Bookmark and Share

OPINION

Joe DeNucci proved that nice guys can be champs

Here are a few records and interesting asides related to former State Auditor Joe DeNucci, who died earlier this month at age 78.

As a professional fighter — he was a world class-ranked middleweight — Joe fought more fights at the Boston Garden than any other fighter. His overall record was 54-15, with four draws, but that does not tell the whole story As the elected state auditor of the commonwealth, he served in that post for 24 years, longer than any of his predecessors.

As auditor, he worked with and outlasted a half-dozen governors: Michael Dukakis, William Weld, Paul Cellucci, Jane Swift (acting), Mitt Romney and Deval Patrick.

He most likely would have been re-elected in 2010 had he run. Instead he retired. And, against the advice of his closest advisers, he endorsed and campaigned for Suzanne Bump, who was elected.

No sooner in office, Bump, under the guise of reform, attacked DeNucci and fired practically all of his staff, many of whom had campaigned for her.

DeNucci felt betrayed and humiliated, but, class act that he was, he suffered the indignities in silence.

DeNucci began his Statehouse career-in between professional fights — as a House page before becoming a court officer.

In 1972, when working for The Boston Globe, I did a Sunday magazine story on Joe making his comeback in the ring. He had been a professional fighter since age 17. He was now 32.

Nervously pacing in the locker room at Boston Garden before that comeback fight, DeNucci said, “It is just something that I want to finish that’s inside me. I want to prove to myself and to other people that I am the fighter I think I am. I had to come back. I had to redeem myself.”

And he did. He won that fight and six more, but did not get the title shot he sought.

Meanwhile DeNucci could render an amazing — and haunting — imitation of Marlon Brando’s famous soliloquy as ex-fighter Terry Malloy in Elia Kazan’s film classic “On the Waterfront” that goes: “I coulda been a contender …” After the fights were over DeNucci was elected to the House of Representatives from his home city of Newton in 1977.

He served for 10 years and was chairman of the of House Committee on Human Services. While DeNucci had a tough guy image from the ring, he was a liberal softy through and through on social issues and in helping the needy.

DeNucci was elected auditor in 1987 by the Legislature to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of then-Auditor John J. Finnegan. He was re-elected several times.

DeNucci ran an active office. Hardly a week went by without his issuing meaningful audits of various state agencies, institutions, the MBTA, the Massachusetts Port Authority and the state’s many housing authorities.

DeNucci was the first public official to point out the mounting and staggering costs of the Big Dig construction project.

Despite repeated statements from the Weld-Cellucci administration that the massive Big Dig was “on time and on budget,” DeNucci reported the opposite, that it was ballooning out of control.

The wise guys on Beacon Hill mocked DeNucci, but in the end, he was proven right. Originally, estimated to cost $2 billion, the Big Dig ended up costing $20 billion.

DeNucci died Sept. 8. A week later Jake LaMotta, the “Raging Bull” of professional boxing, and a former middleweight champion, died. He was 95.

LaMotta, known for his brawling lifestyle, both in an out of the ring, became famous again in 1980 when Robert De Niro played LaMotta in the muchacclaimed film “Raging Bull.”

The film was based on LaMotta’s memoir of the same title written by Joseph Carter and Peter Savage. After reading the book, De Niro persuaded film director Martin Scorcese to make the film. De Niro won an Academy Award for his portrayal of LaMotta.

When the film came out I persuaded DeNucci to see it and write a review for the Boston Herald, where I worked at the time.

Sitting in the theater at a prerelease viewing in Bay Village, DeNucci could hardly contain himself, especially during the fight scenes. “That’s the way it was, that’s the way it was,” he proclaimed. Needless to say, he gave the film a rave review.

What I loved about the guy was that Joe DeNucci, as sensitive as he was, was also a man’s man — an unapologetic one who excelled in two different fields of endeavor.

“They don’t make guys like Joe anymore,” Frank Bellotti said.

Cover lightly, gentle earth.

luke1825@aol.com

Bookmark and Share