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The Boston Globe
Boston Globe Online / City Weekly
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Eyeing third term, Scapicchio sees DA office in his future

By Alan Lupo, Globe Staff, 8/5/2001

Campaign Diary will appear occasionally. As local political campaigns heat up, City Weekly will drop in on people and events to capture the color and poetry of politics in the City Weekly area.

District Councilor Paul Scapicchio, who represents the North End, Eastie, Charlestown, Charles River Park and a small piece of Beacon Hill, is unopposed for a third term this year, so he now can engage in a fairly common test of political reflexes known as running for two offices at once.

Scapicchio has hinted for some time that he might run next year for Suffolk County District Attorney, a position to be vacated by incumbent Ralph Martin.

Other pols and observers of the game have shrugged off the North Ender's hints as nothing more than playful irritants designed to get under the skin of three colleagues who long have lusted to be D.A.

They are, in alphabetical order, Dan Conley, who represents Hyde Park; Mike Flaherty Jr., of Southie, an at-large councilor, and Brian Honan, who toils for the Allston-Brighton district.

Conley has been open about his desire for years. When Flaherty announced for council reelection June 14, folks from Chelsea and Winthrop, which with Revere and Boston comprise Suffolk County, showed up. And in his council reelection effort, Honan has been passing out pens engraved, ''Boston City Councilor Brian Honan, 2002,'' when he will run for D.A.

Scapicchio now insists that he is quite serious about joining the pack running for reelection to the council this year and eyeing the D.A.'s race next year.

The District One councilor's optimism for victory is based on at least two support beams - numbers and ethnicity. In his strategy, each plays into the other.

The district he represents has 72,390 residents. Add the 100,666 in the cities of Chelsea and Revere and the town of Winthrop, and Scapicchio claims a population base of 173,056.

Two questions arise:

Population does not equal voters, right?

Can't the other three candidates also lay claim to Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop?

The answers are yes and yes, but Scapicchio has answers to the answers.

He contends that his district and the three other communities account for one quarter of the total Suffolk County vote.

As for anyone's chances in Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop, of course all the Boston-based candidates have friends and contacts there. But Scapicchio is the only Italian in the pack, and those three communities are loaded with Italians, including some of his friends and relatives.

For almost a century, Italian pols have performed novenas in hoping for lots of Irish names on the ballot. The theory is simple: the Irish split their voting base, and the Italians support one of their own.

It doesn't always work, but it often has, especially if a candidate can depend on a strong base of support. This figured in US Representative Michael Capuano's 1998 victory in the 8th Congessional District. The former Somerville mayor solidified his base in that city and expanded it to contacts and allies, many of them Italian, in such places as Eastie and Chelsea.

''If Capuano taught me anything,'' Scapicchio said, ''it's that a large base makes you viable.''

Number crunching

For two decades, black, Latino and Asian activists have asked the Boston City Council to realign the council's nine districts to increase the odds of electing more minorities to that body.

Yet in the years since the council was transformed in 1983 from a nine-member body elected at-large to a 13-person outfit, with four elected at-large and nine by districts, nothing much has changed. There were two largely black districts then, and there are two now - District 4, Mattapan and part of Dorchester, and District 7, largely Roxbury.

What predictably has changed, according to the 2000 federal census, is the ethnic and racial makeup of the city, now over 50 percent minority, and the movement of those minorities into neighborhoods that were once solidly white.

Each census requires the council, as all legislative bodies, to re-draw district lines to conform with population shifts. Boston is not required to do this until 2006, but Chuck Turner, the Roxbury councilor and chairman of the redistricting committee, hopes to publish a new district map by early October and have the council voted on it in November.

Turner has been laboring assiduously at this task, holding hearings and meetings with a variety of interest groups who, he says, have raised two major issues.

''One is the concern activists have in District 6, in Jamaica Plain, for uncoupling with West Roxbury,'' he said. ''The other was raised by Chinatown community activists on their desire to be linked to District 8 (Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Mission Hill) because of the Asian population there.''

Neither of these proposals is totally new, certainly not the idea of separating Jamaica Plain, filled with white liberals and increasing numbers of Latinos, from the more moderate white Catholic West Roxbury. Also, in the past, some Chinatown activists pushed to divorce one District 2 partner, South Boston, and hook up with its other, the South End, now all represented by Southie's Jimmy Kelly.

Though Turner has declined to speculate how the realignment might work, history, geography and demographics suggest the following possibility:

Jamaica Plain could be paired with Roxbury's Mission Hill, also home to many minorities. But District 8 Councilor Mike Ross wants to keep Mission Hill.

''My concern,'' he said, ''is that Mission Hill cannot afford to be subdivided, that the more you break up a community, the weaker a community could be.''

He is more amenable to the possibility of incorporating Chinatown, though he tactfully added, ''That would have to be worked out through Councilor Kelly.''

Ross, who has done a lot of his own homework on redistricting, said the Asian connection made sense, given their numbers in the Fenway.

''In Ward 5, Precinct 2,'' he said, ''there are 488 Asians out of a total of 3,741 people. In another Fenway precinct, Ward 4, Precinct 10, there are 522 Asians out of a total of 4,332. If you look at Ward 4, Precinct 7, you see 529 Asians out of 4134 people.''

Ross's district has 62,826 people, which is 2,674 short of the ideal 65,500 each district should have. So, he argues, keeping Mission Hill and adding Chinatown works for him.

But Ross could run into a numbers problem anyway. His district neighbor, Paul Scapicchio, must shed a fair number of residents in the interests of numerical equity. District 1 has the largest population, 72,390, of any district.

Scapicchio is not likely to lose precincts in East Boston, the North End or Charlestown, so that leaves Charles River Park and a piece of Beacon Hill, both adjacent to Ross's district. If Ross were forced to incorporate those precincts, he could not also add Chinatown.

''The numbers allow me only so much,'' he said.

This story ran on page 6 of the Boston Globe's City Weekly section on 8/5/2001.
Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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