvis died? This casual inclusion of his name, as if he were a beloved statesman whose every thought is of interest to the public, is something new.
It may be that it has dawned on people in some quarters that it is inconvenient for Albano to be a political pariah. The Control Board has one foot out the door, and there are those who want to rush back into the game once the money spending power is handed back to the local politicians and their friends. Many of these ambitious people are closely identified with Albano, and they don't want close ties to Albano to be considered the political kiss of death. Albano has to appear at least semi-respectable for his old cronies to prosper, especially if Dom Sarno is elected mayor and allows the old Albano crowd to return to City Hall.
At the end of the interview Albano claimed to be writing a book about his political career, but I don't believe it. That would require a level of introspection that I don't think he's capable of. But an attempt certainly appears to be underway to rewrite history, and in that quest Albano may find that he has many self-serving co-authors.
Believe it or not, I have never been to one of Sheriff Ashe's clam bakes. Although I like both clams and politics, I have never trusted myself to avoid lunging at the throats of some of the politicians in attendance. Since the local media does nothing but puff-pieces on the event, I can rarely find out what went on. Fortunately, the ever intrepid Michael Dobbs (below) has filed a report with some meat on it.
When I spotted Northampton Mayor M. Clare Higgins in the Haymarket Cafe I used my telephoto lens to snap her picture.
However, the flash in the always darkish cafe alerted her to the fact that someone was taking her photo, but she merely waved and smiled at me.
I love my neighbor's sunflowers.
Finally, here is an informative and fun video about history.