There’s No Such Thing As a ‘Southie Seat’ Anymore


What a joy, on the Sunday eve of Martin Luther King Jr. day, to see the Globe run a prominently splashed story about last April’s 1st Suffolk state Senate election that utterly ignored the winning black candidate and the thousands upon thousands of black voters who decided the election.

Look, we all love to write about old versus new Southie politics; I’ve written that story, in various forms, for years. But that has nothing to do with what happened in that Senate race.

The truth is that the 1st Suffolk is not, today, a “Southie seat,” except in the puny minds of a small number of people who insist upon believing that South Boston remains some greatly important power center. The vast majority of the district lies outside Southie, ranging all the way to Hyde Park. Nick Collins really should have had no chance at all against Linda Dorcena Forry, but was given hope by juxtaposing the primary on the day when South Boston’s own Steve Lynch was on the ballot for US Senator.

Forry helped out by running, for the most part, a poor campaign. But even so, Collins’s optimism lay in the assumption that black people don’t vote in non-Presidential elections. (The same assumption would cause jaws to drop when Jean-Claude Sanon grabbed a top-two spot in the District 6 City Council preliminary in September.)

By my count, in the 1st Suffolk primary, 30 percent of the votes were cast in South Boston; Collins won 74 percent of them. A nearly equal 29 percent of the votes were cast in the 28 majority-black precincts; Forry won 86 percent of those.

Of course there were some Collins supporters annoyed with Dahill for supposedly pulling votes from their candidate. (I don’t believe she pulled significantly more from him than from Forry, but that’s an argument for the ages I suppose.) That happens in almost every multiple-candidate primary, and it had nothing to do with old versus new Southie—it was because they were so similar. Collins and Dahill are both rooted Southie figures with generally New Boston sensibilities mixed with classic neighborhood concerns of gentrification. Cahill is hardly a revolutionary; Collins is no dinosaur.

Anyway, the real problem was the attitude coursing through Billy Baker’s piece, that the way to elect Collins was for Southie to vote as a bloc and overwhelm the rest of the district, rather than actually assessing the candidates and the constituents, and, oh I don’t know, trying to find Codman Square or the Chittick School on a damn map.

As I wrote a year ago:

…the spate of elections this year might just reveal that Southie is not the isolated, unique enclave it’s made out to be, but just another interconnected part of the city — one that can be happily represented by a Haitian-American woman from Dorchester just as well as Jack Hart can represent Mattapan….

…there’s a very good chance that 2013 will be the year when Southie residents have to get used to being represented by outsiders. And that could very well be how they find renewed power….The alternative is for Southie old-timers to keep stubbornly voting for their own, in a city that has moved on ideologically and demographically. That might allow them to keep feeling special and superior, but won’t get them much else.