Dorchester Democrats have a new member of their party in their midst: The former chairman of the state party. John Walsh, the man who helped Deval Patrick win the gubernatorial race in 2006 and become the first Democratic governor in Massachusetts in 16 years, has moved into Lower Mills with his wife Donna.
Easter Sunday was his first visit as a parishioner at St. Gregory’s. He has picked up a library card at the Lower Mills branch and he is now registered to vote in Ward 17, Precinct 13.
Walsh, 56, grew up in Abington and served as a member of the town’s board of selectmen for ten years, starting at age 26. He also served as field director for Brian Donnelly’s unsuccessful 1998 campaign for governor. Seven years later, he met Patrick in a Braintree coffee shop and signed on as his campaign manager. Two years later, he became the chairman of the state Democratic Party.
He still owns the Independent Insurance Agency in Abington and now serves as executive director of Gov. Patrick’s state and federal political committees, which are based in Boston’s North End.
“My world moved a little north and with my son in college, it was time to downsize,” Walsh said in an interview with the Reporter over coffee in Lower Mills.
In taking a condo inside the former Baker Chocolate Factory, Walsh traded in 3,000 square feet and three acres for 1,300 square feet, 17-foot ceilings, and 2-story windows that look out onto the Neponset River. “I walk to everything up here because it’s closer than my car,” Walsh said, adding that he and Donna were drawn to Lower Mills, in part, due to its “great sense of community” and the convenience of living there. “It was place that was always on our radar screen, because of the look and feel and the amenities, and also because we had come to know the neighborhood a little bit,” he said.
Walsh is already a regular at Ashmont Grill, thanks to Stacey Monahan, an Adams Corner resident who served as executive director of the state party and is currently the commissioner of the Department of Transitional Assistance.
And he is already familiar with St. Gregory’s: His parents, who emigrated from Ireland, were married in the church. They eventually moved to Abington, following the sister of his father. John Walsh the senior hailed from County Cork and worked as a laborer before becoming a janitor at Regis College in Weston; his mother, who is from County Kerry, worked as a nurse’s aide. Walsh said he hopes to dig into his family history, and find his late parents’ marriage certificate for some clues. “They sacrificed tremendously for us,” he said.
Once word got out that Walsh was moving to Lower Mills, he received a Facebook message from former Massachusetts House Speaker Thomas Finneran, who lives in nearby Mattapan: “We’ll see you at 7 o’clock Mass.”
Asked about the future of the governor’s political organization, Walsh said he is essentially woerking on a “shutdown plan” for the state and federal political committees. He expects to wrap up operations in February or March 2015, though sometime in the fall the final decision will come as to whether to maintain it in some form. “And his plans are he is going back to the private sector, where he spent most of his career,” Walsh said.
For Walsh’s part, his plans are to stay local. He says he will be walking along the Neponset River trail and he wants to check out the Boston Harbor Islands; the first book he borrowed from the library was about the island parks. And he will remain involved in politics with the Ward 17 Democratic Committee. “I’m looking forward to being an active member,” he said.