St. Patrick’s Day parade leaders say Walsh pressured them to admit LGBT group
There’s a new chapter in the legal feud between Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the organizers of South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade: allegations that Walsh coerced parade organizers two years ago into inviting a LGBT veterans group to march.
An attorney representing the organizers, Chester Darling, said he filed an amended complaint on an earlier civil lawsuit in Massachusetts District Court this week that alleges Walsh used a series of thinly veiled threats and verbal jabs to pressure organizers in 2014. The complaint also alleges Walsh engaged in a profanity-laden shouting match with parade organizer Philip Wuschke, and Darling provided the Globe with a voice mail of Walsh apologizing for the rant.
When asked about the message, Walsh spokeswoman Laura Oggeri said the mayor was “understandably upset” with parade organizers for not allowing LGBT groups to walk with a rainbow flag.
The St. Patrick’s Day parade, one of South Boston’s longest traditions, has become the subject of several legal disputes over more than two decades. In 1995, Darling and the parade’s organizers, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, won a lawsuit in the Supreme Court that allowed board members to exclude groups from the march on the grounds of free speech.
Darling’s updated lawsuit now alleges that Walsh ignored that court’s order and violated the council’s civil rights. Darling also claims Walsh unduly pressured organizers for years to include groups that favor the mayor.
“Hands off our parade, that’s all we want,” Darling said in a Tuesday phone interview.
Last year, the veterans council relented to widespread public and political pressure and invited OUTVETS, which includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender veterans, to participate. Walsh ended his boycott of the event.
Previously, Walsh has stated that he had been within his legal means to encourage the parade to be more inclusive of gay veterans’ groups.
As for the alleged rant against Wuschke, Oggeri said, “Mayor Walsh is incredibly passionate about ensuring Boston is an inclusive and welcoming city for all people, and he will continue to fight for the LGBTQ community in every aspect of his work.”
In the voice mail Darling provided the Globe, Walsh apologizes to Wuschke for “snapping” on him. In the recording, which also includes some profanity, Walsh said he was “under a lot of pressure and that I shouldn’t have done it.”
“The first mistake [Walsh] made was pushing us to change our speech to include gay groups so that Marty would march in parade,” Darling said. “Mayor Walsh made a second mistake, when he tried to strong-arm [Wuschke], a Marine.”
The revised complaint, which was first reported by the Boston Herald, comes after Darling won a federal ruling in March that thwarted Walsh’s attempts to shorten the 2016 St. Patrick’s Day parade. The Walsh administration, and Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, had said the parade had become a public safety nuisance, with crowds drinking alcohol openly, vandalizing property, and urinating in public, according to Evans.
A South Boston native who testified in the March case, Evans said at the time that the decision by Walsh to shorten the parade was apolitical.
“It had nothing to do with anything political; this is strictly a public safety decision,” Evans said.
In March, and now in the amended complaint, Darling accused Walsh of retaliation by moving to shorten the parade route.
Darling noted that the city for the first time this year requested an insurance binder and entertainment license. He also said it was an “abuse of discretion by a heavy-handed mayor. He stamped his little feet and didn’t get his way.”