Mayoral sign war flares in Fields Corner

Battleground: Fields Corner: Photo by Pete StidmanBattleground: Fields Corner: Photo by Pete StidmanJust because Mayor Thomas Menino isn’t officially running for reelection yet doesn’t mean his competitor’s signs are safe. The first skirmish in this election’s “sign wars” has already taken place in Fields Corner.

Starting on Tuesday, April 7, according to business owners, the mayor’s Vietnamese Liaison Diep “Diane” Hyunh and possibly others have gone up and down Dorchester Avenue plastering “For Mayor Menino” signs in the windows of Vietnamese-owned shops. The efforts were likely triggered by Yoon’s first fleet of signs in Fields Corner, which were deployed the Saturday before. It would be a normal sign of election season, save for the fact that Menino has yet to announce his candidacy.

“I’ve counted now five different stores that the [Yoon] signs were taken out of and Menino signs went up,” said Marie Marshall, a Gibson Street resident and Yoon volunteer. “All the sudden the Menino signs are everywhere in the past few days.”

Marshall said she went back to many of those shops and replaced the Yoon signs.
In one instance, jewelry shop-owner Kim Thanh, said Hyunh told him the Menino sign was “for the city,” and he wasn’t aware that he was allowed a choice in the matter.

“A couple of years ago I go work for Menino,” said Thanh. “This year I don’t know.”
Thanh said it’s possible he might vote for Yoon, who lives on nearby Waldeck Street, but the community is still discussing who to support. Thanh said he’d like to see how that shakes out before he decides.

A call to the mayor’s press office for comment produced some confusion, as there is no official campaign spokesperson for Menino’s campaign as of yet, and city employees are not allowed to work on campaigns on the clock. Incumbents generally have two press offices, one for their public office and one for their campaign.

“We don’t technically have a campaign yet,” said the mayor’s spokesman Christopher Loh.
Behind many of the proliferating Menino signs the support for the 15-year incumbent is less monolithic than it might appear. In the Vietnamese-American business community, shop-owners are unlikely to do anything they think might go against the grain of a seated mayor. Just about anyone who comes in can put a sign in the window without argument, as have Yoon and City Council candidates Marty Hogan and Doug Bennett.

That isn’t to say Menino doesn’t have his own vein of support here. Case in point Jennifer Nguyen, owner of Banh Mi Ba Le bakery next door to Thanh’s shop, also with a Menino sign that appeared that Tuesday.

“Menino. We’ve been working with him a couple years, so we’ll keep that,” said Nguyen.
There are many like her, particularly among those who are actively developing new buildings along the Avenue—requiring a working relationship with the city.

But behind yet another Menino sign at P & J Bait Shop is a supporter of mayoral candidate and Councillor at-Large Michael Flaherty.

Owner Tony Tran is well known to anglers all over Boston for his tiny enclave at P& J, packed full of rods, reels, tackle and refrigerators. The shop is a stopping-off point on the way to the Dorchester coast or beyond, where one can buy live sea worms and other bait (the first sea worms may be in next week, said Tran, as long as the warming trend holds).

Tran’s main complaints are high property taxes and public housing giveaways. He’s also a proponent of bringing a higher level of economic development to the city. He considers himself Republican, and voted for presidential candidate John McCain in 2008.

“Menino has been in office four times already, we need to have some change,” he said. “If I do vote, I will vote for Michael Flaherty.”

The three-way split is pervasive in Dorchester’s Vietnamese-American community, although some say only Yoon and Flaherty have active volunteers so far, and no one seems ready to make a call as to which way the majority will vote. Yoon seems to have allies among the younger more progressive set, with Flaherty and Menino splitting the more more conservative elders and businesspeople. Monthly meetings are held to help people decide which candidate to support.

The candidacy of Fields Corner accountant Hiep Nguyen for City Council at-Large could help pull out the vote here as well, putting Dorchester’s Vietnamese-Americans on the citywide political map in a way that they haven’t been before.

Many of those sitting on the fence were not willing to be quoted for this article because they are being courted by two or all three campaigns, including some of the stalwarts of this burgeoning Vietnamese political community. But former Viet-AID director and developer Hiep Chu, who is actively supporting Sam Yoon, said that outside of a group of politically savvy leaders, the community is still on a learning curve regarding Boston politics.

“Everyday working people may not have good political knowledge,” said Chu. “That it’s okay not to support the mayor—that knowledge is not well known. If you do not support the mayor, the mayor cannot punish you in any way. It doesn’t mean that at all but many of the Vietnamese shop owners don’t have that knowledge. When I go out into the community I have to do some education.”