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Rep. Edward Boland: Quiet Man Behind Controversial Amendment

July 19, 1987 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Boland Amendment is at the eye of the decade’s biggest political storm as the nation debates whether Lt. Col. Oliver North and others in the Reagan White House violated the law by aiding Nicaraguan rebels.

But the author of the now-famous law, one of the most senior members of Congress and a former House Intelligence Committee chairman, has remained virtually unknown to the American public, even as other members of the Iran- Contra committees become household names.

The Boland amendment was passed in varying forms by Congress covering the period from October 1984 to October 1986, including one version that banned all aid and prevented the Defense Department, the CIA and other intelligence agencies from supporting the Contras fighting Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.

Rep. Edward P. Boland, a 75-year-old Democrat who has represented a patchwork of industrial and rural communities in central Massachusetts for 34 1/2 years, has deep feelings about the Iran-Contra affair.

″Fundamental in our society,″ he said in a recent interview, ″is respect for the law and respect for the will of the people expressed in the law. It’s my conviction that the Boland Amendment was not some non-binding congressional resolution. It was a law passed by the Congress and signed by the president.″

The recipient of the CIA’s highest civilian medal for his work on the Intelligence Committee, Boland bristles when North says it was necessary for the administration to keep the Iran-Contra initiative secret because congressmen might leak the information.

″We were complimented for the way in which we handled highly sensitive, top secret information, and I am not aware of any leaks that came out of that committee,″ he said. ″And one of the reasons for it is because the committee acted in a very non-partisan and bipartisan manner.″

And he flatly rejects the legal argument that the amendment did not apply to North and others at the National Security Council because the NSC was not specifically mentioned in the prohibition.

″The hearings so far have made clear to me that the adminstration, because it did not agree with the law known as the Boland Amendment ... determined that it was a law that could be ignored, even defied, rather than obeyed,″ he said.

Some political observers say the Boland Amendment never would have passed if he were not behind it.

″When you look at Eddie Boland, you look at power,″ said former Massachusetts lieutenant governor Thomas P. O’Neill III, son of former House speaker Thomas P. ″Tip″ O’Neill. ″He has enough seasoning and history in that institution to understand how to push a button and a pressure point, and he knows how to make things happen.″

Boland, the son of Irish immigrants, has never lost an election during a political life that has spanned more than a half-century. And, while other politicians crave publicity, he actively shuns it.

″That’s not Eddie’s style. It never was,″ said Lawrence O’Brien, the former Democratic National Committee chairman who first met Boland 40 years ago when both were getting their political feet wet in Springfield, Mass.

Boland won a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives at age 22 despite criticism that he was too young. During the 1940s, he served as Hampden County Register of Deeds, broken up by a World War II stint as an Army captain.

Boland came to Washington in 1953 with another young freshman, ″Tip″ O’Neill. The two, who served together in the Massachusetts House, shared a Washington apartment for more than 20 years and became close friends and political allies.

O’Neill and Boland were, by all accounts, the real-life equivalent of ″The Odd Couple,″ with Boland, a thin, meticulous, bookish man playing Felix to O’Neill’s gregarious, sloppy, cigar-smoking Oscar.

The differences were more than just skin deep.

″Tip O’Neill is a politician’s politician,″ said his son, Thomas O’Neill. ″Eddie Boland is straightforward, more academic in his approach, more the prototypical legislator.″

As Boland worked behind the scenes, helping to usher in domestic initiatives of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, O’Neill worked his way up the leadership ladder, eventually becoming speaker.

Following years of loyal support of O’Neill, Boland was rewarded with the chairmanship of the newly created House Intelligence Committee in 1977. He stepped down from the Intelligence Committee post in 1985 in accordance with House rules, yet he remains influential as the No. 2 Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. Friends say he would love to become committee chairman.

Politically, Boland is neither a liberal nor a conservative Democrat. While opposing Reagan administration policies in Central America and other conservative causes like school prayer, he is staunchly anti-abortion and a fiscal moderate.

Wedded to his work, Boland remained a bachelor until 1973, when he married Mary Egan, then a 35-year-old president of the Springfield City Council. They have four children, ranging in age from 8 to 13, and live in Springfield, where Mrs. Boland practices law.

Political observers have speculated for the past 10 years on Boland’s retirement, but he shows no signs of giving up his House seat.

″My feeling is they’ll carry him out in a box before he retires,″ said Joseph Neapolitan, a political consultant.