The campaign for City Council District 3 heated up Sunday as the seven candidates for the seat mobilized their troops and distributed handshakes and campaign literature during the annual Dorchester Day Parade.
Sandwiched between groups ranging from the Dynasty International Caribbean Carnival dancers, bagpipe bands, church and civic associations, the candidates took advantage of one of Dorchester’s most important events.
“During St. Patrick’s Day, there’s a lot of speculation about who’s running,” said state Rep. Marty Walsh, a lifelong Dorchester resident. “This is the unofficial start of the campaign season.”
The District 3 candidates weren’t the only ones greeting potential voters. U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Senate candidate Setti Warren were also pressing the flesh at state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry’s barbeque at the start of the parade.
Dorchester is Boston’s largest neighborhood. Of the estimated 134,496 residents, 43 percent are black, 22 percent are white, 16 percent are Latino and 8 percent are Asian. The heterogeneity of the neighborhood can make campaigning there challenging.
“It’s splintered,” says candidate Frank Baker, a former shop steward in the city’s Printing Department. “There are a lot of neighborhoods where people feel like they’re not being paid attention to.”
District 3 includes some of the city’s highest-turnout and most conservative-voting neighborhoods, like Cedar Grove, Neponset and Savin Hill. It also includes the neighborhoods where the majority of Dorchester’s white population lives: Cedar Grove, Neponset and Savin Hill.
The white conservative enclaves form the spine of the district, which reaches from Columbia Road in the north, to the Milton line in the south. The white neighborhoods for the most part are sandwiched between Dorchester Avenue and the waterfront while blacks, Latinos and Asians live west of the thoroughfare.
It’s a diverse neighborhood that suffers no lack of civic pride.
“The district race is really about being a son or daughter of the district,” says state Rep. Carlos Henriquez, a lifelong resident of the Dudley Street neighborhood who now represents Dorchester’s 5th Suffolk District. “You can overcome it. But you have to demonstrate to residents that you understand their needs.”
Overcoming Dot pride may be particularly challenging for those not born in the neighborhood, especially in a race where three Irish-American candidates are making an issue of their deep Dorchester roots.
“My kids are fourth generation Dorchester residents,” notes candidate John O’Toole, a 15-year president of the Cedar Grove Civic Association who has the added advantage of having presided over the Old-Time Political Rally in Adam’s Corner, a must-attend election eve event.
His children played in Dorchester’s Pop Warner league and he served as a co-chair of Dorchester’s Irish Heritage Festival.
But Dorchester isn’t all shamrocks and OFD bumper stickers (if you have to ask, you’re not from here).
In addition to blacks, Latinos, Cape Verdeans and Vietnamese, District 3 has a growing community of progressive whites, gays and yuppie bargain-hunters attracted by the neighborhood’s abundance of large Victorians.
“The community has become a lot more diverse,” says Mariama White-Hammond, a Savin Hill resident who is supporting candidate Stephanie Everett. “A lot of us are facing the same challenges. We have to look past race and look at what’s best for the community.”
While Everett will have to knock on doors in Dorchester’s predominantly white neighborhoods, the white candidates will have to do the same in sections that are predominantly black.
“It will be interesting,” says Henriquez. “You’re not going to be able to change your message in each neighborhood. You’ll have to boil your message down to something simple. You’ll have to have a message that resonates everywhere.”
Baker’s message: “We’re all the same,” says the lifelong Dorchester resident. “People are all looking for the same thing — jobs, a good education for their kids.”
Everett, who grew up in the Mattapan portion of the district, sounds a similar note.
“It’s time for Dorchester’s neighborhoods to get to know each other,” she says.
Getting that message out while vying with six other candidates will be a difficult task.
“It’s going to take a lot of shoe leather,” says O’Toole. “It’s a big district with a lot of diverse neighborhoods.”
Also in the race is former at-large candidate Doug Bennett, a former Nantucket selectman, who in the 2009 election season claimed to have knocked on an improbable 100,000 doors in Boston, and Marty Hogan, a South Boston native who overcame his carpet bagger status to serve as president of the Dorchester Day Parade Committee last year.
Then there’s real estate broker Craig Galvin, a former ceremonial mayor of Dorchester who, in 2007, raised more than $30,000 for the parade.
“I’m passionate about Dorchester,” he says. “I’ve lived 41 years of my life in this community.”
Because of Boston’s history of racial segregation, few candidates of color can claim the OFD pedigree. But Everett, an aide to state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Marydith Tuitt, an aide to state Rep. Gloria Fox, each bring a depth of political experience.
“All of us bring something to the table,” Tuit says. “All of us have a political background and knowledge.”
So far, Tuitt estimates she’s knocked on 200 doors in Harbor Point, Popes Hill, Codman Hill and Neponset.
“It’s different neighborhoods and different cultures,” Tuitt says. “That’s what I love about Dorchester. It’s so diverse.”
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