In the Fourth, Yancey Survives Ego Check

By 
Jim O'Sullivan
Nov. 5, 2003

A victorious Charles Yancey: Left, celebrates his election night win with fellow councillor Chuck Turner at the Unity Sports and Cultural Center.A victorious Charles Yancey: Left, celebrates his election night win with fellow councillor Chuck Turner at the Unity Sports and Cultural Center.

Against one wall of the Unity Sports and Cultural Club in Codman Square, a radio sat on a table beneath one naked light bulb and a campaign sign. With enameled wood sides, inlaid speakers, and old-school dials, it looked like an anachronism from a faded era.

But spinning on the business end of the unit was a compact disc, the same medium listened to by music fans of all ages, pumping victory music for Charles Yancey, District Four city councillor in the City of Boston.

Yancey's Tuesday night victory over challenger Ego Ezedi - a younger, fresher model with bold promises of change and a powerful coalition behind him - saw the old guard of the Dorchester-Mattapan district that Yancey has represented for 10-going-on-11 terms deliver him a 689-vote margin, 55 to 45 percent, in the area's most visible Council race ever.

In Dorchester's District Three, unopposed Councillor Maureen Feeney enjoyed 97 percent of the vote, returning her to office for a sixth term.

While Ezedi, a 30-year-old Baptist minister who left his post in Congressman Michael Capuano's Boston office to run for City Council, promised "I'm not going anywhere," and hinted at another campaign in two years, Yancey and his supporters reveled in a resounding win that they said awakened the district's electoral potential &endash; and rejected the interference of political heavies from outside the community who attempted to influence its vote.

"Make no mistake about it," Yancey, 54, said. "People thought that I was under attack and thought the community was under attack, and they responded."

The campaign represented Yancey's sternest trial yet, and turned out 5,689 voters, a lofty turnout for a year with no mayoral election. In 2001, with Mayor Thomas M. Menino tested by then-Councillor-at-Large Peggy Davis-Mullen, Yancey piled up a 5,228 edge over Vicky Middleton, with 7,118 ballots cast in District Four.

After delivering his own tearful concession speech to a cheering crowd at the Zodiac Lounge on Blue Hill Avenue, Ezedi dropped in on Yancey's celebration, standing stoically off to the side with a crew of supporters before joining the victor's party onstage.

"I come in the spirit of unity," said Ezedi, who would not specify future plans, though supporters said he will weigh options that include another run for the seat in two years.

"I only want to see one thing, and that is for my community to be empowered, and strengthened," he said. "What this ultimately means is that those in City Hall, those at the state level, and those at the federal level need to recognize this area."

While strengthened by the Election Day showing at the polls in raw weather with temperatures in the 40s, the district was also shaken during the campaign's summer and autumn months, when racial overtones grabbed headlines and ratcheted up the rhetoric to bitter personal levels. Ezedi garnered support from City Council President Michael Flaherty, councillors Maureen Feeney and Rob Consalvo, unspoken support from Menino, as well as key area clergy like Pastor John Borders of Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan (where Ezedi is a minister) and Minister Don Muhammad of Muhammad's Mosque in Grove Hall. Behind Yancey rallied councillors Chuck Turner, Felix Arroyo, and Maura Hennigan, state Senator Dianne Wilkerson and state Rep. Gloria Fox, along with prominent religious leaders like Reverend Bruce Wall.

Wilkerson acknowledged that the campaign, which started in earnest when Ezedi officially announced his candidacy in April, had left the community "bruised."

The Yancey camp's efforts to paint Ezedi's bid as an encroachment on local autonomy resounded Tuesday night, as the Hooper Street resident's backers trumpeted his support.

"He won because the people trust him," said Brother Robert Kinney, a community activist and substance abuse counselor, at Yancey's post-election event. "I just think it's always a good thing when the community challenges itself to move to another level of decision-making."

"I was always believing that we were going to be here at a victory party, because we always figure it out," Wilkerson said. "We know what's good for us."

"We beat all the politicians from West Roxbury to South Boston to East Boston to Mattapan and Dorchester," Clarence Cooper, Yancey's committee chair and president of the Caribbean Political Action Committee, told the cheering crowd on Dunbar Ave.

"We're blessed with a constituency that is very intelligent, a constituency that did not fall for all the false promises, the manipulations, all the lies that have been told," said Turner, who, unopposed in his Roxbury and South End race, pooled resources with Yancey and Arroyo. "This wasn't just a race about focusing on District Four. It was really a race that focused on the question about unity in our community."

Ezedi, addressing his supporters at the Zodiac Lounge after campaign workers had stopped posting numbers on the wall behind him, said his rattling of Yancey signaled a new era of activism in District Four.

"What we said is that we're not going to be taken for granted," Ezedi said, after listening to a supporter sing a gospel hymn and his wife, on their anniversary, praise his effort. "I want you to know something else, too &endash; that I'm not going anywhere."

"This started out as a race for the community and still today it stands as such: a race for the community," Ezedi said. "If something is not broken, then I don't think you need to fix it. In two years, if it's still broken, we're going to fix it."

While the sides may have differed on the outcome, both professed to believe that the district had evolved politically. Wilkerson said Arroyo's strong performance in the district &endash; he rang up first-place finishes in Wards 14, 15, 17, and 18 in the at-large contest &endash; stemmed in part from "bullet-voting," casting only one vote out of a possible four, a practice she said was new there.

"This is the beginning of a more mature community. And, you know, we have to go through this as a community," Yancey said, then calling for the start of "a healing process."

Yancey then invited Ezedi to join him at the podium. As the packed house watched the two combatants stand shoulder-to-shoulder, Ezedi turned to Yancey and said, "Charles, I want you to know that I respect you; I always have. But … I also want you to know that I'm not going anywhere."

The crowd clapped, both men smiled, and the victorious incumbent reached over and smoothed onto the younger man's lapel a Yancey campaign sticker.