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[talking politics]

Southie Versus The Suburbs (continued)

LYNCH HAS got to prove he’s not just the favorite son of South Boston,” says Victor DeSantis, a professor of political science at Bridgewater State College. “South Boston doesn’t make up a whole lot of this district. He’s got to expand his base.”

But limiting Lynch to his South Boston/Dorchester base will be one of Joyce’s main goals — and it’s the kind of strategy with which he has some familiarity. Joyce became a state senator in a 1997 special election. Then a state representative from Milton, he tried to do what nobody outside of Dorchester had ever done: win from a suburban base. Joyce defeated three difficult opponents, all from the city: LeCain, City Councilor Maureen Feeney of Dorchester, and at-large councilor Maura Hennigan of Jamaica Plain. The three city candidates split up the urban vote, allowing Joyce to make the most of his suburban base. Though Joyce picked up votes in the margins of Boston, for the most part he played the city as a foil against his suburban voters. One issue that year was a controversial education plan devised under the auspices of the League of Women Voters that would have shifted state aid targeted at city schools back to wealthier suburban schools. Advocates of the plan argued that the suburban schools had been unfairly burdened by the state’s Education Reform Act. Joyce circulated ads in local newspapers saying the formula for education-reform funding hurt towns. “He was very much against the education formula because it shortchanged the towns,” recalls Hennigan, who says that she and Feeney were depicted as wanting “to take your money away.”

“It [the ad] only ran in the towns, and it was very powerful,” she says. “We were furious. It was very much a suburban-versus-urban ad.”

Joyce now says he stands for the principle that communities with the same amount of money should get the same amount of funding, a principle he thought was being violated back in 1997: Milton received less funding than other, wealthier towns. Asked about the ad Hennigan describes, he acknowledges “one inflammatory advertisement I wish I could have taken back because it was easily misconstrued.” But, he adds, “the fundamental principle that cities and towns should be funded fairly, I stand by.” Joyce also points out that in the years he has represented both suburban towns and city neighborhoods, funding for all the communities he represents has gone up, and at no time has he sought to cut funding for the city.

If that’s what Joyce can do with education reform, what might he do with Lynch’s sometimes controversial history of fighting for South Boston at the expense of the rest of Boston? Lynch, as some remember, was a signatory to the now-notorious 1998 Memorandum of Understanding also signed by City Councilor James Kelly, State Representative Jack Hart, and Tom O’Brien, who was then the head of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. That agreement stated that 51 percent of all waterfront-development linkage funds — money paid by developers to the city for affordable housing and other benefits — would flow into a specially created nonprofit, the South Boston Betterment Trust. Neighborhoods most affected by development typically get only 10 to 20 percent of the linkage funds, and the rest are spent elsewhere in the city. When the public finally learned last year how much South Boston stood to profit — at the expense of the rest of the city — Mayor Tom Menino walked away from the deal. But the damage was done, and Lynch sustained the first political blow of his up-and-coming career. On June 27, 2000, the Boston Globe’s Joan Vennochi wrote that “fallout from the linkage deal he [Lynch] helped broker between Menino and South Boston hurts his cause as a citywide candidate.” And more recently, in a June 1 column, she said Lynch was “very much” a Southie pol, and that his threat to block the convention-center deal unless Menino approved the linkage deal demonstrated the “kind of payback mentality [that] is vintage Southie.”

Lynch’s defenders say he can turn the linkage issue into a positive: he can stand up and say that he fought for South Boston when he represented that community, just as he will stand up for the rest of the district in Congress. But the truth is that when Lynch struck this deal for Southie, he did so at the expense of the South End and Dorchester — the other portions of his district.

IF JOYCE has to box Lynch in to South Boston, then Lynch, obviously, has to lock up his base and expand. He went a long way toward doing that when he persuaded former Boston mayor Ray Flynn, who had been contemplating his own congressional run, to give his nod to Lynch instead. Less noticed, but also important: he enticed City Councilor Stephen Murphy, who commands support throughout the western part of the city (including West Roxbury), to drop his interest in the seat and back him as well. Finally, as the Boston Herald reported last week, Lynch appears to have won some support from Menino, who also has the potential to deliver the western part of the city. Menino’s strategist, Ed Jesser, is working with Lynch, and the mayor won’t rule out endorsing him. Menino told the Herald’s David Guarino: “I’ve delivered in the past. I could deliver in the future.” Menino press secretary Carole Brennan, however, says “he’s entirely focused” on the election challenge from City Councilor Peggy Davis-Mullen just two weeks after the primary in the special election. So even if Menino eventually endorses Lynch, Lynch may not reap the benefits of Menino’s political organization.

In some ways, though, Lynch is in a good position to expand his base. He is much better known throughout the district than one might think, notes Bridgewater State’s DeSantis: “Lynch gets a lot of bounce out of the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast. Now that the breakfast is being picked up on New England Cable News, people throughout the district watch it.” Lynch’s allies also point out that towns such as Milton, Randolph, and Canton are filled with former residents of Dorchester and South Boston — members of a mostly Irish Catholic diaspora who are favorably inclined toward Lynch. He will call upon his city allies to ask their suburban friends to support him.

Lynch could also take steps to seem more open to the rest of the district. Hennigan suggests some bridge-building maneuver, such as positioning himself as a peacemaker in the lawsuit between Kelly and Menino over linkage. “This is an opportunity for him,” she says. “If he makes some overtures, maybe with himself and Councilor Kelly, it would help Lynch because it would show a South Boston elected official reaching beyond South Boston to the rest of the city.” Lynch says, though, that he has already attempted unsuccessfully to bring Menino and Kelly together: “It’s a very noble idea, and I tried it, but once attorneys get in the way and complaints are filed in court, the parties are very, very guarded and won’t sit down.”

Everyone says that the best way of all for Lynch to win support outside South Boston is to be himself — his personal story appeals across the board. A former ironworker, he put himself through law school and won election to the House of Representatives. After that, he did the seemingly impossible: he knocked off the son of Senate president William Bulger in the race to replace him. Where voters may see Joyce as the more aggressive political operator — an image unfairly magnified by the belief that he changed his position on abortion once the pro-choice Kennedy got out of the race (see “Abortion Preconceptions,” page 8 ) — Lynch may present himself as the candidate of “authenticity.” Says one political observer, “Lynch is going to say, ‘I am what I am, but at least you know where I stand, and when I give you my word, you can count on me.’”

That may be just the type of image Lynch is trying to project when he calls the strategy of pitting one community against another a “campaign of divisiveness” and vows to make a campaign “pledge” against it. “I’ll make every town in the district proud of the way I represent them, just like Joe Moakley did,” he says. “I’m not going to set neighbor against neighbor or city against suburb. I’m going to bring these people together — just like Joe Moakley did.”

One political veteran in the district predicts that Lynch will identify himself even more closely with the beloved late congressman: “He’ll say, ‘If you look at my stances on issues across the board, they’re the same as Moakley’s, and Moakley did such a good job representing the district for so long.’” And that strategy seems to sit well with Lynch. “I realize I am not anywhere near the statesman that Joe was,” he says, “but I can tell you he is a role model for me and the perfect example of what a thoughtful and compassionate legislator can be. All I can do is follow in that mold.”

But Moakley, as knowledgeable insiders point out, had already spent two decades in public life by the time he was elected to Congress in 1972. Lynch is a creature of the 1990s, with just seven years in elective office, and will not easily step into Moakley’s shoes just by virtue of their association with the same neighborhood. Barring another political earthquake in a year that has seen several, the dynamic of this year’s election is clear. Joyce wins if he can paint Lynch as just the candidate of South Boston. Lynch wins if he can show that he isn’t.

Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]

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Issue Date: June 21-28, 2001

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