An Interview with Frank Bellotti
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Where were you born, and what was your childhood like?
I was born in Roxbury. I grew up in Roxbury and then Dorchester. In the early years my father was gassed in the First World War. He went to the Rutland Veterans Hospital since I was six months old. He used to come home a couple of months in the summertime. That’s when TB was really bad and really contagious, and he died when I was 16. And he was, ah, I never heard him swear. He was a much nicer man than I am.
Tell me about your years at BC Law.
It was a great experience for me. It was a great school. It was on Tremont Street in Boston. I had some really great professors who affected a great deal of my thinking.
I was graduated in ’52, and I was sixth in my class out of 145. And I worked all week because I was married and had kids. After I graduated, I rented space in a small law firm, and then I moved to Quincy and started a law firm with one of my classmates.
Tell me about the first time you ran for public office.
In ’58, there was nobody running as a Democrat for DA in Norfolk County. It was such a tremendous Republican county in those days. Before that I had represented the Quincy Police Department on their pay raises and things like that, and then I decided to run for DA because no Democrat was running. They didn’t even bother. My initial reason for running was that I could put up signs that said “Attorney Francis X. Bellotti for district attorney” … so that everybody in Norfolk County would know I was a lawyer, mostly for business purposes. I started giving speeches, and somewhere very early along the line, I began to articulate the things that I believed – that I didn’t know I believed when I started. After about a month, if anyone had asked me to reject those beliefs, I wouldn’t have done it, no matter what. And I only lost by 19,000 votes, which was the closest anybody had ever come.
How have politics changed since your first run for public office?
The business has changed tremendously. When I started, I went to the house of every delegate in the state. As a matter of fact, the first place I went was North Adams. They had a delegate for each ward, and there were 11 wards. I hit there in January, before the convention, at 9 o’clock at night. Those days, I’d go to Franklin County. Nobody goes to Franklin County anymore because there are more votes in Ward 18 than in all of Franklin County. But in those days you had all of those hidden hill towns like Florida, Savoy, Becket, Cummington. One delegate in each town. And they’re all, like, hill guys who would come down. You know, big rugged guys. Farmers and all that. Well I went to all those towns, and I got to know all those people. Today, no one stops there unless you got a flat tire. Those days it was hand-to-hand combat, and those people stayed with me forever. Even when I lost three times in a row, those people were always with me out there.
Tell me about the first time you ran for attorney general.
I ran for AG in 1966. I used to sleep in the car, travel around the state. I think I lost 20 pounds in that campaign. I won the primary, and I think there were four or five people in the primary. One of them was Mike Dukakis. And then just before the election, [Republican opponent] Elliot Richardson accused me of a conflict of interest. So it’s hard to defend against that with only four or five days left. And that cost me big time. So then they appointed a blue ribbon to commission to convene. After the election was over, they said I had done nothing wrong. But that was too late.
In 1966, when Elliot Richardson thing was going on, there was a reporter from the New York Times, and they had a story on [the alleged conflict of interest] and my picture. The reporter said, “Will you run again?” I figured, “Geez, I’m 42. That’s old. I’d be 46 by the time the next election came around.” I said, “I’ll probably never run for anything again for as long as I live.” Thank God no one ever quoted me.
Unless I was in government or running, I was only, like, 70 percent alive. Even though I made a lot of money practicing law, that always consumed me – the potential for affecting the way people live, which you can’t do in any other business.
Now we’re approaching ’74, and I’m running for AG. There are four people running against me. I was all scarred up and battered. Don’t forget I had lost [bids for office] three times, and I don’t know anyone who’s ever done that and then gone back. I only won by 17,000 votes out of two and a half million. I barely won.
How did you view the role of the Attorney General’s office, and how did you go about shaping it that way?
I just felt it had probably the greatest impact on the way people lived without the budget constraints that a governor has and without the politics involved. What I did when I hired people was I hired a lot of people I didn’t even know. Scott Harshbarger was one of them. Scott didn’t even vote for me. My feeling was if you do the job better than anyone else, you don’t have to worry about loyalty, and they were loyal. I said, “I’ll never interfere with you. I’ll never use politics or make you change your mind about something because someone gave me money.” And they loved it. Some say it was the best job they ever had.
We have a reunion every year or year and a half, and we have at least two hundred people come back. Some have been out of the office since 1977. They come back from London, from Wisconsin, from all over the world.