John Connolly’s ‘privileged’ neighborhood

The efforts by aggressive labor unions to brand Boston mayoral candidate John Connolly as a “son of privilege’’ who “doesn’t understand working class people’’ holds a special fascination for me. Since 2000, my family has lived on the same street on the Roslindale/West Roxbury line — Cerdan Avenue — that Connolly grew up on during the 1980s.

Families in this neighborhood are privileged, although not necessarily as reflected in their bank accounts. On weekends and evenings, it’s common to see groups of children playing street hockey and basketball outside their homes. There’s plenty of parking, so drivers don’t have to compete with curbside hoops and nets. And like many neighborhoods in the city’s southwest sections, Cerdan Avenue boasts a suburban feel. Yet it’s only a 10-minute bus ride from the end of the street to the Orange Line at Forest Hills. Even a recent rash of car breaks on the street was the first crime spree that many neighbors could recall.

Mayoral candidate Martin Walsh, to his credit, has condemned efforts by his supporters to bludgeon Connolly with a silver spoon. But the attackers already have succeeded at exploiting the keen sense of reverse snobbery that still prevails in much of Boston. According to the city’s political playbook, someone like Walsh, who grew up in a working class section of Dorchester, automatically possesses greater urban credibility than someone who lives in, say, trendier Jamaica Plain. By this ranking system, Jamaica Plain trumps West Roxbury, where single family homes predominate. Actually, every neighborhood trumps West Roxbury. Why look at a person’s individual talents or accomplishments when all you need to know is what side of Centre Street they live on? Geography is destiny.


Connolly, who is a member of the City Council, has been portrayed as an enemy of the working man, in part because he has pledged to vote against an overly generous salary hike to the city’s police officers. Back to Cerdan Avenue. Shortly after moving there, I noticed police cars parked up and down the street at practically any hour of day or night. Domestic violence problems? Medical emergencies? A neighbor quickly explained that the street was home to several police officers who come home for lunch or dinner.

Get Arguable in your inbox:
Jeff Jacoby on everything from politics to pet peeves to the passions of the day.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Such sightings have fallen off in recent years. Under the city’s residency ordinance, police officers are required to live within the city’s border for 10 years. After that, their sentences are up and they are free to move to the real suburbs. And move they do. Connolly, however, is rooted in West Roxbury and sends his daughter to a comeback school in Roxbury. Yet somehow he gets painted as the out-of-touch, enemy of the people. It’s ridiculous.

Connolly’s education agenda, which includes some tough love for the Boston Teachers Union, prompted the opposing camp to position him “on the side of Republicans, corporate lawyers, and Wall Street hedge fund millionaires and billionaires.’’ If there are hedge fund tycoons living on Cerdan Avenue, they are masquerading as HVAC contractors, social workers, and secretaries.

It’s a hard job educating children in Boston, regardless of address. It’s common for families to cobble together 12 years of education for a child by resorting to a combination of public, charter, private, and parochial schools. My family hit for the cycle. Connolly has a plan to bring consistency and quality to the Boston Public Schools so that kids won’t need to bounce around town like billiard balls. And he gets eviscerated for it.

This wouldn’t be Boston without taking shots at Connolly for being a member of the bar. A moderator at a recent televised debate pressed Connolly on whether his former law firm represented landlords in eviction cases. Connolly, it turns out, didn’t handle that side of the business. But what if he had? The Boston Housing Authority and the even the Boston Public Health Commission — two agencies on the side of the angels — sometimes find it necessary to evict bad tenants. It’s the only way to protect the quality of life of law-abiding families.


Connolly points out cheerfully that he grew up on a street in Roslindale, “not Beverly Hills.’’ Hold on. Cerdan Avenue was in Roslindale — Zip Code 02131 — when Connolly lived there. But the post office changed the Zip Code to 02132 a few years ago, messing up everyone’s mail. Need I tell Connolly’s detractors that 02132 is the Zip for privileged West Roxbury. Go get him, boys.

Lawrence Harmon can be reached at harmon@globe.com