Rep. Birmingham urged an Aug. 8 rally of the Clemency Committee in Brighton to write letters to Gov. Alvan T. Fuller asking for clemency for the carbarn trio, the Boston Globe reported (Aug. 9, 1926, p. 1, 2). He also urged the audience to telephone and visit neighbors to write letters as well.
The carbarn trio – John J. Devereaux, John J. McLaughlin, and Edward J. Heinlein – were convicted in the murder of James H. Ferneau, a watchman on duty at the Boston and Middlesex Street Railway office in Waltham, during a 1925 robbery and were sentenced to death.
Clemency Committee Secretary Frank J. Manning told the rally that the committee had received assurance that the executions would not be carried out until after lawyers for the trio had been given an opportunity to argue the case before the state Supreme Court on Aug. 11. The executions had been scheduled for the early morning hours of Aug. 10.
“These boys are not going to the electric chair until a protest is made that will share this state,” he said.
Manning also told the crowd that the mothers of the three condemned men had left Brighton to make a personal appeal for clemency to Fuller at his summer home at Little Boar’s Head, N.H. The meeting did not change the governor’s mind, the Globe reported.
Rep. Birmingham spoke in favor of a bill to prevent the sale to minors of firearms, dangerous weapons, or ammunition.
The Public Safety Committee recommended rejection of the bill. However, the House on March 2 voted to refuse to reject the bill.
Rep. Abraham B. Cassin of Boston argued against rejecting the bill, saying that the bill merely added to the present law the provisions that it is limited to any minor who does not display a license to carry firearms.
Rep. George F. Brooks of Worcester declared that the bill would prevent a father from taking his son with him on a hunting trip.
Rep. Isadore H. Fox of Boston said that the safety of Massachusetts citizens was more important than the convenience of a father on a hunting trip.
Rep. Birmingham introduced a bill for the Metropolitan District Commission to take over and maintain three bridges over the Charles River between Cambridge and Boston—the River St Bridge, the Western Ave. Bridge, and the Larz Anderson Bridge, the Boston Globe reported Dec. 10, 1930, p. 17.
The bill would also provide for the extension of the approaches to the bridges on both sides of Charles River and including in Memorial Drive, Cambridge, and Soldiers Field Road.
Rep. Birmingham’s mother, Mrs. Mary E. Birmingham, died on Oct. 22, 1935, at her home located at 70 Hobson St., Brighton, from pneumonia, the Boston Globe reported (Oct. 23, 1935, p. 17).
Her death came just three months before Rep. Birmingham’s own death from cancer.
Surviving Mrs. Birmingham were her husband Michael J. Birmingham, sons Leo M., William H., and Raymond F., and daughters Eileen and Florence.
Funeral services were held at Our Lady of the Presentation Church in Oak Square, Brighton, and here internment was at Holyhood Cemetery, Brookline.
The state Senate voted by a razor-thin margin of 18-17 to approve congressional apportionment legislation consolidating the districts of Congressmen Robert Luce of Waltham and Frederick W. Dallinger of Cambridge, both dry Republicans, the Boston Herald reported (June 2, 1931, p. 1, 2).
Rep. Birmingham was a key member of a coalition of Democrats and dry Republicans who fought to defeat the measure, which had been reported to the Senate by a special legislative redistricting committee.
Two amendments to the bill put the cities of Lawrence and Revere into the new 7th district, which was largely represented by Congressman William P. Connery of Lynn. In the original committee report, wards 1 and 2 of Lawrence were placed in the new 6th district, while wards 3 and 4 or Revenue were included in the new 11th district.
The plan as approved by the Senate would send 11 Republicans and four Democrats to Congress, compared with 12 Republicans and four Democrats under the existing apportionment.
Senators John P. Buckley of Charlestown, Democratic minority leader, and James E. Warren of Lawrence were the only Democrats to vote for the redistricting plan.
Democrats who opposed the legislation favored an election-at-large, while Republican opponents wanted to save Luce and Dallinger from facing off in a primary challenge for the new district, with the prospect that a wet Republican would win the nomination.
The legislation as passed by the Senate would provide for a spread of around 90,000 in population between the smallest and largest districts.
The newspaper observed that the opposition of most Senate Democrats and Rep. Birmingham in the House puts Gov. Ely in a difficult position should the Senate passed bill make it to his desk.
Rep. Birmingham said that he intended to insist on an additional probe of the circumstances surrounding the Oliver Garrett investigation, and he would demand that former police commission Herbert A. Wilson be given a hearing if he requested one, the Boston Herald reported (May 6, 1930, p. 1, 6).
Wilson was dismissed as police commissioner on May 5 by Gov. Frank Allen, with the agreement of the Executive Council. In addition, the legislature’s Joint Rules Committee decided against letting Wilson speak at a May 6 hearing on the Warner report.
Wilson was fired following a report by Attorney General Joseph Warner into police department corruption. In particular, the report examined the granting of a pension to Garrett, the former leader of the vice squad who was removed in response to corruption charges.
“I want Atty.-Gen. Warner in there to tell us many things omitted in the report. I want to be sure that his hands are clean. When he issued an open invitation to the world for witnesses to come forward with any additional information having any bearing on the case why did not his assistant, Mr. Clapp, volunteer to go on the stand and tell the entire story of the opinion he wrote for Wilson to submit to the Legislature concerning the second medical examination of Garrett? I also am curious to know why it was written at the Yale Club.”
“I said in the Legislature at the time that the opinion was illegal and that it would not be upheld in any court of law. I understand that Representative Renton Whidden has a photostatic copy of that opinion written in Clapp’s handwriting. I want all these facts on it because if it is legal it has pinned Garrett’s pension definitely to the statutes.”
“Warner’s report did not go far enough. The supreme court, in an opinion given him, said that no legislative recommendations were required, but it did not say that he couldn’t make any recommendations. Are there some higher-ups being protected? If there are, we certainly want them exposed and the way to do it is to permit Wilson to come before the rules committee and tell his story publicly.”
Rep. Birmingham left a May 6 closed door meeting of the Joint Rules Committee an hour after it had begun in protest because he objected to the Garrett report not being discussed in a public hearing so that Wilson or anyone else could speak about it.
By a vote of 118 to 100, the House substituted for an adverse committee report a bill to reduce from 70 to 65 the age of male beneficiaries under the old-age pension fund, the Springfield Republican reported (March 5, 1931, p. 1, 12).
Rep. Birmingham led the fight for passage of the bill, which was based on a recommendation made by Gov. Joseph B. Ely in his inaugural address. Birmingham argued that it would wipe out the poorhouse in the state and reduce the cost of old-age assistance.
Birmingham said that when a man loses job at the age of 65, he can’t get another job.
“I do not want it said that this prosperous state refused to listen to the appeal of these workers who have given their lives to building up prosperity and have passed the age of working,” Birmingham said.
Rep. Cahill of Braintree led the opposition to the bill. He argued that lowering the age would have an uncertain cost impact, particularly when the legislature was still trying to figure out how to raise the revenue for old-age pension with the age set at 70.
Rep. Daniel J. Coakley of Chicopee urged the House not to amend the bill but to give the law a year’s trial at 70 years. If it was successful, he pledged to vote to lower the age to 65.
The previous year, Birmingham had offered an amendment to an old-age pension bill that lowered the age to 65 years for men and 60 years for women. The House approved Birmingham’s amendment and passed the amended old-age pension bill by a vote of 202 to 27. Apparently, that bill failed in the Senate.
The Legislative Committee on Constitutional Law held a hearing on a bill introduced by Rep. Birmingham that would memorialize Congress in favor of legislation that would assure states of their authority over intrastate utility business, reported the Springfield Republican (Feb. 5, 1931, p. 15).
Wallace H. Walker, secretary of the Public Franchise League, spoke in favor of Birmingham’s bill. He said that passage of the bill would “prevent local utilities from jumping into federal courts before they had taken advantage of their rights of appeal to state courts.”
Walker said that if the bill would aid in passage of federal legislation to make utilities companies take advantage of the rights in state courts.
The Massachusetts Gas and Electric Association opposed the bill, arguing that even if the federal legislation were enacted, it would not prevent state utilities from asking federal courts to review their cases and that the right of appeal to state courts is very limited.
During his gubernatorial nomination acceptance speech at the state Democratic convention, Joseph Ely supported a proposal by Rep. Birmingham that municipalities be allowed to buy power distribution companies in their area.
“As a check upon the unwise and unjustifiable methods in the operation of public utilities I favor legislation making it easier for municipalities to acquire ownership of the distributing companies in their various localities, substantially in accord with the minority report made to the legislature by Representative Leo M. Birmingham,” Ely said (Springfield Republican, Sept. 28, 1930, pp. 1, 2).
Ely said that high power rates were making Massachusetts products less competitive with products made in other parts of the country where power rates are lower.
“The question of light and power rates is important, because of its close relation to prosperity and unemployment. The products of our factories cannot be sold in competition with those produced in other sections of the country if the cost is too high,” he warned.
“The operation of this utility has been conducted under franchise privileges from the state, in return for which it is the duty of the government to see that its rates are based upon the theory of reasonable and prudent investment. It has been publicly admitted that even a difference of a quarter of a cent per kilowatt in power rates meant different between profit and loss in many industries,” Ely added.
The House of Representatives passed May 1 Rep. Birmingham’s bill for state supervision of gas and electric holding companies by a vote of 118 to 72, and sent the bill to the Senate for concurrence (Boston Herald, May 2, 1934, p. 11).
Birmingham pushed for passage of his bill during House floor debate, and Rep. Harry D. Brown of Billerica, Republican floor leader, led the opposition to the bill.
Under the bill, the power or regulation exercised over gas and electric companies by the state Department of Public Utilities would be extended to corporations, partnerships, trusts, or voluntary associations owning or controlling more than 5 percent of the capital stock of a gas or electric company.