When City Councillor Charles Yancey mentions the prospect of a Mattapan high school, he is often greeted with weary smiles and eye rolls from City Hall insiders who know how frequently the longtime District 4 representative manages to work it into his remarks.
On Wednesday night, Yancey elicited a different reaction when he brought a Mattapan high school up during a forum at the Joseph Lee School featuring House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) and state Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea).
It came at the tail end of the forum, run by state Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Mattapan), and in the context of the sentencing reform bills that House and Senate negotiators are working to reconcile. After thanking DeLeo for helping him with his annual book fair, Yancey, who has sought to raise doubts about the bills and slow down their passage, said the legislation could lead to more prisons built instead of a new high school in Mattapan.
When his turn came, DeLeo took the microphone, and addressing the crowd of about 140 people, let Yancey have it. His voice rising, DeLeo said no other legislature has been as supportive of providing “billions and billions” in education funding to communities as his.
After his response, DeLeo appeared to continue a sharp exchange with a bewildered Yancey. Rep. O’Flaherty walked over and put his hands on both DeLeo and Yancey in order to calm DeLeo.
"I wasn't criticizing the state for a lack of education funding," Yancey said after the meeting. Yancey added that he doesn't "understand why [DeLeo] was so defensive in his response," and that Yancey was "offended that [DeLeo] was offended by the question."
Yancey said he felt like he treated DeLeo with "the utmost respect and sadly that wasn't reciprocated."
According to DeLeo’s office, Boston received $200 million in Chapter 70 aid in 2012, on top of federal monies. Since the beginning of the School Building Authority in the early 2000s, $8.4 billion has been distributed to local communities, his office said.
In a statement, DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell said, “Speaker DeLeo’s response reflected his pride in the members of the Dorchester delegation who have fought tirelessly to provide school funding for the children of Boston.”
UPDATE: A colleague who also attended the forum notes that it's more accurate to say Rep. O'Flaherty walked over to the pair and put his hands on both of them to calm DeLeo, instead of the word "separate." I agree, and the post has been updated to reflect that.