In Defeat, Charles Yancey Vows to Not Go Quietly into the Night

The city's longest serving city councilor finally loses an election.

Charles and Marzetta Yancey speaking at his election night party. Photo by Garrett Quinn

Charles and Marzetta Yancey speaking at his election night party. / Photo by Garrett Quinn

“Don’t Want to Lose You” by Beres Hammon was playing at an uncomfortably loud volume at City Councilor Charles Yancey’s election night party, but Yancey, the dean of the council, was nowhere to be seen even though he had lost his bid for reelection well more than an hour ago. People were glum, and some wondered whether he would even show up to address the 30 people gathered in his honor.

It was 9:38 p.m. and two men had just finished packing professional equipment that appeared positioned for a celebration, not a concession speech.

His supporters sat at festive tables decorated with flowers in the main hall at the Unity Sports & Cultural Club in Dorchester. A mix of his current campaigns signs and ones repurposed from his failed 2013 run for mayor lined the room. The entire event did not feel like a funeral; it felt tired.

Political power brokers like State Rep. Gloria Fox and former State Sen. Diane Wilkerson held court with the half-dozen reporters in the room while supporters waited for Yancey. Almost everyone in the room was well north of 40 years old.

Then, out of nowhere, Yancey appeared. There was no announcement from the MC or his campaign staff.

Smiling, he strode across the room with his wife of 43 years, Marzetta, like he had just been reelected to another term on the council. He hugged every single person in the room but instead of smiles and expressions of joy, their faces were marred by sadness and uncertainty. The political career of the man they had followed since 1983 was coming to an end.

As Yancey made his way around the room, Fox and Wilkerson took the stage to decry his loss to recent upstart Andrea Campbell, 33, and to blast the idea that this election was a shift of “old school” to “new school.”

“Celebrate him and mourn the loss that this community just suffered,” said Wilkerson, lamenting what she sees as a shift away from confrontational politics.

Longtime Yancey supporter Bob Marshall trashed Mayor Marty Walsh, Campbell, and the city’s Democratic establishment in his remarks.

“The Democratic Party in the city of Boston, they practice plantation politics,” said Marshall.

Yancey struck a more unifying and gracious tone in his unscripted concession speech.

Speaking without the benefit of a teleprompter or notes, Yancey thanked his family, friends and supporters.

“I just want to say how deeply moved I am by the love and commitment demonstrated in the crowd tonight,” said Yancey.

“Boston is a great city. It’s the city of my birth. I’ve been here for high and low points since December 28, 1948. We’ve seen some good days, we’ve seen some bad days, but I think there are great days ahead,” said Yancey.

“I never imagined when I was a little boy growing up in Roxbury that I would be a Boston City Councilor but now young people all over the city of Boston know they can become a member of the legislative branch of government,” said Yancey.

The longtime councilor reflected on his time in office without diving too deep into the specifics of his tenure, but as he went on, he tended to dwell on his most recent campaign.

“I think that we are going to coalesce and build a type of organization we should have had before the start of this campaign,” said Yancey.

During his remarks, Yancey did not mention his opponent by name once.

“I am not going away, our work is not done yet, God is not finished with us, we still have a lot of work to do,” said Yancey to the crowd.

When asked after the event what Yancey meant by these remarks, he said he was keeping all of options on the table, refusing to rule out another run for public office.

“I have to sit down with my family and discuss what our next steps are. I am not ruling anything out,” said Yancey as his daughter Ashley tried to pull him away from reporters.