Dorchester's Own "T" Party May Have Produced Desired Result

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 10, 2000 edition of the Dorchester Reporter.

It was not nearly as belligerent as the original Boston "T" party, but last week's transportation forum at the Murphy School proved that Dorchester's long-suffering Red Line users are primed for a little revolution of their own. And, if nothing else, the well attended three-hour meeting helped clear up one thing: If the sorely-needed rehab project gets shelved once again, it could be a long winter for the State Troopers on the third floor of the State House.

That may well explain why Governor Paul Cellucci's administration finally sent a signal this week that he will indeed support the bond bill that will subsidize the long-awaited Red Line station repairs.

John Carlyle, a spokesman for Governor Cellucci, told the Reporter on Tuesday that the Governor does plan to support the bond bill, including the $65 million provision for the Dorchester stations.

"The administration supports that project and we expect the Governor to sign the bond bill, with that segment in it," Carlyle said.

Carlyle's statement, while certainly not a ringing endorsement, is nonetheless a significant progression from earlier administration positions. And that is good news for Red Line advocates, who at the beginning of the week were expressing serious concerns about Cellucci's commitment.

And with good reason.

At this stage, only the governor and the Senate President can realistically derail the bond bill which the House of Representatives okayed way back in November.

Sen. Tom Birmingham can and probably will make it difficult to get the money through his tightly controlled chamber. The Senate President knows full well that the Red Line is important to his main Beacon Hill rival, Speaker Tom Finneran. That may be why the bond bill, which could have been taken up before Christmas, is just now coming before a Senate conference committee.

Even so, observers say that only a political pratfall of Bulworthian proportions can stop the Dorchester delegation from hammering out a deal. It may come at a significant toll in terms of political capital, but look for the Senate to sign off on Dorchester's bill.

"It's our responsibility in the Senate to get this to the Governor's desk," says Sen. Stephen Lynch, speaking on behalf of "teammates" Sen. Brian Joyce and Sen. Dianne Wilkerson. "There are no issues more urgent than this one in my district."

The MBTA, meanwhile, has turned out to be the neighborhood's key ally, thanks to the patient advocacy of Bob Prince, the blue collar G.M. who likes to wear workboots with his pin-striped suits. Prince clearly isn't the problem- or the solution. Ultimately, as the local legislators agreed last week, the final call will probably be made by three or four Cellucci aides, none of whom saw the growing army of Red Liners in action last week.

Whether Paul Cellucci has the political will- or incentive- to slam this one home remians - quite literally- the $65 million question.

As of late last week, there were some bad omens about what the answer might be. Even as DANA's volunteers prepped for the Murphy forum Thursday afternoon, Cellucci was trying to explain how a $1.4 billion Big Dig overrun jives with his proposed tax cut. And, while the governor's absence was no great shock, organizers were stunned that the corner office didn't at least send out an intern to take notes.

As of Tuesday, T advocates were planning to bring the issue to Cellucci's front door with a rally at the State House.

"The forum showed the unity in this neighborhood," says DANA president Mark Juaire.

"We think we have the ability now to bring people up there."

Despite the encouraging words from Cellucci's office, veteran community activists have been burned before on the Red Line issue. If the $65 million needed to fix the four stops somehow spills-yet again- from the Beacon Hill pipeline, the responsible parties- whether it be Birmingham or Cellucci- can expect to hear a crescendo of protest from Dorchester folks.

One veteran activist, DANA's John Krall, even hinted at last week's forum that a civil rights suit may not be out of the question. Just as environmental activists in Roxbury have sued over air pollution and Quincy officials sued the state over the fouling of their beaches- the people of Dorchester may have grounds for a case based on the long-term neglect of the Red Line stations.

Whether they seek a political or legal solution, the Red Liners have one singular advantage in the struggle: the condition of the stations themselves. Some are in such bad shape that Rep. Martin Walsh even suggested this week that the city's Inspectional Services Division should be summoned in to cite or even shut down the dilapidated stations. Walsh and Sen. Steve Lynch- both with strong ties to laborers who have done quick-fix jobs at the station- are alarmed with the reports they have heard about the platform structure at Savin Hill.

Savin Hill in particular, with its crumbling concrete and two-by-four underpinnings, is arguably the most damning example of state-sponsored discrimination anywhere. When contrasted with the sparkling mosaic tiles and recently renovated platforms of South Boston, Downtown, Cambridge, and Somerville, can there be any doubt that Dorchester's stations have been deliberately abandoned by the Weld-Cellucci administrations?

Court is the last place most Red Liners want to end up with this fight- even if they can win it. The current MBTA brass has clearly singled out the Dorchester leg as its most glaring infrastructure problem. Like all citizens, Dorchester residents fully expect their government to heed the pleas of their own employees and respond in a timely fashion to what amounts to a profound public safety issue.

Unfortunately, recent history proves that Dorchester's cause is eminently disposable. And, to this point , there has been no political penalty for the neglect. Cellucci actually beat his Democratic opponent in the heartland of Red Line country- carrying key precincts in Wards 13 and 16 in November 1998, just as mentor Bill Weld had in 1994.

Still, if the rhetoric coming from the Red Liners is accurate, Cellucci and his transportation gurus may have met their match in the current incarnation of DANA. Emboldened by their Thursday night turnout, well networked through e-mail, and poised to storm the halls of the State House any day, the Red Liners think they can triumph this time around.

Like everything else worth getting, we'll have to wait and see. At least for one more week.