JP has loved Obama, loathed Romney

Jamaica Plain has a history of strong reactions to current major-party presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, generally loving the Democrat and loathing the Republican.

A review of Gazette archives found that during his 2003-2007 stint as Massachusetts governor, Romney drew fire from JP residents and officials, especially for his attempts to thwart same-sex marriage. On the other hand, JP heavily supported Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, followed by some signs of disillusion with his administration.

Romney got off to a bad start in JP with his 2002 gubernatorial campaign support of the Unz Initiative, a state ballot question that banned bilingual education in public schools. On Election Day, one of his poll workers was removed by police from the 125 Amory Street poll after wrongly complaining that a Spanish translator was promoting Democratic candidates.

As governor, Romney was a big proponent of transit-oriented development and “smart growth,” concepts that were embraced in JP in major redevelopments around the Jackson Square, Green Street and Forest Hills T Stations. But he was also criticized for not providing public dollars to back such development.

His effort to sell off “excess” state property in 2003 nearly led to the eviction of the North American Indian Center of Boston from JP. That effort was criticized as an ugly reminder of the displacement of Indians throughout U.S. history. It also led to the sale of part of the land at 105 S. Huntington Ave., which now has plans for a housing and retail development.

But Romney is probably best remembered in JP for his intense opposition to same-sex marriage, which was legalized in Massachusetts in a landmark court case during his tenure. He tried various methods to ban it and resurrected an old law against mixed-race marriages to restrict it.

Among the many JP residents who wrote letters to the Gazette criticizing Romney was Julie Goodridge, one of the lead plaintiffs in the groundbreaking same-sex marriage lawsuit.

“Romney’s nearsightedness will be the very attribute that brings down his political career,” she wrote.

Another letter-writer in 2006 was more blunt: “Mr. Romney, hate is not the path to the White House and should not be the path of any reputable leader.”

When Romney ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, he won his home state in the primary election. But he did not win JP, where local Republican voters heavily favored U.S. Sen. John McCain. JPers were on the mark, as Romney ended his campaign two days later and McCain became the nominee.

JP’s Democratic majority heavily supported Obama in that same 2008 primary. Local Democratic officials were split in their support between candidates Obama and Hillary Clinton. Some JP residents wrote letters to the editor criticizing the Clinton support, and Obama won JP’s Democratic vote handily. Once again, JP was ahead of the curve, as Clinton won the state, but Obama won the nomination.

Many local fundraisers were held for Obama, including a “Boost Barack and Beat Bush” barbecue. He won 89 percent of the JP vote in the final election. Locals cheered his election both for his politics and for his standing as the first African-American president.

Obama’s message of “change” was cited as inspiration for various local political efforts, including the formation of JP Progressives, a group that was briefly influential in city elections.

But within months, the Gazette opinion pages saw the first local criticism of Obama’s policies. The criticisms have been few but intense, focusing on the Afghanistan war, deportations of illegal immigrants and the assassination of U.S. citizens allegedly involved in terrorism overseas.

Last year, Obama had direct impact on JP in several ways. He approved legislation dedicating the JP post office to a JP native killed in the Iraq War. His budget cuts to Community Development Block Grants resulted in the closure of one of the two JP APAC anti-poverty agency’s local sites. And he mentioned a teacher at JP’s Curley K-8 School in a speech about education budget cuts.

This year, JP residents, including Goodridge, praised Obama for his public support of same-sex marriage. And local elected officials are campaigning for his re-election, including state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, who has traveled around the country to describe his experiences with both Obama and Romney.

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