REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: Neighborhoods, numbers keys in District 3 finale

By 
Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Oct. 13, 2011

For all the campaign trail talk of a “united Dorchester,” the race for the District 3 seat on the City Council will come down to neighborhoods and numbers. Savin Hill will be matched up against Cedar Grove, with each side looking to get out the vote in its area and pull in support from nearby battlegrounds like Lower Mills, Fields Corner, and some of Meetinghouse Hill.

And while much of the focus is on the two candidates angling to grab the $87,500-a-year job, Frank Baker and John O’Toole are secondary characters in Dorchester’s drama.

It isn’t about departing City Councilor Maureen Feeney, who in January will likely gain a new title in either the public or private sector, and, some are hoping, use her volcanic temper in more limited fashion with former constituents and colleagues.

The race is centered instead on the power players who work within the concrete walls of City Hall and under the leaky roof of the State House: Mayor Thomas Menino, who is supporting O’Toole, and state Rep. Marty Walsh, who is behind Baker.

Take, for example, this ticker-tape tale of a pair of union endorsements: the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) 103 and Boston Firefighters Local 718.

According to the Baker camp, Frank Baker’s great-grandfather was among those who founded IBEW 103, and he has brothers who were involved as well.

John O’Toole’s father was a firefighter for three decades, retiring in 2000 as a captain. As the Reporter noted in a 2007 obituary, “Most of [his] career was spent fighting fires based out of the Engine 18 house at Peabody Square.”

But Local 718 endorsed Baker. IBEW 103 backed O’Toole.

Those results should not have surprised close watchers of the city’s closely knit political scene.

The leadership at IBEW 103 is strongly lashed to Menino, while the leadership of 718 was recently engaged in a lengthy and bitter contract dispute with the mayor that left everyone scarred. The head of the firefighters’ union, Richard Paris, is also the uncle of South Boston state Rep. Nick Collins, who has endorsed Baker. Meanwhile, Rep. Walsh holds down a second job as secretary-treasurer of the Boston Building Trades Council, an influential union in the region.

Some unions are staying out of the fight. The Greater Boston Labor Council, in a predictable act of skittishness, declined to endorse a candidate. Union support is not monolithic, as Martha Coakley can tell you. More union households supported Scott Brown, a Republican, over Coakley, a Democrat backed by union leaders, in the special U.S. Senate election in 2010.

Regardless, the roster of unions publicly backing O’Toole and Baker is telling of where the city’s political fault lines are drawn and foretells what the story lines could be after Nov. 8. With Menino campaign hands so closely tied to the O’Toole camp, watch for trend stories about the strength of the mayor’s political organization if Baker wins and Michael Flaherty, who challenged Menino in 2009, regains his City Council At-Large seat.

If Baker loses and O’Toole wins, then there will be questions about the influence of Rep. Walsh, who is frequently mentioned by insiders as a mayoral contender, particularly with South Boston’s Stephen Lynch appearing to settle into his Congressional perch.

Whatever the outcome next month, it will be a middle-aged union guy taking the oath of office in January. Of much more interest is the effect of that move on the people working across from him on City Hall’s fifth floor and up on Beacon Hill.

O’Toole camp calls Baker’s ‘United Dorchester’ mailer divisive

The O’Toole campaign cried foul this week over a mailer put out by their rival camp.

The mailer, sent out by the Frank Baker campaign and headlined “A United Dorchester is a Stronger Dorchester,” shows two blue maps of the neighborhood. The maps are nearly identical, except one has a white crack in the middle, under Fields Corner and above Pope’s Hill, and the other map has stitching where the crack was.

The latter map is surrounded by supportive quotes from residents of Neponset, Clam Point, Cedar Grove, Adams Corner, and St. Ann’s. The mailer also includes a quote from state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, who calls Baker a “unifying voice.” Rep. Forry, a Lower Mills resident, is married to Reporter managing editor Bill Forry.

But the mailer has drawn the ire of the O’Toole campaign. “It seems disingenuous to put forward a unifying message on a piece of literature that cuts Dorchester in half,” said Dan Cullinane, campaign manager for O’Toole. “It is wrong to apply division for political gain. To divide Dorchester like our opponent did in his last ad is wrong and beneath the people of Dorchester. John O’Toole is focused on keeping this race positive and sharing his proven record of service to Dorchester. To him, Dorchester has always been one neighborhood.”

The Baker campaign said the mailer is aimed at highlighting the message that “old rivalries should not divide Dorchester.” Said spokesman Chris Keohan: “This piece was designed to highlight the fact that Dorchester should not be divided anymore.” He added: “Frank has highlighted that over the course of the campaign.”

Keohan also pointed to endorsements of Baker from Rep. Forry and other members of the Dorchester delegation, including Reps. Carlos Henriquez, Marty Walsh and Nick Collins. Baker also picked up the endorsement of the Ward 15 Democratic Committee over the weekend. “He will continue to talk about one Dorchester, not north versus south,” said Keohan.

Ballot order is set for council races

John O’Toole is at the top of the ballot in his race with Frank Baker for the District 3 seat, according to the Boston Election Department. City election officials held a ballot drawing on Friday, randomly drawing candidate names from a tumbler in order to determine the order in each race.

In Districts 2 and 7, the newcomers, Suzanne Lee and Sheneal Parker, picked up the top slots over incumbent Councillors Bill Linehan and Tito Jackson, respectively.

In the at-large race, the ballot order is as follows: Will Dorcena, Ayanna Pressley, Felix Arroyo, John Connolly, Michael Flaherty, Stephen Murphy, and Sean Ryan.

The drawing followed a recount of District 7 preliminary results. Althea Garrison did not show up until the end of the recount, which showed her still finishing third in the preliminary.

The final election is Nov. 8.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop. Follow us on Twitter: @LitDrop and @gintautasd.

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