February 24, 2004
While two suspects in the beating of a city inspector continued to elude Boston Police, Dorchester's Irish community cast a dragnet of its own this week, searching for answers in what many residents have read as a crackdown on immigrant Irish.
Crackling with controversy stemming from the beating of an Inspectional Services official and rife with allegations of discrimination, the brouhaha left, as of Wednesday morning three Dorchester publicans waiting to reopen for business, and Irish community advocates ripping City Hall for ethnic profiling.
The events began to unfold on February 18, when an ISD employee was assaulted at a King Street residential address by two construction workers after approaching the work site to investigate possible violations and finding the general contractor not on the scene, according to Boston Police spokesman Officer John Boyle. When the inspector announced his intention to issue a stop-work order, the workers, rumored initially to be off-the-boat Irish, threatened the inspector verbally and punched and kicked him, Boyle said. He said the incident report contained no mention of Irish accents.
On Friday, Feb. 20, Desmond's Pub, Nash's Pub, and the Tara Pub, watering holes frequented by immigrant Irish laborers, were ordered closed until further notice by ISD, whose inspectors cited numerous imminent health violations. Infractions included exposed rodent bait, uncovered straws, sponges left on bar counters, and improper handwashing facilities.
Any correlation, the city maintains, is strictly coincidental.
"What has happened here is inexcusable," said City Councillor Maureen Feeney, who attended Wednesday's meeting. Feeney said she met with ISD Commissioner Kevin Joyce on Tuesday, but felt that "I got no information that made me feel in any way that [the closings] are not punitive.
"To close a business down, to threaten their livelihood over minor violations, whatever happened to the law?" Feeney asked.
"I don't know how it can be coincidence when you shut down three bars on Dorchester Avenue a few days after something like that happens," said Dorchester, state Rep. Martin Walsh, chairman of the House committee on Homeland Security.
"That's absolutely false," said ISD spokeswoman Lisa Timberlake, responding to allegations that ISD's decision to shut down Nash's, Desmond's, and the Tara represented retaliatory action for last week's beating. "That is not true."
Police sources backed ISD's claim that the incidents were unrelated.
But a local Irish media executive leveled strongly-worded charges against the city. Connell Gallagher, publisher of The Irish Emigrant, called the shutdowns "a blatant, racist attack on the Irish community."
"I have said that if this occurred in the Jewish community or the black community, there would be riots," Gallagher told reporters. He said that the three pub owners were "reluctant" to press such allegations because they could hinder future business dealings with the city.
Timberlake said the inspector, 48-year-old Joseph Murray, is recovering from his injuries, but said she wasn't sure if he was still hospitalized. "He's trying to get well," Timberlake said.
Boyle described one suspect as approximately 35 years old, 5'7", 210 pounds, with dark hair, and the other as approximately 23 years old, 5'7", 160 pounds, with a white T-shirt.
Capt. Thomas Lee, commander of Area C-11 where all of the incidents took place, said detectives had uncovered "no indication that the two perpetrators were Irish or Irish-American," and acknowledged the Irish community's concern.
Intermittently since the Wednesday afternoon incident, a marked car has kept watch over the site, 124 King St., a residential property that local sources said is owned by Robert Fedus. City assessing department files indicated that Fedus also owns properties on Sudan St. His lawyer did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday morning.
Lee said C-11 detectives would question Fedus regarding the identity of the workers.
Hearing official Dion Irish said Wednesday he would issue his decision that afternoon, which was expected to allow the bar owners to request another round of inspections and potentially open for business Wednesday night. Timberlake said the pubs could reopen immediately after passing inspections.
Peter Muse, attorney for Tara Pub owner William P. Kelly, said he thought the bar had been targeted on a Friday afternoon in order to maximize the negative impact on business before a weekend. Muse, who said similar code violations could be found at "any bar in Boston," pointed to a January 9 ISD report that inspector William Goodfellow agreed represented "a clean bill of health."
Ray Butler, owner of the Banshee Pub in Savin Hill, and Bill McCarty, manager of Emmets, appeared at the hearing in an apparent show of publican solidarity.
Joyce, a longtime ally of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, fell under heavy criticism last fall after the city paid $240,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by former ISD employee Julie Fothergill, who alleged that the ISD head ordered her to rig a city website contract.
A Boston Fire Department chaplain circulated outside the hearing room on the fourth floor of 1010 Massachusetts Avenue before the proceedings began., but Bill Desmond, proprietor of Desmond's Pub in St. Mark's, said he would wait until after the hearing to get his ashes.
"I don't want to get written up," Desmond said.