Race and politics mingle in Hyde Park
White pols rally around candidate as Readville seeks to retain power
Bill and Norma St. Martin were some of the first to arrive to 753 South, the new Roslindale Square restaurant where District 5 candidate Maria Esdale Farrell would be hosting her meet-and-greet last Sunday afternoon. The couple, who reside in Hyde Park, settled in the back outdoor patio of the restaurant while others hung “Maria for Boston” campaign signs.
The two were undecided on who they will cast their vote for Nov. 5. They said they have been concerned with how the neighborhood has lost the “small-town charm” they had grown up with. They had longed for Hyde Park to be a vibrant neighborhood, such as West Roxbury, where people could park their car, go out to eat and shop.
The couple listened attentively as Farrell addressed the full room of potential voters and said she was determined to be a voice for all. She promised to keep education as a top priority and spoke about the importance of helping families stay in the district.
“I want to make sure families stay vested in our communities,” she said.
Farrell finished in the Sept. 24 preliminary election with 1,813 votes — far ahead of six other District 5 candidates, but 422 votes behind Ricardo Arroyo, who finished with 2,235. While Arroyo polled well throughout the district and won precincts in the predominantly white and Latino Roslindale portion of the district as well as in Mattapan and the predominantly black precincts in the north of Hyde Park, most of Farrell’s votes were concentrated in the southern portion of the district, where white voters have traditionally dominated.
Because black, Latino and white progressive voters typically skip preliminaries and turn out in higher numbers in the general elections, Arroyo could see significant growth in his numbers. The predominantly white and traditionally conservative precincts that supported Farrell won’t likely give her as much of a surge.
Further boosting Arroyo’s prospects in the final are endorsements he picked up from former rivals Jean Claude Sanon, Cecily Graham, Justin Murad, Alkia Powell and Yves Mary Jean. In addition, endorsements have come from elected officials including U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, and state Reps. Russell Holmes and Nika Elugardo.
Farrell lists no political endorsements on her web page, and notes that she still works in City Hall.
“I didn’t want to put any of my colleagues in an uncomfortable position of feeling an obligation or anything,” she told the Banner. “I don’t want it to affect us or our work environment. So I respectfully let it be known I was running.”
But that doesn’t necessarily mean she has no political support. She’s received donations from members of the old-school Hyde Park political establishment: her current boss, City Councilor Timothy McCarthy; Former District 5 Councilor Rob Consalvo; Suffolk County Register of Deeds and Hyde Park resident Stephen Murphy; and state Rep. Angelo Scaccia. Those candidates and their family members have bolstered Farrell’s fundraising. In the last four weeks, Farrell raised $39,217 — more than all the funds she raised in the first seven months of her campaign.
On the eve of the Sept. 24 preliminary election, Farrell posed for a photograph with the four of them in a Facebook post under the heading “Remember — GET OUT AND VOTE TOMORROW!!!”
The photograph, with its roster of white Hyde Park political luminaries past and present, reads like a call to arms for a district that has long lost its white majority.
On the following evening, as Farrell crossed the finish line more than 400 votes behind Arroyo, another rallying cry rang out at her campaign party as McCarthy took the mic.
“We ran against very qualified people,” he said. “We ran against women. We ran against minorities. We ran against people who have a name that’s been out there 40 years, that was endorsed by all the nonsense people who don’t have the boots on the ground like we do.”
The new majority
As state Rep. Russell Holmes points out, in Hyde Park, the black, Haitian and Latino people Farrell ran against, and whom McCarthy referenced, are no longer minorities. Holmes says white politicians in Hyde Park may be overreacting to the perception that they’re losing electoral power.
“They’re not accustomed to being on the other side of a loss,” Holmes said. “This is a neighborhood that Readville has held for 40 years. They’re accustomed to winning. This is going to be a surprise to them.”
Farrell, who lives in a more racially heterogeneous part of Hyde Park off of River Street, told the Banner she has little regard for racial distinctions.
“I see people for people,” she said. “I understand that not everybody can do that or does that. So I have to accept that people are judging me that way.”
She noted that many of her children’s friends are people of color.
“We have so many nationalities and cultures that are in my life every day with my kids and their friends and their girlfriends, their boyfriends and the people they connect with,” she said.
Farrell’s lived experience may be more representative of the contemporary Hyde Park. But in the political sphere, her candidacy is largely emblematic of the neighborhood’s racially-divisive history.
Like most Boston neighborhoods, Hyde Park has transformed over the last 30 years, turning from a predominantly Italian American and Irish American enclave into a largely Caribbean neighborhood, where Haitians, West Indians, blacks and Latinos constitute the majority of the population.
Until now, the increased diversity of the neighborhood has not been reflected in its elected representation. Although people of color have run for City Council and legislative seats representing Hyde Park, the neighborhood’s political leadership has, since the creation of the District 5 council seat in 1983, come from the overwhelmingly white Readville and Fairmount sections of the neighborhood.
Even as Hyde Park became more diverse, a succession of white city councilors came out of its Readville and Fairmount enclaves — including the late Thomas Menino, Daniel Conley, Consalvo, McCarthy and Scaccia, who was first elected in 1973.
On Sunday, as the St. Martins walked out of 753 South nearly two hours after the meet and greet began, they left convinced of who they would cast their vote for.
“I liked her attitude and her demeanor,” said Norma St. Martin, who felt as though Farrell was “real” with her supporters. “She spoke to everyone individually in that room.”
As supporters of incumbent Councilor Tim McCarthy, they were attracted to Farrell for what they said was a “go-getter” character and her experience as a mother and working in McCarthy’s office. They said they both would be voting for Farrell in two weeks.
Alexa Gagosz is a staff writer for The Scope, a project of Northeastern University’s School of Journalism.