House Speaker Robert DeLeo has been on a public relations offensive this week. He’s playing damage control after last week’s guilty verdict in the federal corruption trial of three Department of Probation officials.
Prosecutors called DeLeo an unindicted co-conspirator during the trial, and the names of other prominent state lawmakers popped up regularly. That includes a western Massachusetts politician who appears to have emerged unscathed.
Rep. Thomas Petrolati is a Ludlow Democrat who has served in the legislature since 1986. For years, he’s been listed among lawmakers who provided political and budgetary support to the probation department. In return, the feds say, candidates he recommended for jobs received preferential treatment, including his wife.
Petrolati was not charged with any crime, and on the streets of Ludlow, his constituents appear to hold him in high regard.
“I don’t know if its a witch hunt against him, but I tend to not believe, you know, what’s been going on,” says Amy Condon, who says she grew up with Petrolati.
Most people say they weren’t aware of the allegations against Petrolati, or the probation trial at all. Martin Talbott is an exception, but still a supporter.
“I think he’s a very good person and I don’t think he would do anything to mishandle his office,” Talbott says. “And I don’t think he probably has done anything [more] than any other politician might have done.”
If some residents of the district do have misgivings about Petrolati, they don’t have alternatives. Challenges to his seat are rare. The last time he faced an opponent was in 2000 when he beat Republican William E. Johnson. And Republicans have a hard time finding anyone to run against him.
“He’s a popular person in town. He’s well liked, and the few people that I did approach about running against him were friends of his. They’ve been friends since childhood,” says Steve Lozyniak, chair of the Ludlow Republican Committee. “You can’t do much when people say, ‘No,’ to you about running.”
Lozyniak says he’s asking around to neighboring towns in the district to see if anyone can recommend a viable candidate, but he doesn’t seem optimistic.
Petrolati is running unopposed again this year, and the only way for a candidate to challenge him at this point in the election is to run a write-in or sticker campaign.