Alan Sisitsky, the former state senator who died this month at age 75, once spoke some of the most unforgettable words ever uttered about the Massachusetts Legislature.
In 1982, as he was being dragged, kicking and screaming out of the Senate chambers by Billy Bulger’s thuggish uniformed door openers, the Yale Law School graduate bellowed: “Being thrown out of this Senate is an honor! It is like being ejected from a brothel!”
True then, even truer now.
When he died in a nursing home in Longmeadow, Sisitsky had been gone a very long time. The State House saying is, “Forgotten, but not gone.” Sisitsky was both forgotten and gone. He called out Whitey Bulger’s brother, suffered a nervous breakdown and became a non-person in Massachusetts politics.
Here’s how long Sisitsky had been gone: His state pension when he died was only $24,327. These days, after the obscene pay raises they voted themselves earlier this year, there’s no excuse for any legislator, Democrat or Republican, to leave with a kiss in the mail of less than $100,000 a year.
Sisitsky understood how the game was played. This was another of his memorable observations, about the craven morons he “served” with: “Most of these guys, you could buy them with a water cooler.”
I repeat: True then, truer now.
Sisitsky, a Democrat, was in the same class at Yale Law with two future U.S. senators — Paul Tsongas and Joe Lieberman. He was elected to the House from Springfield at age 26 and the state Senate at age 32. But he chafed being under the thumb of Billy Bulger and the obsequious yes-men Whitey’s younger brother surrounded himself with.
Sisitsky started carrying a barbell through the State House corridors, muttering to himself. He went unshaven for days at a time, and began disappearing every week to teach a law school class — on the West Coast.
“Never close to the cutting-edge of fashion,” Billy Bulger dryly noted in his autobiography, “he was now looking increasingly disheveled.”
Sisitsky became obsessed with the Senate president’s serial-killing gangster brother. He was widely derided for saying on the Senate floor: “The Senate president’s brother, Whitey Bulger, is listening. He hears everything we say.”
OK, it was a paranoid exaggeration. But since then, bent agents in the Boston FBI office have testified they too had the same fear, that their underworld paymaster had been bugging them. In fact, it later turned out that Whitey had one of his coke-dealing hoodlums call Sisitsky and threaten to kill him.
In other words, Sisitsky proved the truth of the old joke: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not trying to kill you.
He was briefly hospitalized at McLean, then returned to western Massachusetts. At some point he went back to the private practice of law.
How ironic that Sisitsky should pass the same month that a current legislator should follow in his footsteps, denouncing the corrupt system on Beacon Hill and being stripped of his (vice) chairmanship. Of course, Rep. Russell Holmes of Mattapan isn’t nearly as well-known as Sisitsky was — few legislators are now, because they’re barely covered by the news media any longer.
What’s to report on at the State House anymore? There’s no debate, practically no dissent.
It took a lot of courage for Rep. Holmes to call out the leadership as the thugs they are, and now he’s paid the price, just as Sisitsky did. The only difference is that, monetarily, the price is even higher today.
Remember, Sisitsky crossed the bosses and ended up with a pension of $24,327. The guy he called out, William M. Bulger — he’s been collecting $200,876 a year for 14 years, with no end in sight.
In other words, Holmes has forfeited a lot more than a water cooler.
Order Howie’s new book, “Kennedy Babylon,” at howiecarrshow.com.