PROFILING THE BOSTON CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES : CATHERINE O’NEILL

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^ Catherine O’Neill, of the Lower Mills O’Neills, conversing with a roomfull of Seniors at Foley House, South Boston

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There’s something of a Dorchester revival afoot in the City of Boston, an irish-name revival too. Here, in a city decreasingly peopled by those of Irish-name, we see on the Council at-Large ballot a Mike Flaherty; a Stephen J. Murphy; a Jack Kelly, Marty Keough, Chris Conroy, and — by no means the least — the subject of today’s profile, Catherine M. O’Neill, of the large and well, well-known O’Neills of Lower Mills.

It would be hard to have been any sort of active Boston citizen these past forty years and not known at least one of Catherine O’Neill’s siblings. Her brother Tim has been a public prosecutor since the early 1970s; brother Tom was a legendary principal at Mattapan’s famed Solomon Lewenberg School. Brother Ted O’Neill has been well-known too, and her late brother Mike — known to hundreds of politically busy Bostonians as “wide Mike,” — who always reminded me of what the poet and playwright Brendan Behan must have looked like, a presence as physically awesome as he was likeable.

Catherine O’Neil has Mike’s fierce eyes and Viking face, and something of Tim’s soft forehead, and it’s hard to figure how this writer somehow did not meet her back when her brothers were a constant presence. Turns out that her career  followed an entirely different trajectory ; she’s a published playwright (that Behan connection ?) and a media person who hosted The Boston Connection, All About Boston, and the Dorchester Connection, all on BBN-TV.

O’Neill went to St. Gregory’s School — where her Dad was a janitor — for thirteen years, then got her degree from Suffolk University in communication and journalism. She also has a master’s degree in Fine Arts.

She never married — a loss for the best Boston men of my generation — but as a child growing up in a large family, it comes second nature to her to care about people. And so, when Elizabeth Warren, who knew of O’Neill from television , asked her to work on her Senate campaign, O’Neill was ready to take her caring into the formal political groove,

Cath O'Neill and Sen Warren

^ Catherine O’Neill with senator Elizabeth Warren

She found the experience to her liking, and after Warren was elected, went to work in the campaign of her Lower Mills neighbor, Linda Dorcena-Forry — wife of Bill Forry, whose father Ed was “Mr Dorchester News” for several decades — for State Senator. Dorcena-Forry was already the Lower Mills area’s State Representative; indeed, O’Neill had been her field director in her 2005 first campaign. Dorcena-Forry’s Senate campaign made history. She won over the South Boston candidate, becoming the first Dorchester candidate to do so, and the first person of color to represent the District.

O’Neill was now ready to become a candidate herself; and when Tom Menino’s decision it to run for a fifth Mayoral term opened up two of Boston’s four at-large Council seats, her time had arrived.

We chatted with O’Neill three times; stood with her as she greeted voters at a Marty Walsh rally in East boston; and saw her in action conversing with voters at the Foley House in South Boston. There was never a minute in which she did not connect eye to eye with voters together an d singly; the experienced media hostess this was ever in command, credible, likeable. Thus our first question — what special qualities do you possess to make you uniquely qualified as a Councillor ? — answered itself.  Not many Council candidates are published playwrights and accomplished television show hosts,

Our conversation continues (Here and Sphere as “HnS”) :

HnS : Your first priority as a Councillor ?

O’Neill: Seniors. My Mom is 93 years old. I know the needs of seniors first hand. Seniors need all the help they can get. Longer stop lights at crossings, better curb cuts. Safety of the neighborhoods !  I will be an advocate for seniors ~!

Here and Sphere (HnS) : Do you favor lifting the charter school cap ?

O’Neill: no, I do not favor it.

HnS : What school reforms do you favor ?

O’Neill: I think a longer school day is a good idea.

HnS : The BRA : replace / reform ? If so, how ?

O’Neill: There needs to be separation of planning and decision, so that the community can have input.

HnS : Speaking of safety, Marty Walsh has said there’s a heroin epidemic in the city. Do you agree ?

O’Neill : The first documentary I did, for BBN television — in 2001, produced and wrote — was on the heroin problem in the city of Boston. It was epidemic in proportion then, and I know we still have that problem with it in our city. The shame is not to be a heroin addict; the shame is not to do anything about it. Heroin addicts, and addicts generally, usually have no advocate. There’s nobody out there beating a drum for people who unfortunately are addicted to heroin.  and I…i would be an advocate. we need more beds for women (addicts too). I really do know a lot about his subject, because of my friend, now deceased, who was the head of the drug corps at South Boston District Court,. it was he who asked me to do the documentary.”

That O’Neill proved so conversant of Boston’s heroin problem surprised me. It probably shouldn’t have. It’s the kind of problem that a television discussion show, such as O’Neill hosted, wants to focus on. Proof that her television experience offers more than just show time to the City Council if she’s elected.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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^ Catherine O’Neill advocating to Seniors at the Foley House on H Street in South Boston.

BOSTON MAYOR RACE : PRESSURE POLITICS TAKE OVER

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^ crunch time numbers cruncher : Charlotte Golar-Richie

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The City’s Black political leaders are gathering, it is reported, to try pushing some of the candidates of color out of the race for Mayor. This comes as no surprise. The surprise is that it didn’t happen sooner. Or even that it was needed at all. it should have been obvious to every one of Boston’s six candidates of color that if there were more than two, none would make it to November. Even with only two, it’s no guarantee. But with six ? And so the pressure begins to get to the obvious : have the “extras” drop out and endorse Charlotte Golar-Richie.

Good luck with that. Why should John Barros, her chief competitor within the Black community, drop out and endorse her ? His vision is very different from hers, his connections more like Connolly”s or Mike Ross’s. As for Charles Yancey and Charles Clemons, each has his own agendas that will seem better served by remaining in the race.

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^  John barros (on left) : crunched out ? probably not

The intended recipient of said endorsements claims no part in this effort. That’s wise. No voter likes having a candidate trying to limit a voter’s range of choices. Yet Golar-Richie has been making a dedicated effort of late to bring Boston’s Black political “heavies” into her campaign and has had notable success doing so. She knows better than anyone that if six candidates of color remain in contention on September 24, it will be next to impossible for her to get the 22 % of the vote that some wise heads say will be the November entry point. And so the pressure, by her key supporters, if not by her, cannot be avoided.

Golar-Richie is hardly the only contender using pressure right now. Marty Walsh used the Greater Boston AFL-CIO’s annual Labor day breakfast to make his Labor banner a must for as many union activists as possible. Walsh’s chief rival, John Connolly, has brought forth several endorsements of note, the latest being State Representative Nick Collins of South Boston, who just this morning announced his formal support for Connolly at a press conference in front of the Perry K to 8 school on east Seventh Street in South Boston. At that conference Collins and Connolly emphasized the pair’s long collaboration on Boston Public School reform. Both also emphasized the needed for much more transparent city administration and a dedication to safe neighborhoods — a topic gruseomely dumped into South Boston affairs this past year.

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^ John Connolly with Rep. Nick Collins’s brother and Charles Levin at a recent South Booston Leadership conference. His endorsement by Nick Collins seemed likely, soon after this.

Connolly has made much, too, of endorsement by State Representatives Jay Livingstone (Back Bay, Beacon Hill), Carlo Basile (east Boston), and Ed Coppinger (West Roxbury). As his main competitor, Marty Walsh, is a State Representative too, these endorsements hurt Walsh as much as they aid Connolly. (Walsh, meanwhile, has the open support of State Rep Liz Malia and former State Senator Jack Hart.) But the main effect of these endorsements — none of which have yet gone to Dan Conley, who polls a strong third on most lists; will he get any ? — is to pressure the voters. If the pollsters are right, that fully one-third of all who are likely to vote remain undecided about who to choose, endorsements by elected Representatives are intended to push those undecideds to make up their minds. It will surely do that, at least for some.

There will be much more of this pressure coming. Boston’s State Senators ( Chang-Diaz, Dorcena-Forry, Brian Joyce, Mike Rush, Petrucelli ) have yet to choose. Congressmen Lynch and Capuano may weigh in. So might past legislators and major Boston civic associations. As long as the undecided vote remains sizeable, endorsements will be asked for- and probably given. The pressure is on now — on the voters, to decide, once and for all, who to send to the November final.

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^ Dan Conley : strong third in polls, but no big endorsements yet

The pressure is also on the twelve contenders. Surely all of them know that they either have a good chance of making “the cut,” are losing ground, or are as out of the running as can be. The candidates out of the running can shrug it off and enjoy two and a half weeks more of forums and speaking on the issues. The candidates one feels for are those who are losing ground. Mike Ross, Felix Arroyo, and Rob Consalvo all, at one time, looked strongly in contention. All have found themselves blocked, however — Arroyo by not receiving union endorsements he might have won, Consalvo by too small a base, Ross by not having command of his own, zipcar-bicycle-restaurants base — and, in Arroyo’s case, passed over by leaders and political activists who made his father a political success and did the same, at the Council level, for the son. Arroyo, Consalvo, and Ross have had to learn, perhaps painfully, that when one is running to be Boston’s all-the-marbles Mayor, people make an all-the-marbles choice of whom to be with.

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^ Mel King : should, by all philosophical coincidence, be with Felix Arroyo, but it appears that he isn’t.

And so, as we head into the typhoon of pressure, four boats remain afloat : Connolly, Walsh, Golar-Richie, and Dan Conley. Boston’s next Mayor will be one of these. The voters are beginning to realize it and to decide just who it is that they like.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

–MASTERING MOMMY’S MORNING MADNESS —

Coffee or Vodka? Parenting 911

–MOMMY’S MORNING MADNESS–

Dear Parenting 911: I have a 8-year-old daughter who just started 3rd grade. She has suddenly become MORE than independent. Ever since she started school — I have been allowed to pick her outfits — do her hair — and help with all other “School preparations” — now suddenly I am no longer invited or even allowed to HELP. I am not only perplexed by her sudden HATRED for my “awful taste”, in everything from hairstyles to clothing choices but I must admit I am slightly hurt — and feel almost angered at the way she speaks to me in the morning, and how long it takes her to “GET READY – On her own.” I am now always late to bring her to school — thus making me late to work. I feel like I have completely lost CONTROL of our super…

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