Politics as Unusual: Dorchester is home to the race within the race

In the kind of raucous and exhilarating election that we have on our hands, Dorchester is an intimidating gauntlet. Even residents and seasoned campaign operatives can get lost in the tribal abyss. Unless you’re a third generation ward captain who babysat for Tom Finneran when Mattapan was still part of Dorchester and the future speaker was gerrymandering his kindergarten seating chart, Boston’s southeast political corridor can be more confusing than the City’s liquor license labyrinth. Considering the critical importance of this strange land in any contest, I spent two days walking from Andrew Square to Gallivan Boulevard this past week asking locals about hopefuls.

As it turns out, Dorchester has a race of its own underway. This is especially the case in and around Uphams Corner, where apolitical passersby probably surmise that there are only two candidates—Dudley Square Neighborhood Initiative Executive Director John Barros and former state Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie, whose signs compete on parked cars and retail storefronts, in yards and on apartment windows. When I saw an old acquaintance from the area on Hancock Street on Aug. 19 and told him I was headed to a small business candidate forum at the Strand Theatre, he asked who I was voting for: “Barros or Golar Richie?” After a short pause he added, “Or Arroyo—he’s running too, right?”

Inside the Strand, members of the Dorchester contingent played with home team heroics. “Welcome to my neighborhood,” opened Golar Richie, who won a forbidden round of applause from a swarm of supporters in the front rows of the crowded room. In his turn, Barros reminded the audience that he lives only blocks away and helped open the model Restaurante Cesaria on the otherwise bleak Bowdoin Street, the reputation of which earned him particular clout, considering the forum’s Main Streets sponsorship. Keeping the neighborhood spirit, Barros even complimented his best-polling Dorchester opponent, state Rep. Marty Walsh, while longtime Savin Hill homeowner and Codman Square Health Center co-founder Bill Walczak touted his own hyperlocal laurels.

Walsh may have kicked off his campaign at the Strand back in April, but on the skirt around the theater last week, Golar Richie and Barros slogans battled it out on both sides of Columbia Road. In speaking with residents around there at parks and on stoops, I encountered more than a few outliers who favor City Councilors Charles Yancey and Felix G. Arroyo. Most folks, though, were adamant about Barros or Golar Richie, the latter of whom several people believe—wrongly, at least technically speaking—has won the coveted endorsement of Mayor Tom Menino. Otherwise, especially as I gravitated toward the four-mile stretch of Dot Ave. from Southie down to the Milton line it was clear that I was walking in the Wide World of Walsh.

Other than a smattering of City Council placards and some “Doug Bennett for Sheriff” signs—a few of which are, quite impressively, translated by hand into Vietnamese—Walsh dominates the visuals. The rep even has prime visibility around the fast-receding Polish Triangle. Walczak may have one of his trademark wintergreen numbers in the Baltic European Deli window, but the Walsh signal screams from atop the auto glass garage at the Andrew Square intersection and from a cascade of porches all around the nearby Red Line station. Three Dunkin’ Donuts-drinking octogenarians on Southampton Street were adamant in their support, with one pointing far across the square to what he claimed was the “biggest Walsh sign in the damn neighborhood” on his fence.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the Dorchester candidates are so adored on their own turf. In addition to their many bona fides—Walsh’s and Golar Richie’s long lists of Dot endorsements and hard work for constituents on Beacon Hill, Walczak’s heroic health care contributions to the area, the direct involvement of Barros in revitalizing Uphams Corner—they’re also three extraordinary choices with terrific track records on the most serious issues. Walsh, for one, understands the root of so much Dorchester evil, and as such has become the preeminent crusader in the legislature to stem the Bay State’s OxyContin epidemic. Take into account the extensive human advocacy experience of Barros and Walczak, and Golar Richie’s relationship with Mothers for Justice and Equality—a group that knows firsthand the pain caused by urban violence—and the people of Dorchester can feel confident that their concerns are well-represented.

It goes without saying that sheer size gave the area an unfair advantage in doing so, but as the most diverse section of Boston, Dorchester is fielding as diverse a range of stellar candidates as this race offers. As for the prospect of one of them securing anywhere close to the 20 percent of the electoral pie that the whole of Dot accounts for in a typical election—with four stars on the horizon, that may not be such a cause for celebration.

Chris Faraone is a former Boston Phoenix reporter and author of “99 Nights with the 99 Percent” and the upcoming “I Killed Breitbart.” He lives in Jamaica Plain.

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