Local lawmakers rally behind Hart, holidays

Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day are here to stay – for now.

In a 78 to 78 vote, state House lawmakers – including the entire Dorchester and Mattapan delegation – voted to keep the two Suffolk County holidays in place, with proponents arguing they carry historical significance. Critics said the so-called “hack holidays” are another symbol of government waste that needed to be jettisoned.

Evacuation Day, which coincides with St. Patrick’s Day, commemorates British forces leaving Boston after laying siege to the city during the American Revolution, driven out by American soldiers with cannons in Dorchester Heights. Bunker Hill Day celebrates the Charlestown clash that almost crippled the British army. City and state workers within Suffolk County receive the day off.

Gov. Deval Patrick said last week he also supports the proposal to eliminate the two days, saying “the time has come.” But others said the two days are a part of the state’s history.

“This is about my history,” said Rep. Brian Wallace, a South Boston Democrat whose district includes parts of Dorchester. “What’s next? Patriots Day? What’s that? Let’s do away with that. Where do we stop? This is getting ridiculous.”

State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry called the vote on the holidays a “trivial issue.”

“People are losing their jobs, losing their homes,” she said. “We need to talk about the seriousness of the economic situation we’re in.” She added: “My constituents want to keep those holidays.”

The proposal to eliminate the holidays, a Republican amendment tacked onto a mini-budget aimed at keeping the state running through the end of June, also drew criticism from Mayor Thomas Menino, who accused lawmakers who supported the proposal of “grabbing headlines.”

“It’s interesting to me how quickly the Legislature can act on frivolous issues,” while proposals to allow cities and towns to raise meals and hotel taxes, which he supports, see little action, Menino said.

“That’s mind-boggling to me,” he said.

The three other mayoral candidates said they supported eliminating the holidays. As he was getting ready to march in the parade along Dorchester Ave. on Sunday, Councillor at-Large Sam Yoon noted there was no holiday for Dorchester Day.

“We can celebrate without it being a holiday,” he said.
City Councillor Maureen Feeney said the decision to get rid of the holidays should be left up to the Legislature.

“They’re very important days in the history of the commonwealth and certainly the history of Boston,” she said. “They’re not days that we should say are no longer important.

The House vote followed a similarly close tally in the Senate, which voted down the proposal to eliminate the two holidays by a 17-22 margin. State Sens. Jack Hart and Sonia Chang-Diaz ended up on opposite sides, with Hart, host of the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, leading the charge to keep them.

Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei (R-Wakefield) refiled the proposal last Friday, citing the close votes in the House and Senate as incentive to try again.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.