Strange Days in Hub Politics

“All politics is local,” the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil famously declared, and that sentiment was certainly in play outside the funeral of Boston Fire Lt. Bob Kilduff Tuesday morning. Kilduff, a jake who served this city for 39 years, was also the Vice President of Local 718 – the union that is currently engaged in battle with Mayor Thomas M. Menino over a new contract.

The city wants mandatory drug testing; the union wants to get paid for it. They are at a noisy standstill.

But outside the Cathedral in the South End, which has not hosted a funeral Mass for a firefighter since nine men died fighting a fire at the Vendome Hotel in 1972, was a scene that would have delighted Tip. There was Local 718 President Ed Kelly, who stormed out of negotiations earlier this month, standing practically elbow-to-elbow with Menino. On Menino’s left was his nemesis City Councilor Michael Flaherty, who is circulating rumors that he is going to throw his hat into the ring to unseat the four-term mayor. It was a curious scene, given how heated things have gotten between Menino and Flats, and Menino and Kelly.

The friction is even informing the choice of presidential candidates. During the St. Patty’s Day Parade last Sunday, Flaherty marched through South Boston handing out tiny nail files that read, “Change Is In Your Hands,” in an effort to drum up support for his guy, Barack Obama. Flaherty’s also been going door to door in Irish neighborhoods handing out t-shirts reading “O’Bama,” with a shamrock for an apostrophe.

“Why Obama?” many have asked. The answer is simple: Menino’s supporting Hillary Clinton.

In fact, after the Massachusetts primaries Flaherty’s team went ballistic with power emails, bragging that their door-knocking was more effective than that of the Menino Machine, harping on the fact that Obama, while losing the Bay State, got more votes in Beantown. During the parade, several sources told me, members of the Menino campaign approached Flaherty folks handing out the cutesy nail files and snarling, “It’s on.”