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Parade starts District 3 campaign season

Yawu Miller | 6/8/2011, 9:15 a.m.
City Council District 3 candidate Stephanie Everett greets potential and future voters during the Dorchester Day Parade. Seven candidates are vying for the seat, soon to be vacated by incumbent Maureen Feeney. Yawu Miller


 

The campaign for City Council District 3 heated up Sunday as the seven candidates for the seat mobilized their troops and distributed handshakes and campaign literature during the annual Dorchester Day Parade.

Sandwiched between groups ranging from the Dynasty International Caribbean Carnival dancers, bagpipe bands, church and civic associations, the candidates took advantage of one of Dorchester’s most important events.

“During St. Patrick’s Day, there’s a lot of speculation about who’s running,” said state Rep. Marty Walsh, a lifelong Dorchester resident. “This is the unofficial start of the campaign season.”

The District 3 candidates weren’t the only ones greeting potential voters. U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Senate candidate Setti Warren were also pressing the flesh at state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry’s barbeque at the start of the parade.

Dorchester is Boston’s largest neighborhood. Of the estimated 134,496 residents, 43 percent are black, 22 percent are white, 16 percent are Latino and 8 percent are Asian. The heterogeneity of the neighborhood can make campaigning there challenging.

“It’s splintered,” says candidate Frank Baker, a former shop steward in the city’s Printing Department. “There are a lot of neighborhoods where people feel like they’re not being paid attention to.”

District 3 includes some of the city’s highest-turnout and most conservative-voting neighborhoods, like Cedar Grove, Neponset and Savin Hill. It also includes the neighborhoods where the majority of Dorchester’s white population lives: Cedar Grove, Neponset and Savin Hill.

The white conservative enclaves form the spine of the district, which reaches from Columbia Road in the north, to the Milton line in the south. The white neighborhoods for the most part are sandwiched between Dorchester Avenue and the waterfront while blacks, Latinos and Asians live west of the thoroughfare.

It’s a diverse neighborhood that suffers no lack of civic pride.

“The district race is really about being a son or daughter of the district,” says state Rep. Carlos Henriquez, a lifelong resident of the Dudley Street neighborhood who now represents Dorchester’s 5th Suffolk District. “You can overcome it. But you have to demonstrate to residents that you understand their needs.”

Overcoming Dot pride may be particularly challenging for those not born in the neighborhood, especially in a race where three Irish-American candidates are making an issue of their deep Dorchester roots.

“My kids are fourth generation Dorchester residents,” notes candidate John O’Toole, a 15-year president of the Cedar Grove Civic  Association who has the added advantage of having presided over the Old-Time Political Rally in Adam’s Corner, a must-attend election eve event.

His children played in Dorchester’s Pop Warner league and he served as a co-chair of Dorchester’s Irish Heritage Festival.

But Dorchester isn’t all shamrocks and OFD bumper stickers (if you have to ask, you’re not from here).

In addition to blacks, Latinos, Cape Verdeans and Vietnamese, District 3 has a growing community of progressive whites, gays and yuppie bargain-hunters attracted by the neighborhood’s abundance of large Victorians.

“The community has become a lot more diverse,” says Mariama White-Hammond, a Savin Hill resident who is supporting candidate Stephanie Everett. “A lot of us are facing the same challenges. We have to look past race and look at what’s best for the community.”