With Dorchester’s City Councillor Maureen Feeney saying she won’t seek a ninth term in office, a crowded field of potential candidates hoping to take her place is already taking shape.
Local realtor Craig Galvin and John O’Toole, past president of the Cedar Grove Civic Association, say they’re running. Catherine O’Neill, host of the Boston Neighborhood Network’s “The Boston Connection” show, is also expected to jump into the race.
Sean Weir, president of the Cedar Grove Civic Association and facilities manager at St. Brendan’s, said he is considering a run and plans to speak with his family about it. “I’m going to keep all my options open,” he said.
Marybith Tuitt, an aide to State Rep. Gloria Fox, has applied to pull nomination papers in District Three.
Other names in circulation among District 3 insiders include, among others, Eileen Fenton of the Columbia Savin Hill Civic Association; Michael Mackan, chief of Boston’s Code Enforcement Police; Michael Christopher, manager of public policy and public affairs at the Executive Office of Public Safety; Doug Hurley, a St. Mark’s civic activist and former legislative aide to state Rep. Jim Brett; and Ed Geary, deputy director for communications and external affairs for Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral. Henry Cyril Paquin, a Salem State graduate who was the field director on Karen Payne’s unsuccessful Sixth Suffolk state representative campaign, is also weighing a run.
Two previously unsuccessful candidates for City Council At-Large, Marty Hogan and Doug Bennett, jumped into the District 3 race several months ago, saying they would run regardless of Feeney’s decision.
Phil Carver of the Pope’s Hill Civic Association, whose name has frequently come up among the list of potential candidates, is backing O’Toole.
A Dorchester Democrat, Feeney has represented the bulk of the neighborhood on the 13-member City Council since 1993, when she replaced James Byrne as District 3 councillor. She had previously served as his chief of staff and worked in the insurance industry.
“The only way I can describe it, for a few months I’ve been really thinking about it and I think I was open about that,” Feeney told the Reporter on Wednesday. “I was trying to figure out whether this was the right time for me or not. It’s a big decision. The easy thing is to run. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, but that’s what I do, that’s what I’m comfortable with.”
Voters have repeatedly returned her to office by wide margins, and in 2007, her colleagues unanimously elected her as Council president. Feeney, who instituted a term limit of two years to the presidency, was the second woman to hold the ceremonial post, after Louise Day Hicks held it in 1976. She was re-elected as president in 2008.
Feeney said she wanted to leave while she still loved the job. “I want to miss this job, I want to miss the people I’ve represented and loved so much,” she said. “I’m going to miss my colleagues. I don’t want it to be, ‘I’m out of here.’ ”
Her future remains unclear even as rumors continue to swirl about whether she’ll take job of city clerk, currently held by Rosaria Salerno, or go for a gig in the private sector. In a letter to supporters dated Tuesday and written with the help of her husband Larry, Feeney wrote, “Many of you will wonder what I plan to do next. While I appreciate your care and concern for my well being, I respectfully ask that you allow me the opportunity to weigh my options. I want to give adequate time and thought to the next chapter of my professional life.”
City Council President Stephen Murphy, a close friend of Feeney’s, said she has been a role model for the younger councillors.
“She’s the genuine article,” he said. “She puts people first. They say politics is an increasingly plastic business, where you have pollsters and spin doctors and this and that. And Maureen was a very real person in a sometimes very, very plastic business.”
City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley, who lives in Dorchester, said in a statement that she will continue to lean on Feeney for advice. “The Council will be a lesser place without her passion and deep knowledge of the nuts and bolts of city government,” she said. “Maureen has been a remarkable champion for the people of Dorchester and thousands of neighborhood residents have sought – and received – much needed help from her and her office.”
A second generation Irish American, Feeney is the current chair of the council’s Government Operations Committee. The councillor, whose biography on the City Council website highlights her support of neighborhood health centers and protection of nonprofit care facilities, has worked on numerous of issues during her lengthy tenure, from helping to save Carney Hospital from closure to convening a civic summit with a crowd of over 450 civic and neighborhood associations.
Feeney, who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate twice, attended grammar school in St. Matthew’s parish and high school at Notre Dame Academy in Roxbury and then Hingham, as well as Mass Bay Community College and UMass Boston.
She told the Reporter last November that she was leaning towards another Council run, adding that she would not run for reelection in 2013. As her comments intensified neighborhood buzz about potential candidates to replace her, she frequently bristled at questions about whether she would run again.
Asked if she was endorsing anybody, Feeney said, “I think we need to wait to see this roll out.” But she added that she expected to remain engaged in the race to replace her. “I can’t imagine me sitting on the sidelines.”
Carver, whose name had been in heavy circulation, said he had spoken with his wife and decided that with three young children, a candidacy was not the right move for him. “As someone who defines himself through civic activism I could not think of a better person to represent the people of District 3 than John O’Toole,” Carver said in an e-mail message.
Feeney made her announcement the day before potential successors could apply for nomination papers. All candidates will have to gather 200 signatures to make the ballot.
Correction: The original version of this story stated that candidates must collect 1,500 signatures to make the ballot. In fact, candidates for district council will need to gather just 200 signatures. Candidates for at-large council need to collect 1,500 signatures.