Yesterday’s First Suffolk senate District election almost certainly spells the end for South Boston’s political primacy. In that election, Dorchester State representative Linda Dorcena-Forry defeated South Boston state Rep Nick Collins.
The vote was certainly close. Dorcena-Forry won 10,214 votes; Collins received 9,836. That’s a margin of 378 votes out of 20,000 cast. A third candidate — business-gal Maureen Dahill, also from South Boston; more on that later — drew about 1500 additional votes.
^^ Maureen Dahill : did she take Southie votes away from Collins or female votes away from Dorcena-Forry ? Whichever, her presence in the race divided the Southie vote and the result is…what it is.
The big news, of course, is that Dorcena-Forry is of Haitian ancestry. A woman of color, not from Southie; not even close, will now represent South Boston in the Massachusetts state Senate.
Never mind that Dorcena-Forry is married to Bill Forry, son of Ed Forry, the voice of Dorchester’s venerable local newspaper. She is still a woman of color, a person whose 30 years ago — even 15 years ago — could never have managed even a second place finish, much less victory, in a race to choose South Boston’s senator.
Not all of that is due to racial identity politics. Much has to do with the decreasing size of South Boston’s population relative to its abutting neighborhoods and to huge population change in those abutting communities. Thirty years ago, the Dorchester Wards within the First Suffolk District — most of 13, sone of 15, all of 16 and 17 — were strongly Irish American throughout, as is “Southie.” Today those Dorchester wards host many Asians, Cape Verdeans, and Black people of both American and Caribbean ancestries. Thirty plus years ago Dorchester sent Gerry Morrissey, Brian Donnelly, John Finnegan, Jim Brett, and Paul White to the legislature; Paul Murphy to the State Senate; Jim Byrne to the City Council (and later, Maureen Feeney); and a whole host of McDonough’s to a variety of lesser offices, not to mention Leahys, Mullens, Kellys, O’Shea’s, a Lynch, and more who ran and lost. Today only State Rep. Marty Walsh and City Councillor Frank Baker remain.
Frank Baker >>> .
Still, though Dorchester names have changed, its huge size as a neighborhood — more than 100,000 people — has assured that Dorchester continues to matter a lot, maybe even to matter more than ever.
Not so South Boston. First, at 25,000 to 27,000 people it’s smaller than either a state Rep or City Council district. Second, the communities abutting it, other than Dorchester, are radically different not only in population but in income and outlook. To Southie’s west, across Fort Point channel, lies the “new Boston” of high tech workers, trendy boutiques, fancy nightclubs, $ 100-a-plate restaurants, and trade show living. North of the piers that guard Southie’s topside lies an even trendier, splashier area, the Seaport District. These parts of the “new Boston’ could not possibly be more different from the old “Southie” of inly-working blue collar, union workers, the culture of men-only taverns, Park League sports, and — most of all — city workers, MBTA workers, and every other sort of government employee, all of them Southie-born and Southie-loyal.
Thirty years ago the inly work of Southie people advantaged South Boston. Successful Southie people did not usually move out to the suburbs. They moved east, from “D street” to G Street to M, N, and P Streets,” all within Southie itself.
Southie” had its own merchant and political aristocracy, and why not ? A “Southie” kid could run for State Rep, then move up to the State Senate — in a District that 30 years ago included only South Boston and three smallish and politically powerless abutting wards — and then, maybe, to Congress.
It worked for
John McCormack ^^^, who became House Speaker; for Louise Day Hicks after him; it also worked for
^^^ Joe Moakley after her; and for Stephen Lynch after Moakley. Or one could become Attorney General : Eddie McCormack. Or one could go to the state senate and stay there becoming powerful. That strategy worked for John E. Powers, then for Bill Bulger, and for Jack Hart, whose resignation to join a downtown law firm — significant, that ! –occasioned yesterday’s election.
Or a kid could become a city councillor, as did John E Kerrigan, and much more recently, the “neighborhood schools” spokmesman,
Jimmy Kelly >>
who represented Southie for 20 years, and was then followed by Bill Lineahn (of whom more later). Or a Southie councillor could become Mayor, as did
Ray Flynn ^^^; or the ambitious Southie kid might rise to District Court clerk, as did two Flahertys, Mike and Jim. Or a Judge — too many to name, but especially including the father of neighborhood schools leader, City Councillor, and Congresswoman Louise Day Hicks.
Or one might organize, dominate, and admit folks or deny participation in the South Boston St Patrick’s day Parade, like “Wacko” Hurley
or become a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church : Richard Cushing !
“Southie” was indeed THAT important a place. It would be difficult to think of any other community in Massachusetts, of less than 30,000 people, with such a record of political advancement. Certainly there has been no other in the past 100 years.
Yet the power of “Southie’ has been on the decline for at least two decades. A redistricting of the state senate in the late 1970s linked “Southie” to downtown, Beacon Hill, and Back Bay; a later redistricting took out Back Bay but added Ward 15 of Dorchester, even as the “Dorchester Senate District”‘ moved south into Norfolk County. Then came the latest redistricting, in which the map makers simply gave up trying to accommodate two Irish-identified Boston Districts, one based in Southie and one in Dorchester.
Meanwhile, the Southie-based City Council District, which lumped the “new Boston’ South End neighborhood in with South Boston, was becoming ever less easy for the South Boston incumbent councillor to win. First drawn, in 1981, the district was Southie-easy: for the South End of that decade was still a neighborhood disorganized, with housing much neglected, and significantly inhabited by people of color not yet locked in to local politics; and also by rooming house denizens. Yet by 2010 all that had changed. The South End was (and is) trendy, well-heeled, and very aware of itself; and in 2011 a South End and Chinatown City Council candidate, Suzanne Lee, fell less than 100 votes short of unseating
^^^ Southie’s Bill Linehan. She plans to run again, in a 2nd District only slightly redrawn in Linehan’s favor, and seems the favorite.
Suzanne Lee :
South Boston unrepresented on the City Council ? Sure seems like it.
And now comes the First Suffolk senate election leaving “Southie’ wothout its State Senator — its host at the St Patrick’s Day breakfast !
And Southie too has been changing. Inly Southie has had to make room for young trendies, condo dwellers, trendy boutique and restaurants and the new era of Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed, and Instagram. No more Dot-So-cha Reunions; now dances with DJs playing house music. No more Irish taverns for men only; now gals photographing themselves looking at their iphone faces. There are even openly gay people living in Southie today !
That, and less politics. A kid growing up Southie today cannot simply aspire to the political ladder, to public employment as a power career, to life in the ward heels of the Boston Democratic party. A kid growing up Southie today probably wants more to write a book, like Kevin Weeks, Nick McDonald, and many more have profitably done, or act in a movie about “Southie” or at least have one’s bar filmed in one — thank you “Good Will Hunting” — a Southie that no longer exists — than to become a Congressman. After all, who wants to be the next
Stephen Lynch ^^^^, beaten in his attempt to become a US Senator by a guy from Malden ? F’chrissakes, Malden ? Malden. It’s almost enough to make a Southie guy move to f’ing Hollywood. Or open up a trendy bistro serving leafy tapas till 10 PM and a baseball-hatted DJ after that. No shit !
It really is a time for looking back to Southie’s heyday, as did Patrick J. Loftus, pictured below — he was once a ;political power in the neighborhood and city — and whose book “That old Gang of Mine” can serve quite well as a requiem for what once was.
Does anybody still sing “Wild Colonial Boy” in South Boston ? Or “I was born down on A Street, brought up on B Street, Southie is my home town” ? Nah. More likely they’re singing “Beam me up” and “I want you to take over control.”
As for politics, they have changed too. No longer is it a “contact sport” effort well rewarded with a cushy patronage job “at the city” or “on the T.” today it’s all twitter and texting, Facebook and crowd-funding, and it’s mostly Presidential, not at all local in any way that’ll get your windows broken, a lawn sign ripped down, your land-line phone — who has THOSE any more ? — cut or your car egged the night before E day. It isn’t one Park League baseball team against another. It isn’t about who can “deliver the votes” or stand at the polling place door and “pass the word.” Politics once absolutely mattered to a place like “Southie.” Today its’ just a convo with lip-kiss, high heeled “house girls” in a bistro with big sunshiny windows.
—- Deedee Freedberg / “The Sphere”