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Big Dig collapse took a big toll.

Byline: Dianne Williamson

COLUMN: DIANNE WILLIAMSON

As is often the case, the pictures tell the story.

In 2002, before the public collapse of the Big Dig led to a private one, Matt Amorello was all over the front pages. Striding forcefully along Boston streets, clad in an orange and yellow construction vest. Hands on hips, dressed in crisp power suits. In those halcyon days, this native son of Central Massachusetts was at the peak of his game and had the world in his hands.

Yesterday, in a different set of pictures, someone else's hands were holding the head of a seemingly drunken Matt Amorello so police could take his mug shot. He looked puffy and was apparently passed out. Early Saturday morning, the man who once headed the nation's biggest public works project couldn't even negotiate a quiet street in Haverhill and was arrested after allegedly hitting two parked cars and leaving the scene.

Matt Amorello's Wild Ride was the culmination of a stunning fall from grace, one driven by both fate and hubris.

"Matt's life has gone into a total out-of-control spiral," said local radio host Jordan Levy, a former board member of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. "Everything has happened to him that could happen to a guy. Some of it may be self-imposed, but he's not to blame for all of it."

Matt was once on the fast track to success. As a Republican state senator for Worcester in 1991, he was likable, smart, and going places. He would serve as a senator for eight years before he was tapped as commissioner of the Massachusetts Highway Department by then-Gov. Paul Cellucci.

Looking back, he should have stopped there. He was making good money, had a happy marriage and moved in elite Republican circles. But in 2002, he was named to a high-profile post that would cause his undoing.

When Amorello took the helm of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, he also took control of the massive highway project known as the Big Dig. Now, of course, it's known as the "notorious" or "infamous" Big Dig and has become synonymous with government mismanagement.

Some blamed Amorello for the series of leaks, ballooning costs and other problems. Others say he was the scapegoat for a project that was nearly finished when he took over. Regardless, many noticed a change in the once-affable Amorello. He gained weight and wasn't averse to throwing it around. His ego also ballooned. He insisted on being called "Mr. Chairman" and put his name on everything.

"He was his own worst enemy," Levy said. "He marched around like King of the Hill. But a lot of people in public office have big egos." He once joked with Amorello that he was shocked to go into the men's room at the state Transportation Building and not find the chairman's name on the toilet paper.

But Amorello's name would forever be linked with tragedy. In 2006, a portion of the Ted Williams Tunnel collapsed and a 38-year-old woman was killed. Gov. Mitt Romney had been trying to oust Amorello for two years and eventually got his way. Emotionally battered amid humiliating headlines, Amorello resigned in disgrace.

"The public whipping nearly destroyed him," Levy said. "He was a pretty arrogant guy and there were a lot of people waiting in line for him."

Two years later, the man who once made $223,000 a year was sued for divorce by his wife, who told a judge that the couple was deeply in debt and that Amorello had made "minimal efforts" to find work. The court case led to yet another indignity, when his picture was photo-shopped in a fast-food uniform and splashed on the front page of the Boston Herald next to the headline, "Matt, Get a Job!"

In March, he applied for a post as head of the Illinois Tollway. He didn't get it. The Big Dig disaster continues to claim victims. And it's not the first time that a haunted man has tried to drown his demons in alcohol.

"He's been dogged for years by something that had little to nothing to do with him," said state Rep. Vincent Pedone, a friend for two decades. "When the tunnel collapsed, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's tragic. It's almost Shakespearean."

It's an old story in the blood sport known as politics. But it's not a pretty picture.

Contact Dianne Williamson via e-mail at dwilliamson@telegram.com
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 10, 2010
Words:742
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