The District 3 final: 'I'm Frank, I'm going to be here for you'
Back in the early 1990s, a young Frank Baker lost three friends in the span of a year and a half. One friend was beaten to death in the street in an alcohol-related incident. Six months later, another friend committed suicide, which was also alcohol-related. Six months after that, one of his brothers fatally overdosed on heroin.
“That sent me in a spiral,” Baker said in a recent interview with the Reporter in his Savin Hill headquarters. “You know: young kid, you don’t know how to deal with your feelings, you don’t know how to deal with your emotions, you’re grieving. Most people throughout their lives, they’ll have maybe a death every ten years and it’ll be a heart attack or cancer or this or that. I had three very impactful deaths happen to me within a year and half period and I didn’t know how to handle it. And that sent me on a path of using and burying my emotions.”
Eventually, he was arrested and pleaded guilty to marijuana possession. Given probation, he found that his family and friends were there to help him. “I turned my life around,” Baker said.
“You sit and you start to talk about it,” he recalled. “You understand the disease and you understand people and what it takes to get healthy. So I went to the Little House and talked to a friend of mine who was running the programs up there and I started to volunteer with kids up there.”
He stayed for some seven years, working with teens who were 12 to 17. He coached soccer and ran basketball leagues. “If they have programs to go to and people know how to deal with them and talk to them, then you can keep them and hold onto them, and you know, I think I was one of those people,” he said.
“From that, it became getting more involved politically, and getting involved in campaigns, because you need to know how to navigate through the system, and it’s always good to have someone to call if there are issues,” said Baker, who volunteered on the campaigns of Congressman Stephen Lynch and state Rep. Marty Walsh, who has endorsed him in the District 3 race to succeed retiring City Councillor Maureen Feeney.
Baker worked for the city’s now-defunct printing department, serving as its shop steward for ten years.
The experience with programs at the Little House and elsewhere makes him approachable, he said, and will help him if he’s elected to the City Council. “I think it gives me a background that brings me down to a certain level that people will be able to connect to,” Baker said.
As for civic work, he said he has teamed up with the Friends of the Ryan Playground and served as vice president of the Columbia Savin Hill Civic Association. Opening up a local restaurant took him away from some of the neighborhood issues, he said, as did getting married and having twins. “My life was pretty much between the restaurant and my family for the last eight to nine years. Your accomplishments are your accomplishments and maybe that’s a road map, but I think people know me and they know my family, they know what we’re about,” he added.
Baker, the twelfth child of thirteen, grew up in St. Margaret’s Parish. “That’s where my parents are, that’s where I grew up, that’s where most of my friends were,” he said. And it was there that he met the future state Rep. Walsh.
“Marty’s been my lifelong friend,” Baker said. “We went to grammar school together. We’ve been in the same neighborhood. Little House, gym hockey, St. Margaret’s, dances, [Catholic Youth Organization] street hockey. We’ve been friends since we were kids.”
When asked about Walsh‘s endorsement, Baker said, “It’s my race, it’s John and me. I mean, it’s the candidate that’s going to win. It’s not the endorsements. People are making a big thing out of all these endorsements. But it’s the person that works the hardest that’s going to win. The person that makes the most contact. I’ve said this right from the beginning. You have to get in front of people and say, ‘Hi, I’m Frank, I’m going to be here for you.’ They need to know that they’re going to call me and I’m going to call back.”
Asked if there was anything he disagreed with Walsh about, Baker said, “Not that I can think of. Marty and I have a good relationship.”
That relationship with Walsh was key to the preliminary race. “To boil it down and simplify it, Marty probably in the beginning might not have wanted to back me ‘cause he probably didn’t think I had a shot,” Baker said. “But Marty’s my friend. So friendship trumped everything. And then I went out and did the work. It was me and my team that got us to where we were. Marty was helpful and Marty’s always good but it was me and the people that are in this office here, making phone calls and doing lit drops.”
The office is small, located on the corner of Savin Hill Avenue and Midland Street, and amid the campaign signs and stickers, an enormous bust of Franklin Delano Roosevelt sits in one of the corners. FDR once resided in Baker’s living room, picked up from an antique store that some of his brothers used to own.
“You can see, when we were hurting, he put our people to work. He used government money and he trained people,” Baker said. “I think we’re in a similar type of situation now that we need to start training our children with real life skills,” he said. “I mean, our kids are coming out and they’re working at fast-food restaurants, or just restaurants. I really do think we need to start getting tools back in kids’ hands and just give them skills. Not everybody’s going to go to college. And I feel passionately about that. I think if we start these kids earlier with trade schools, partnerships with the trade unions – all of their offices are in Dorchester – it could be the difference in a kid’s future.”
Baker listed off the type of schools he means: computer schools, automotive, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and carpentry.
“I think when we talk about school choice, we need real school choice because if a kid wants to be an electrician and he lives in East Boston, and we have a great electrical school over here, he’s going to make his way over here, or she’s going to make her way over here,” he said. “And the trades aren’t just for men anymore. There’s a lot of women in the trades. And if we start them earlier in conjunction with the labor unions, then they’ll maybe go to high school and come out of high school and have some time on their apprenticeship already. I just think it’s something we need to start doing.”
For more on each candidate's positions on issues in the neighborhood, please refer to the Reporter's questionnaire— which they filled out prior to the Sept. 27 preliminary election.