It's getting hard to be sure it's really election day if Lawrence S. DiCara '71 isn't on the ballot. DiCara's latest campaign is for Massachusetts secretary of state, and he said last week, "The secretary of state is not a jumping board to national politics, but I don't expect to be secretary of state all my life." But the office is the logical next step in DiCara's methodical rise to power. DiCara was elected to the Boston City Council immediately after leaving Harvard, and he won a landslide re-election campaign last fall. So when DiCara announced his candidacy for secretary of state two weeks ago nobody was surprised.
Still, it's something of a mystery how DiCara expects to knock off Republican incumbent John F.X. Davoren in November, let alone eliminate a strong field of Democratic contenders. But such mysteries are nothing new to DiCara. Nobody predicted that he would poll the third highest vote total in the city council elections last election day--that is, nobody except DiCara. The ambitious councilor has a deceptive support that is unlike that of any other politician in Boston. His political strength is a lucid memory and a quick recall of the names and faces of almost anyone he has ever met.
DiCara's mind--his chief political asset--works quickly to generate a congenial atmosphere in any meeting. One can almost hear the clicking as his mind makes up a new dossier on an acquaintance or hunts for an old one amid stacks of past encounters. Friends of DiCara claim that his mental vault holds the names, addresses and occupations of at least 7000 to 8000 people in the Boston area. "People tell me I know a lot of people," DiCara says. "I suppose it's one of those traits of personality that I know so many people. I'm a very gregarious type of person and there's a certain sense of pleasure I get being in touch with people. My adrenalin pumps when I meet a crowd."
DiCara's memory made him something of a living legend around Harvard. He admits that during his stay here he knew more people at Harvard than anyone else. "DiCara knew everyone in his class, the class before him and the one after," says one of DiCara's old classmates. "He could walk through the Yard and be bombarded by hellos." DiCara made his Harvard contacts through various means, including parties, classes and selling refrigerators for Harvard Student Agencies. "I would knock on the door of about one sixth of the freshman class, peddling those iceboxes," DiCara says.
DiCara has always put his memory to good political use. A frequent candidate since his class president days at Boston Latin School, he has had remarkable success in almost every election he has entered. "People used to laugh at Larry when he would run for high school and college offices, but when it came to election day his was the only name they recognized," a longtime DiCara supporter says. "He always used to joke about running for high offices--why he declared for president in 1963. I think he imagines himself to be an Italian John Kennedy."
Whether DiCara can actually duplicate Kennedy's career may depend on his support at the upcoming state caucus meeting in Framingham. The caucus, which supplants the convention system, lets a group of voters choose a nominee for the November elections. By mutual agreement, the losing candidates at the Caucus will back the party's choice.
DiCara's platform in the secretary of state campaign includes, support of legislation for full disclosure of the personal assets of all elected officials, legislation to tighten up campaign disclosure laws so that every contribution must be made public, and laws to bring about easier voter registration. But the councilman says he believes that the election won't be based on issues. "It will probably just be an educational campaign to see what the secretary of state does," he said after declaring his candidacy.
DiCara's Democratic field is cluttered with candidates with strong records on voter legislation.
"I don't think anybody's running for secretary of state with a voting bill record as strong as mine," frontrunner John A. Businger said last week. The 29 year-old Brookline state representative has sponsored several voting rights bills including legislation supporting the easing of registration laws, laws for placing third parties on the ballot, and laws extending the Massachusetts polling hours.
The other chief candidate for secretary of state, Newton state representative Paul H. Guzzi, has consistently supported campaign reforms. He was sponsor for a bill to limit contributions and chairman of a subcommittee that drafted a state campaign disclosure act.
But DiCara's main opposition at Saturday's Framingham caucus will come from an anti-Park Plaza contingent. DiCara stirred up this opposition when he voted February 5 against the recision of a $6.8 million bond issue for the $266 million development, which would include construction of a high rise hotel, apartments and office spaces beginning at Park Square and going towards the Combat Zone.
DiCara claims that he voted for the bond issue because he does not believe the council has the power to rescind a bond issue it had previously passed. "I refused to stand up and vote with my colleagues on issues that have no meaning," he said after the bond issue vote.
DiCara said last week that he believes the city needs the new office space that Park Plaza would bring. "I would like to scale down the project in both height and density and then build," he said.
Citizens for Participation in Political Action (CPPAX), spearhead of the anti-Park Plaza movement, claims that the Boston development will abuse the power of eminent domain and give private developers excess profits at the public expense. The CPPAX--expected to be the main opposition to DiCara in Framingham--outlined an attack against him in a January 15 letter that claimed that qualified legal authorities and a majority of the councilors have stated that the council can rescind the Park Plaza funding because no plan for the project has been approved and no commitments made.
The group also charges DiCara with reversing a campaign promise to vote for recision that he gave to Boston '73, a non-profit citizens' information organization. The CPPAX letter alleges that DiCara told his constituents one thing during the campaign and then did the opposite. "It's just a question that he says he is going to do something and then he doesn't," Deirdre Henderson, representative for the Park Square Improvement Association and a leader of the DiCara opposition, said last week.
But the councilman claims that he qualified his pledge to Boston '73 a few weeks after making the promise. DiCara also disputes the claim that he switched his vote as a political concession to Mayor Kevin White, a chief proponent of the Park Plaza project.
If DiCara can convince the opposition to this Park Plaza stand that he acted fairly, then his most controversial vote to date will have little affect at the caucus. If he can clinch the nomination, he will have taken a major step toward becoming a Massachusetts political power. But he's taking no chances--vigorously campaigning in areas outside of Boston in the last few weeks. "Since November 6 I have hit 75 to 80 cities and towns," DiCara said last week.
If he receives the Democratic nod next Saturday, DiCara will still have to wage war with incumbent Davoren in November. But if he beats Davoren, the path could be cleared towards higher offices; the secretary of state before Davoren was Mayor White. DiCara says, "Anyone who doesn't believe that people in public life should move up the ladder are saying what they want is an aristocracy where a seat is passed on by a political club." He also freely admits he doesn't want to be secretary of state all his life, though insisting that he can only go so far: "Remember, I'm a five-feet-four guy whose father came across on the boat," he warns.
However, no matter what office DiCara runs for next, he gives the impression of never having gotten over the glory of being a high school politician. Maybe it's the minuscule budgets or the best-friend approach of his campaign, but DiCara still seems like he is running for student council president.
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