Irish Native Plunges into Race for District Three Council

Gandhi. JFK. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And, of course, Father Dan Finn at St. Mark's on Dot Ave.

These are the men who've inspired Paul Brophy to run for city council this summer, challenging popular incumbent Maureen Feeney, who even Brophy says has done a "great job."

So why is this 38 year-old native of Dublin, Ireland making the leap into electoral politics?

"There's a lot I'm not happy about and I feel I can provide the leadership and build on the work being done," says Brophy, who works as a counselor at a city-run shelter on Long Island. "For a long time, I was an invisible part of the neighborhood. I think a lot of people can relate to that."

Many can also relate to the pressures of a spiraling housing crisis that triggered Brophy's shift from anonymous, work-a-day joe to impassioned community activist. Brophy's criss-crossed the neighborhood as a renter since emigrating in 1983, moving from Washington Street to Neponset to his present quarters in St. Mark's parish, where he's lived for the past several years. It was at St. Mark's that Brophy also found a way to express his frustrations, under the tutelage of Finn. Brophy joined the parish council three years ago, and a short time later, became a leader within the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO). Brophy says he felt empowered by GBIO's mission of tackling the affordable housing crunch.

"I was very inspired and encouraged by the work of Father Finn, but also saw that a lot of people were falling throught the cracks for one reason or another," he says.

Through GBIO, Brophy took a 10 day, crash-course in leadership and community organizing- and became a member of the group's strategy team. In the spring, he was one of a circle of GBIOers who grilled a group of elected officials, inclusing Speaker Tom Finneran- on their commitment to housing and education funding.

Brophy says his decision to run against Feeney was made independently of GBIO. His agenda, however, is closely aligned with the mission of the group: pressing for more money for affordable housing and new textbooks in the Boston schools. Brophy says he also wants to see a greater police presence in the neighborhood, citing concerns about rising property crime and quality of life problems in his area.

Mostly, though, Brophy says he wants to inject a fresh sense of pride in a neighborhood that he says often takes a backseat to smaller parts of the city, especially South Boston.

"One of my great frustrations is that Dorchester is the oldest and biggest neighborhood of Boston and yet it has this inferiority complex," says Brophy. "I see Dorchester's history and I think it can go back to where it was.

"Let's put the chest back in Dorchester," Brophy says.

Brophy says he's the man to do it, but he'll have an uphill climb to say the least. Still, he says he can stitch together a strong coalition of Irish and minority voters, heavy with newcomers who are being mobilized through a GBIO campaign aimed at registering immigrants.

"It was none more evident than the (nomination) signatures I've collected. A majority of them were immigrants," Brophy says.

"One message that I'm emphasizing is for people to vote, whether it's for me or not. In order for Dorchester to become the powerhouse it once was, everyone has to vote. That's the only reason were not powerful."

And, even though he's facing a crowded field and a popular incumbent, Brophy points to a grassroots, underdog dynamic that he thinks will propel him to a November face-off with Feeney.

"I don't play favorites," he says. "I've always been an admirer and a supporter of the underdog. When an underdog gives 100% and fights the good fight and wins, there's a person to keep your eye on."

(The city council preliminary election will be held on Tuesday, September 25. The last day to register to vote is September 5. If you have any questions call the Boston Election Commission at 617-635-4635.)