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June 24, 2011

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Page 10 POST-GAZETTE, JUNE 24, 2011 FRANCIS X. BELLOTTI, Three-term Massachusetts Attorney General: A Political Machine Rebel by Peter Vitale The article appeared in PRIMO Magazine Christmas edition, volume 11, issue four, and is reprinted with permission by PRIMO Magazine, copyright 2011, all rights reserved, One evening in May 1986, before a standing room only audience at the Massachu- setts Democratic Party Con- ention, Francis X. Bellotti declared, "it has been a long hard road with many turns that has brought me to this time and place - to stand be- fore you tonight with the sin- gular honor of representing the Democratic Party." Those words and the inspir- ing speech that followed capped 12 years of outstand- ing public service by Bellotti as Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachu- setts. It also marked an end to his 24 year sparring match with the Democratic political machine of Massachusetts. His invitation to deliver the keynote address signaled the Democratic Party's capitula- tion to Bellotti. That road to which Bellotti referred began on May 3, 1923. He grew up poor on the streets of Boston. He was an only child. His father, Peter, an immigrant from Basil- icata, Italy had served as a World War I machine gunner in the U.S. Army's Diamond Division. He was gassed dur- ing battle and returned home. Sickly and continu- ally hospitalized, his father died when Bellotti was 16 years old. Bellotti was raised by his working mother, Mary "Jenny" Petrocelli whose par- ents came from the region of Puglia, Italy and later immi- grated to America in the 1920s. I found Bellotti sitting casually in his spacious Quincy office one bright, sunny morning wearing a pressed shirt, slacks and topsiders. No tie, no socks. He told me his story. "I had my nose broken eight times growing up. I fought the Irish kids every- where I moved. Once I hitch- hiked from Nantasket Beach back to Dorchester. A nicely dressed woman picked me up :i!i:i :ii i00iii:00ii!iii00i!i! Bellotti Family - Francis BeUotti and wife Margarita "Maggi" with their 12 children. in a new car. We talked all the way home. She seemed educated and sophisticated. When I was getting out of the car, she looked at me and said 'you're a nice little boy for an Italian boy'. It made me wonder what she thought about people who are Italian and it made a deep impres- sion on me." During World War If, Bellotti joined the Navy and served with the prestigious "Scouts and Raiders," the forerunner of the Navy SEALS. His mates nick- named him *The Turk" for his perennial tan and rug- ged looks. The military train- ing that Bellotti received is specifically designed to build up endurance, stamina, and achieve the elite level of fit- ness that only a select few can accomplish. Bellotti graduated in the unit's Sev- enth Class. The training regimen benefited him greatly in later years when he burned the candle in the wee hours preparing for his courtroom opponents or a difficult judge. Frank Bellotti playing racquetball in" the '70s After honorably discharged from the Navy in 1946, he became a lifeguard and a bartender at the Hollywood Beach Hotel in Hollywood, Florida. It was here where he met his Midwestern wife Margarita, "Maggi" who hailed from Twin Lakes, Wis- consin. They married in 1948 and began a family...a big family, 12 children, Frank Jr., Kathy, Liz, Nina, Peter, Terry, Rita, Joseph, Tom, Patricia, Michael and Sheila. After working his way through college selling reli- gious magazine subscrip- tions door to door, Bellotti graduated from Boston Col- lege Law School in 1952 and began a law practice in Quincy. In 1957, he pur- chased a large home for his growing family on Hillside Avenue where he still re- sides today with Maggi. He ran for Norfolk County dis- trict attorney in 1958. "I figured I would lose but my lawn signs announcing my candidacy might bring me some legal business." In the meantime, attorney Charles Nayor took Bellotti under his direction and taught him the finer points of tort law. Rising every day at 4 a.m. as he still does to- day for cardio exercise, weight training and yoga, Bellotti already had the physical endurance to outlast his opponents. He acquired the mental tough- ness to outwit them as well. His law practice flourished but as did his political ambi- tions. Bellotti's first assis- tant attorney general, Tho- mas Kiley, reflected that "Frank's professional life had run two parallel tracks, a successful trial lawyer and a determined public ser- vant." By 1962, Bellotti had suc- cessfully run for office but it had come with a steep price. Tensions were building in the Massachusetts Demo- cratic Party. He had stunned the party leadership and won the convention's endorse- ment for lieutenant governor against their wishes. What was this young, ambitious Italian upstart doing in the middle of an Irish dominated party? Who was he? He had never been a local represen- tative or senator. He had never "paid his dues" they rumors surfaced that Bellotti had taken "Rhode Island money", a code term for Ma- fia money. It was a bitterly contested primary race that Bellotti ultimately won by a meager 30,000 votes. He was called a "rogue" and the "pe- rennial challenger to estab- lished candidates." He was also routinely called hateful, ethnic slurs. "I was put out in the wood- shed for the next I0 years," he said. In the 1964 general elec- tion for governor, another Italian was running against BeUotti. John A. Volpe, a con- tractor, also a son of an im- migrant had won on the first ballot at the Republican Party Convention as his party's nominee for gover- nor. Bellotti lost that election by a mere 21,000 votes rep- resenting less than a frac- tion of a percentage point in the total votes cast. A little closer and a state recount would have been ordered. Democratic Party leaders gloated and wrongly pre- dicted that he was "done" and Volpe - Bellotti debate during the '64 Governor's race. felt. Suddenly he's one step away from the corner office. Party leaders were upset that Bellotti, "didn't want to wait his turn". A bittersweet year for Italian Americans in Mas- sachusetts was 1964 as Lieutenant Governor Bellotti made a fateful decision to challenge the elected and seated Democratic Governor Endicott Peabody in the pri- mary race. Peabody had trouble within his own party over death penalty issues and even suggested that he would not put the notorious "Boston Strangler" to death if he was ever captured. Again party leaders were outraged at Bellotti's brash- ness for splitting the party ranks. Immediately, anti-Italian slurs and false would never run again. As it has often been said, *character is doing the right thing when nobody is watch- ing." Bellotti was cleared by the FBI who had wiretap tapes of Mafia Capos grum- bling that Bellotti "refused" to take their money. Volpe later paid tribute in his memoirs when he wrote that "Bellotti had pulled him- self from poverty to relative affluence with enormous dedication and intelligence." So the challenge continued. In 1966, unrelenting per- sonal attacks on Bellotti and his family coupled with an effective whispering cam- paign and more dirty tricks blunted his chances once again for attorney general. His son, Peter recalled walk- ing to school regularly and