Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Remembering a dear friend
On Sunday night, I received a phone call from a former political acquaintance of mine from Boston, completely out of the blue. When I saw the Caller ID, I gasped knowing it was probably bad news and I answered the phone.
Instead of saying, “Hello?” or “Hi,” I said, “Oh I hope this isn’t bad news …” almost thinking that it might be a joke call or one of those old friends reaching out because they've discovered they could find people on Google.
Unfortunately, it was bad news.
As it turned out, Eddie, a good friend of mine, passed away suddenly from a drug overdose and the caller wanted me to know about it. I was shocked by the news and started to well up, especially knowing that my late friend had battled substance abuse previously in his life and had been sober for a very long time.
We talked small talk and agreed to have lunch sometime. We do have a lot of catching up to do and I'm sure I will get an earful about all the bad things I've written about his former boss, Sen. John Kerry.
After I hung up the phone, I just stared at the floor. My wife, who had heard part of the call, remembered Eddie well and was also shocked by the news. I hadn’t spoken to him in years, but I regularly wondered how he was doing because for a number of years, he was an integral part of my life. And now, he was gone.
Eddie and I became close, fast friends in late 1991, after we were both drawn to the presidential campaign of former California Governor Jerry Brown. Both of us were Democrats - I was sick of the party, and looking for something new and Brown raised many of the feelings and frustrations which I had with the political system at the time. I still do have many of the same feelings – as do many other people – but this was before DailyKos and Internet chat boards where people could vent. Eddie was from a more establishment political background – Irish Catholic, Hyde Park – and some his friends laughed at him when he said he had decided to volunteer for Brown.
Over the course of many months, Eddie and I and many others would travel all over the east coast, organizing for Brown. It was a blast and one of the best experiences of my life [Someday, I will be able to put my book together and share all those great memories].
We really thought we were on the cusp of something really big, reform-minded, and special … something many of the people who are involved in the Democratic Party think they are involved with now even though they aren’t really.
Eddie took time to share his life with me; I was a bit more of an open book. Although, when I started to learn about his life, I gained great respect for him, his sobriety, and the hard time he had improving his life. We became more attached, would have coffee and would talk for hours. If I wanted to drink, he was comfortable with that, but I always offered not to drink if it bothered him. It never did. We would talk about failed policy, what we would do if we were in power, and future political ambitions. Eddie wanted to be Suffolk County sheriff but believed he needed to reach a level of maturity so that past indiscretions would be forgotten.
“Twenty five years,” he once told me. “After my law degree.”
I was still wishing I could be a senator some day even though, deep-down, I knew I would never get elected in a place like Massachusetts because despite some liberal views, I really did support Brown’s flat tax plan. I also wasn’t willing to part with my Bordeaux-colored locks or hard living rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle … at least not yet.
Later, after the Brown campaign, Eddie introduced me to then-City Councilor Tom Menino from his Hyde Park neighborhood. Menino was planning a run for Mayor and Eddie asked me to organize Back Bay and the South End for Menino which I happily did. Menino later won, becoming the longest-serving Mayor in Boston’s history.
Eddie also introduced me to District Attorney Ralph Martin, a black Republican who received a lot of Democratic support and also won his race.
And when Sen. Ted Kennedy was in a troubled reelection campaign against Mitt Romney in 1994 and they put out the call out for hire guns, Eddie told the campaign that I should be hired. The next thing I know, I’m organizing all the college campuses in the eastern part of the state and getting a check too. I learned a lot of good and bad things in that two month time period but I don't regret it.
Eddie was one of my first Instant Message pals on AOL as we both started learning about computers and the Internet. In my case, I started dating a graphic artist who helped me learn the value of the tool; Eddie started going to night school to get to that law degree and needed a computer. It was a pretty good time.
We kept in touch over the next few years as Eddie and others tried to land me a city job so that I would have the stability to go to college. Interview after interview after interview, I just couldn't get in because there were other people getting in to the lower skilled jobs and there were affirmative action quotas which needed to be obtained in order to make sure the city workforce reflected the makeup of the city. This frustrated me - being a lower middle class white person making $7 an hour trying to make ends meet - but I understood the logic.
After a slew of interviews over 18 months, Eddie told me it probably wasn't going to happen so I moved on, eventually getting a second job, a part-time radio board op gig, to subsidize my income. That job eventually led to a full-time radio gig but not much more money.
Later, in 1997, when I found out the City of Boston was going to cancel a preliminary election for its at-large city council race because there weren’t enough people running, I called Eddie and asked if he thought that I should run. He asked me what I would work on if elected. I said I would campaign on a platform of more affordable housing, preserving more open space, limited campaign donations, and a local currency program called Boston Bucks, a few ideas that I was toying with after reading the Boston Globe article about the cancelled election. The hot button issue at the time was the Mayor’s $7 an hour living wage ordinance. I told Eddie I would openly be campaigning against the ordinance and he asked me why, probably thinking I would catch holy hell and be linked as anti-union like the insipid Back Bay Councilor Tom Keane.
“Well, it isn’t good enough,” I said.
After that, Eddie said he would help if I decided to run.
After hemming and hawing for a few days trying to decide what to do, I jumped in on a lark with just five days to gather the 500 signatures to get on the ballot. In just a few days, Eddie hanging out in Hyde Park, myself in East Boston, the North End, and South Boston, and a couple of his friends hanging out at grocery stores in West Roxbury, collected more than 1,100 signatures in a few days to force a preliminary election. In just a few weeks, after a quick letter telling people I knew about the race, we had more than $3,000 to pay for all the signs, some small newspaper ads, and other stuff campaigns need [As an aside, the two big news/talk stations – WBZ and WRKO – refused to sell me radio ads because they didn’t want to have to offer a discounted rate to any of the political candidates. They refused to sell radio ads to the candidate who was working in radio. I was livid but this was on the cusp of the dot-con boom when WBZ was getting $900 a spot in morning drive! It was a lousy business model and later, when they did offer radio ads to the finalists, I was even more pissed].
I ended up losing the preliminary by a couple of hundred votes after a concerted effort by at least one other campaign to throw votes to an unknown candidate from Dorchester to keep me out of the final. At least two reporters the day after the election were nudging me about the theory although no one ever had any proof, it was all entirely hearsay.
I think I made some good points in that campaign. And, what I found out was that I loved campaigning even more than I did previously, especially if it was my own.
As Eddie started to raise a family and go to law school, we lost touch a bit but we would see each other a couple of times a year. When I was attending Harvard Extension School at night, we ran into each other and had a long talk in the yard which we had to break off because it was freezing cold outside.
Then, like so many other friends over the years, we lost touch. I heard he we was working selling computers with a family member. But, I never stopped thinking about Eddie. And now he is gone.
On Sunday, I thought about all those years and how just one life can affect another person so much. It was totally random, our meeting and friendship. It could have happened with anyone or it might not have happened at all. I thought about his adorable little children who will now be without a father. And I sat dumbfounded on my couch, furious that heroin had taken another person I knew and in this case, someone who shouldn’t have lost the battle because he had it beat. That damn evil filthy friggin' heroin. Arrgh.
Goodbye dear friend. I will really miss you. But I also know you are in a better place now and soon, we will all be joining you and we can enjoy the perpetual campaign.
Crossposted at Area603

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