Ten years after it began with an old-school election throw-down, the annual contest to pick the honorary "mayor" of Dorchester hopes to rekindle some of that first-year magic in 2007. The Dorchester Day Parade Committee- which sponsors the contest- is putting out the call for civic groups, unions and private citizens to step into the ring to help make this year's parade a success.
The mayor of Dorchester is decided like a lot of elections in this country: Whoever raises the most money wins the seat. Only, there are no campaign finance rules to adhere to in the Mayor of Dorchester race. There are two fundamental guiding principles: Raise a bucket of dough and have at least one good party along the way.
"I was kind of nervous when I put myself out there to run," says Mike Mackan, who won a three-way race for the title in 1999 by raising $13,000 for the parade. "By the time it ended, even before I knew the results, I realized it doesn't really matter who wins. Running is the special part. The parade is the greatest event Dorchester has every year, and attending each others parties and having a lot of laughs, that's what makes Mayor of Dorchester so much fun."
Mackan's contest was a success, not just because he could pass over a healthy check to parade organizers, but because the race itself was competitive, with two other candidates- Betty Cikacz and Frank Baker- also in the contest. Each had a party to raise money and generate excitement in the run-up to the June parade up Dorchester Ave.
Mackan had three soirees in under three months on his march to the mayor's, um, office.
Lately, the field has been sleepy to say the least: In each of the last three years, the mayor of Dorchester ran unopposed. And while that's always nice if you're, say, an incumbent state representative, it's not exactly the dream scenario for a guy like parade adjutant Ed Crowley.
"The more people who can go out and raise interest and raise money, the better for the parade," says Crowley, whose brother David served as mayor in 2004. "It's kind of been losing interest. We need to get new people who can get their friends into it. We've tapped all the people we know."
The contest has had some success in broadening the reach of the parade organization. Ralph Cooper, an African-American veteran advocate, won the seat in 2004 and that year's runner up, Peter Sasso, a gay man, remains a key member of the parade committee. Stacey Monahan, who is the only woman to have won the contest, tapped another key constituency to help her victory: Dorchester's robust labor community, which also helped propel first-year mayor Pat Walsh over the top in 1997.
Sometimes, it takes a good old-fashioned family grudge match to generate the big bucks: Jim Hogan still holds the fundraising record from his 2003 head-to-head race against brother-in-law Mario Colucci. Hogan hauled in a whopping $24,000 to cement his name in Dot mayoral lore. Together, Hogan and Colucci's good-natured feud raised $36,000.
This year, Crowley is hoping that the tenth anniversary contest will generate renewed interest in the form of a larger, more diverse field.
"We're reaching out directly to the Vietnamese community," says Crowley, who notes that the neighborhood's Vietnamese community has become a significant part of the Dot Day parade that hits the street each June. "If they could get signed on, it just means greater strength in numbers. They have a very large contingent that marches in the parade."
Mackan- who has been the contest's biggest booster since his year of service ended- is shaking the trees this year in an effort to find new blood for the race.
"If each civic association nominated one person to run and supported that person, it would kind of be a test of who has the strongest civic group," says Mackan, himself a member of the Lower Mills civic executive board. "That would bring some bragging rights there."
What, exactly, does the mayor of Dorchester have to do with the title? Some, like Mackan, have exercised broad executive powers, churning out mayoral citations to honor civic leaders and new businesses. Mackan even presented one of his coveted decrees to his snowman.
"Once they're the mayor, they decide what they want to do," says Mackan. "Normally, the mayor would light the holiday trees every November on the tour of Dorchester villages. There are lots of different events through the year that they are more than welcome to attend."
The rules require that a contestant live in Dorchester and be at least 18 years old. If you- or someone you know- wants to run this year, you must sign-up at the next parade committee meeting on Monday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m. at the Comfort Inn, 900 Morrissey Boulevard. Call 617-287-0085 with any questions.