Northeastern’s influence proudly on display during Massachusetts Statehouse swearing in

robert deleo speaking with group of people in the massachusetts state house chamber
Robert Alfred DeLeo, Former Speaker of the Massachusetts House and Northeastern University professor, speaks in the Massachusetts Statehouse Chamber. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Northeastern was well-represented under the gilded dome of the Massachusetts Statehouse on Wednesday. 

The inaugural session of the House of Representatives, an occasion filled with R-dropping pomp and collegiality, takes place on the first Wednesday of the new year following a state election. 

The swearing in ceremony comes amid significant change in Massachusetts’s political leadership. Massachusetts Gov.-elect Maura Healey, a Democrat, will be sworn in Thursday. A graduate of Northeastern’s School of Law, she takes office as the state’s first openly gay woman to serve in the role.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who served as the state’s chief executive since 2014, decided not to run for another term. 

The occasion was a show of Northeastern pride. Public officials with ties to the university have ascended to high places in both the legislature and the executive branch over the last several elections. While Healey is a Northeastern graduate, former House speaker Robert DeLeo is now the University Fellow for Public Life.

Ronald J. Mariano, a Democrat who was elected to a second term as House speaker on Wednesday, obtained his bachelor’s degree from Northeastern. Aaron Michlewitz, a Democrat who is chair of the Ways and Means Committee, a prominent leadership position that makes him the odds-on favorite for the speakership after Mariano, is also a Northeastern graduate. 

On the Senate side, President Karen Spilka also graduated from Northeastern’s School of Law. Senate Democrats unanimously nominated Spilka for a third full term to head the Senate during a private caucus Wednesday afternoon, according to the State House News Service.

While the Massachusetts Legislature carried on with its business without a hiccup, federal lawmakers labored through a second day without a House leader or sworn members—revealing the extent of political fracturing within the Republican Party, now split between a more senior, establishment wing and a coalition of far-right members.

Those divisions—and the country’s, more broadly—were hard to ignore. In his last address to the House, Baker thanked members and colleagues for years of “kindness, cooperation and civic discussion and debate.” The spirit of collaboration that characterizes the Bay State, he said, is what sets it apart from the rest of the nation. 

“That is not the way these conversations—if you can even call them that—take place across the rest of the country,” Baker said.

DeLeo, in what was something of an off-script moment for the House chamber, was invited to give remarks toward the end of the welcoming event. Donning his Northeastern tie, DeLeo reflected on a career of public service; the alliances and friendships he forged over the years; and the achievements along the way. In particular, he said he’s proud of “everything this House did to combat the Great Recession after the 2008 downturn,” and the “groundbreaking gun safety legislation,” passed in 2014, that “remains a national model.”

The end of DeLeo’s 11-year run as speaker came as the COVID-19 pandemic turned life upside down.

“As someone who devoted the better part of my adult life to the House, the manner in which I said goodbye was a far different farewell than I envisioned,” DeLeo told the assembly of lawmakers and guests. “We were still in the grip of the pandemic, the strictest protocols were still in place, and many of you were watching via Zoom. It means so much to me to talk to the House on a day of such importance.” 

In contrast to the tone on Capitol Hill, DeLeo embraced his colleagues as “family,” reminiscing about “all the hundreds of interactions” he had with them during his tenure. “As I always say,” he said, “politics is about helping people.”

DeLeo advised the newly elected members to overcome partisan influence and embrace one another.

“But politics is also about the people in this House,” he added. “Learn about each other; get to know each other; listen; and work together.”

Mariano yielded the podium to DeLeo, asking for a “moment of personal privilege,” to allow DeLeo to address the House. 

“We became fast friends early on, and then through life changes we sort of drifted away,” Mariano said. “But I was reunited with him and very proud of the team he put together during his speakership.”

Looking back, DeLeo said he is staggered by how quickly time has gone by. 

“In one moment I went from being a former selectman learning how to be a representative to a former speaker looking back at legislative accomplishments and life,” he said. 

“The lesson is clear,” DeLeo concluded, “enjoy it, savor it, at the least, take a moment to be mindful of the unique opportunity this is.”

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