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Two Irish Guys Walk Into A Mayor’s Race...

This article is more than 5 years old.

Only in Boston politics could upward mobility be a sign of betrayal instead of a point of pride.

Only in a place where the 1845 potato famine is considered a fresh wound could a triple-decker in Dorchester and a modest house in Roslindale become the symbolic equivalents of a thatched cottage and Buckingham Palace.

Only in dwindling precincts nursing the old sore of No Irish Need Apply could any pretense remain that fortune has not turned for the descendants of Boston’s Gaelic-speaking domestics and dock workers.

Only in Boston politics could upward mobility be a sign of betrayal instead of a point of pride.

It is a sad commentary that a Boston mayoral race between two Irish-Americans in 2013 echoes with the class-soaked resentments of the preliminary mayoral contest between James Michael Curley and John Francis Fitzgerald a full century ago. Who grew up poorer? Who is the real champion of the working class? Who will be the tool of the ward bosses and the moneyed elites (read unions or hedge fund managers in 2013)? Who, apparently most damning of all, spent any time at Harvard?

Anywhere else this might be a case of everything old is new again, but in Boston the compulsion among those of Irish descent to prove they haven’t gone all “lace curtain” or “forgotten where they came from” never gets old. It is a fine enough thing to have gone to college, especially if it was to one of “ours” and not to one of “theirs.” Mayor Ray Flynn of South Boston and Providence College was Irish. Mayor Kevin White of Beacon Hill and Williams College was not Irish enough.

A sculpture, which is part of the Boston Irish Famine Memorial, depicts a hopeful Irish family landing in Boston. (Victoria Arocho/AP)
A sculpture, which is part of the Boston Irish Famine Memorial, depicts a hopeful Irish family landing in Boston. (Victoria Arocho/AP)

The tone of this campaign is an insult to Boston voters, most of whom could not find County Kerry on a map because their ancestral roots lie elsewhere. That whites, let alone whites of Irish descent, are a minority in this city, is a reality barely reflected in a campaign that has debated too much the blue-collar bona fides of the candidates and too little the pressing needs of African-Americans, poor whites and Boston’s growing immigrant communities.

The distance between the Dorchester of state Rep. Martin J. Walsh’s childhood and the Roslindale of City Councilor John R. Connolly’s is just not that great.

Connolly and Walsh have both done pretty well in life. Yes, Connolly was a public school teacher for a few years; he was a well-paid lawyer a lot longer. There is no shame in working for a big law firm. The governor of Massachusetts did. The president of the United States did. Connolly could end this distraction by asking his corporate clients for permission to name them. Yes, Walsh was a laborer for two years. He was the well-paid executive of a powerful union a lot longer. There is no shame in representing the interests of unionized workers. Men have died fighting for the right to collective bargaining. Walsh could end this distraction by specifying which demands of municipal unions he thinks are unreasonable in uncertain economic times.

Anywhere else this might be a case of everything old is new again, but in Boston the compulsion among those of Irish descent to prove they haven’t gone all “lace curtain” or “forgotten where they came from” never gets old.

What does it mean that Connolly ran for public office, like his father before him? Or that Walsh followed his father and his uncle into the union hall? That sons sometimes emulate their fathers? Just as others in Boston long have followed their fathers into the post office or the firehouse? And that is a disqualification for the mayor’s office because?

Enough already. There are only days left in a campaign that will bring this city a new mayor for the first time in 20 years. The challenges are daunting in education, drug abuse, public safety, growth and development and job creation. Could we please focus on which of these two capable candidates is better equipped to lead Boston and consign the Irish angst and the class warfare rhetoric to history, where it belongs?


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This program aired on November 1, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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