Year in Review A look back on events that affected East Boston

December 30, 2009
By

On Thursday night the final seconds of 2009 will tick away.

East Boston residents will join the world community and look to a new year with optimism and hope.

In this small community the year was filled with stories of triumph, victory, success, tragedy and adversity.

The years’ successes put East Boston on the map as a thriving community with considerable degrees of achievement.

Despite affliction, 2009 laid the foundation for the shapes of things that are in store for the community in 2010 and beyond.

If 2009 was a foreshadowing to the new year, residents are sure to continue their resilience, rebounding and rising together to protect the interests of the community.

January

Bernard Madoff Scandal

2009 started off with a bang as Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme had a direct impact on East Boston non-profits.

The Shapiro Family Foundation, which has a long history of helping Zumix and the Piers Park Sailing Center, invested $145,000,000 of its $323,912,042 in assets with Madoff. Needless to say, the foundation will most likely never see its money again.

In 2007, Zumix received $30,000 from the Shapiro Family Foundation and last year two Zumix students received $12,000 scholarships from the foundation.

Also, since 2005 the foundation has awarded Piers Park Sailing Center $24,000 to run its Adaptive Sailing program–a program that empowers people with disabilities to overcome their handicap through sailing.

Scup’s in the Harbor

Half the fun of going to Scup’s in the Harbor, the new breakfast and lunch joint down on the Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina in East Boston, is finding the hole in the wall.

You head down Marginal Street past Piers Park, stop at the marina’s guard gate, tell the guard you’re going to Scup’s, go straight and before you crash into the next security fence you’ve found it. Right there on your right in the two level brick building is the unassuming restaurant named after a dog Scup’s owners fished out of the Harbor that is creating quite a local buzz.

Inside Scup’s during a typical breakfast rush owner Wendy Saver greets you and takes your order. Her partner Dave Rockwood’s busy in the kitchen cooking up the menu items that keep people coming back for more. Also there’s Thalia Large who’s responsible for baking daily sweets that Wendy and Dave say come with a money back guarantee. They’ve yet to refund any money to satisfied customers

This is Scup’s in a nutshell. A warm cozy place that continues to grow as more people discover its unique locations and tempting menu.

First Priority Credit Union Breaks Ground

When the officials broke ground, First Priority Credit Union’s business developer, Derek Brodin, said he got more and more excited each day he passed the construction site that will soon be home to his bank’s new corporate headquarters and full service bank.

“I truly believe this is going to be a great addition to the neighborhood,” said Brodin. “We are not trying to compete with older, more established neighborhood institutions, we are simply going to be a quality bank and another option for people in East Boston and the surrounding communities.”

In a time when the large corporate conglomerates were taken down by the mortgage crisis, small banks like First Priority are thriving.

The building on the corner of Bennington and Swift Streets that once housed Gem Auto Parts was demolished in July 2007 to make room for First Priority new 13,000 sq. ft. building. Once completed, First Priority will become the largest full service bank in East Boston and the largest commercial development the neighborhood has seen in recent years.

Petruccelli and Basile in the fight to preserve toll discount

They may have not been visible at some of the staged demonstrations around the neighborhood against the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority’s proposed toll hike but Senator Anthony Petruccelli and Representative Carlo Basile were neck deep in hearings and reports on how to fix and manage the state’s failing transportation system,

January marked the end of a series of hearings at the State House by the Joint Committee on Transpiration. At the hearing Petruccelli and Basile had the opportunity to grill some of the state’s transportation leaders while gaining an understanding and appreciation for the scope of the problem.

In fact, inside his office at the Senate, both Petruccelli and Basile were pouring over the committee’s report and recommendations and both agreeing that they need to be less parochial on tolls and more comprehensive in their approach to fixing the problem.

“It’s not going to be solved by just a gas tax, or by raising tolls,” said Petruccelli. “This is a $15 to $20 billion problem and the problem is about fixing the current transportation infrastructure never mind new projects.”

Basile added that everyone wants to have demonstrations and scream and yell and protest the proposed toll hike but reminded residents that the public can’t have a narrow view and lose focus on the larger, multi-billion dollar problem.

“This is not just an East Boston problem, or a North End problem or a Boston problem it’s a state problem,” said Basile. “We will do everything to advocate East Boston’s residential discount program but at the same time we need solutions, we need revenue and we need to do it without hurting the bank accounts of commuters and that’s what Anthony (Petruccelli) and I are working to do.”

New EBSB President

Since the departure of former East Boston Savings Bank President Robert Verdonck in June 2008 the bank’s holding company Board Chairman Richard Gavegnano was acting president.

Until 2009.

Meridian Interstate Bancorp, Inc. (NASDAQ: EBSB) announced the appointment of Deborah J. Jackson as EBSB’s new President and Chief Operating Officer.

Jackson, who took over the post March 4, has over 25 years experience in the banking. She began her career at State Street Bank and later served as Chief Financial Officer of the Hingham Institution For Savings, a position which she has held for the past 14 years until taking her new position with EBSB.

“The Board of Directors is very pleased to be able to attract a quality banker and person like Ms. Jackson,” said Gavegnano, who remains as Meridian’s Board Chairman and CEO. “With the experience she has running the financial operations of a full service banking institution and her knowledge of our market area and customer base, she will be a critical part of our team and our future success.”

Arinella picks up 250th win as East Boston swim coach

East Boston’s Chief Probation Officer and High School swim team coach, Dave Arinella, picked up his 250th win after the Jets beat St. Mary’s during a January 2009 swim meet. This career achievement, shared only by a handful of coaches in Massachusetts, is the highlight of Arinella’s stella career as swim coach that has spanned three decades.

The 250th win came after a three and half week delay to the swim season due to a new federal law that closed all of Boston’s community pools–including the two local pools. The law required an upgrade to all pool drainage systems.

The swim team only had one day of practice under their belts but was able to win their first official meet on January 9.

Then, on January 16 at home, the Jets edged out St. Mary’s and delivered Arinella this milestone in high school sports and a 4-2 record on the season.

“It was very satisfying the way we won,” explained Arinella. “It has also been one of my favorite seasons because these kids had to face such adversity over the past three weeks by not being able to practice. However, they were able to come out of the gate, swim strong and win.”

February

170 Maverick gets BRA approval

A scaled down version of the East Boston Community Development Corporation’s (CDC) affordable rental project at 170 Maverick Street was given a green light by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) in February.

The CDC’s original plan was to construct a 30 unit, five story building on the half acre site but after several community meetings decided to reduce the number of units to 27 and the height of the building to three stories.

The BRA voted unanimously in support of the project because it will add more affordability for residents during these tough economic times.

Back in October 2008, the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association (JPNA) held the first in a series of meetings concerning the project, its size and the impacts it might have on neighbors.

While the plans were in its infancy, many in attendance felt the share size and scope of the project was a little too much on a parcel that borders residences and the Greenway park.

However, some were confused at some of the photographs presented by the CDC, which showed a yellow outline of the property. Some thought the building would encompass the entire half acre parcel.

In fact, the scaled down version of the building accepted by the BRA takes up only about half of the 23,000 sq. ft. footprint. The rest of the land, explained CDC consultant John Vitagliano, will be tree plantings and other landscaping.

Budget Cuts

East Boston was reeling from the Patrick Administration’s mid-year budget cuts but the small Boston neighborhood braced for even choppier financial waters in February.

In September, all the earmarks for local based community programs put forth by Senator Anthony Petruccelli and Representative Carlo Basile were virtually wiped out. While programs like Zumix and Crossroads were able to acquire the first round of funding the earmark for Zumix had been slashed from $200,000 to $50,000 for 2009 and Crossroads funding has been cut in half and the shelter will most likely only get about $89,000 for the year.

Governor Deval Patrick also cut the $5,000,000 for a local diversion program for addicts of OxyContin or heroin and the rest of the state. A program well-supported by Petruccelli and very important to Basile.

In Febraury, Patrick submitted his Fiscal Year 2010 budget proposal and an emergency plan for closing a $1.1 billion budget gap in the current fiscal year. Both are components of the Patrick-Murray Administration’s Emergency Recovery Plan that aim to stabilize and position the Commonwealth for long-term economic success. The Governor also filed legislation to help municipalities increase revenue to offset local aid cuts.

Blue Line’s new line

East Boston commuters that use the Blue Line each day noticed in February that each morning and afternoon there are more and more of the new six car trains in operation.

Former MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas announced that more than half of the Blue Line trains that operate during peak commuting periods are now the longer trains and the number of shorter, four-car trains continues to shrink.

Grabauskas said there are 70 new Blue Line cars now on MBTA Property, and 56 of them have been accepted for service following rigorous testing and inspection phases.

Eventually the Blue Line fleet will be comprised of 94 new cars once the procurement process is finished.

Eastie commuters have been enjoying a more comfortable ride on the new Blue Line fleet since January 2008. In February 2008 Grabauskas, joined local elected officials at Aquarium Station to roll out four more of the new, sleek, state-of-the-art trains that now running between Wonderland and Bowdoin Stations.

New East Boston Judge takes over

Since taking over for retired First Chief Justice Paul Mahoney, Judge Robert Ronquillo said there hasn’t been a dull moment and looks forward to every day he’s on the bench at the East Boston Division of the Massachusetts Trial Court.

“I love my job because I work alongside a dedicated staff whose objective is to make East Boston the safest community in the city,” said Ronquillo in his chambers Monday.

Judge Ronquillo is no stranger to East Boston or the court. A New England School of Law graduate, Judge Ronquillo worked as an Assistant District Attorney for Suffolk County in the mid 1980s and prosecuted many cases in East Boston District Court.

“From my early days as a prosecutor to when I had my own practice as a defense attorney in Chelsea I was frequently here in East Boston working on cases,” said Judge Ronquillo.

In fact it was during this time that Judge Ronquillo gained an appreciation for the court here and realized it was a very hardworking professional staff.

“I spent a lot of time at this courthouse as an attorney and was impressed with the incredible professional and knowledgeable staff here in East Boston,” said Judge Ronquillo. “It’s pretty much the same people and they make my life as a judge very easy. This court has gained a good reputation in the state based solely on the employees that work here.”

After practicing law for over a decade, Judge Ronquillo was appointed District Court Judge in Dorchester. From there he served as a District Court Judge in Lynn, Peabody and Chelsea. It was during these early days that Judge Ronquillo began to understand the inner working of a ‘community court’.

“You have to base your decisions on a case by case basis,” said Judge Ronquillo.

Petruccelli picked to Chair the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture

Senator Anthony Petruccelli is familiar with the environmental impacts something like an airport has on the health and quality of life in a community. Petruccelli, who grew up in the shadow of Logan International Airport and has a long history of opposing Logan expansion efforts as a legislator, will take that local knowledge statewide.

Petruccelli was tapped in 2009 by Senate President Theresa Murray to chair the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, a coup for the young legislator relatively new to the state senate.

Last year the committee tackled issues related to regional greenhouse gases, solutions for global warming, the creation of green communities and the management the state’s territorial waters.

March

EBSB gives back

Three East Boston non-profits organizations again benefited from the East Boston Savings Bank’s charitable foundation.

The Meridian Charitable Foundation announced that the Most Holy Redeemer Church’s Our Daily Bread program, Crossroads Family Shelter and the Salesian Boys & Girls Club would all share in grants totaling $113,725 that was recently doled out to 29 community organizations.

Coupled with an earlier round of funding that awarded $71,500 to 17 organizations, the foundation gave out a total of more than $185,000 in grants in 2008.

A fight to save the last house on Neptune Road

Jim Morse’s grandfather, James Morse, was known in the 1950s and 1960s as the ‘Mayor of Neptune Road.’–a distinction he held until the Massachusetts Port Authority took the home that he raised his children in by eminent domain and demolished it and other homes along Neptune Road and Lovell Street during the height of Logan Airport expansion in the late 1960s.

“My parents grew up in here but we moved to Medford when I was young,” said Morse. “But we faithfully went to my grandparent’s house for Sunday dinner on Lovell Street since I was 5 years old until I was a teenager.”

This was before Logan and Massport came along and the Neptune Road and Lovell Street neighborhood was still a quiet, oak tree-lined wonderland that led to the famed Wood Island Park. During Morse’s youth he rode his bike and played with the other neighborhood kids during those Sunday visits.

“East Boston is something that stays with you, something that doesn’t go away,” said Morse. “Those were some happy memories.”

Other were not so happy.

“I only saw my mother cry twice in my life,” said Morse. “The first was when John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the second was in 1969 when Massport demolished the houses on Neptune Road and cut down the trees inside Wood Island Park to lengthen a runway.”

Morse, who still lives in Medford, was part of an unsuccessful grassroots effort to save the last standing home on Neptune Road recently purchased by the Port Authority. Morse joined with the East Boston Airport Impact Relief, Inc. (AirInc) and launched an online petition, www.petitiononline.com/18neptun/ to save the last remaining home and memory of his former stopping grounds. The website has had over 100 signatures and Morse urged more residents to go online and sign the petition.

Morse and the group has also enlisted the help of Eastie’s elected officials, including U.S. Congressman Michael Capuano in asking the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to reconsider its rule regarding the runway protection zones prohibiting any public assembly underneath them, in particular the home at 18 Neptune Rd.

New Barrels hit Eagle Hill

In 1990 Chris Marchi was working for the City of Boston’s recycling program trying to drum up support and interest for recycling in East Boston and other neighborhoods. Forming a group of volunteers, Marchi and other environmentally conscious residents would set up drop zones on the weekends for recyclables each month.

“During these events litter was becoming an increasingly noticeable local problem – especially in Eagle Hill,” said Marchi. “Residents were always coming up to me and asking, because I worked for the city, if I could get more trash barrels for Eagle Hill and the rest of the neighborhood. While my department was focused solely on recycling and not litter I said I’d see what I could do.”

There was a resounding ‘No!’ from Boston Public Works heads to Marchi because they complained putting barrels in residential areas only leads to people disposing household trash in receptacles meant for litter.

That was the attitude of the city over the next two decades. Each time Eagle Hill residents through the Eagle Hill Civic Association (EHCA) asked for more barrels to try and solve the growing litter problem they were given the household trash excuse as well as a array of other excuses to why the city could not add trash barrels to Eagle Hill by officials.

Until 2009.

At a EHCA meeting, City Councilor Sal LaMattina and John Forbes from the Mayor’s Office said they have committed 30-40 barrels to Eagle Hill through a pilot program to curb litter in the area. The program already seems to be working in the business district. The city officials, along with East Boston Main Streets and the Chamber of Commerce urged business owners to adopt a barrel. Many did and so far the sidewalks along Meridian Street and Central Square are getting a lot cleaner.

New Chelsea Street Bridge

When Senator Anthony Petruccelli and Transportation Secretary James Aloisi were young, they said they could remember many occasions when the aging Chelsea Street Bridge would get stuck in the up position because it was struck by a ship trying to squeeze through its narrow passage underneath.

“I remember as a kid riding over to Bradlee’s in Chelsea with my father and having to go all the way down to the Meridian Street Bridge because the Chelsea street one was closed,” said Aloisi.

Petruccelli added that he remembered one stretch when the bridge was closed for almost two years after being struck by a tugboat.

In 2009, Petruccelli and Aloisi joined Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Thomas Menino and elected officials from Boston and Chelsea to break ground on the construction of a new bridge that will replace the 73-year-old structurally-deficient Chelsea Street Bridge.

A few years ago, U.S. Congressman Michael Capuano was able to secure funding for the project in the federal transportation bond bill. In the last two weeks, the federal government granted the state the authority to spend $437.9 million on transportation projects through federal highway funds, with $153.2 million of that funding committed to “shovel-ready” projects. Last week, the Patrick Administration put the first eight recovery projects out to bid, dedicating an estimated total of approximately $30 million for infrastructure improvements in every region of the state.

The Chelsea Street Bridge was one of these projects.

John Nucci named  I Migliori award winner

Former Suffolk County Clerk Magistrate and current Suffolk University Vice President John Nucci added another distinguished award to his resume at a reception at the Logan Hilton in 2009.

Nucci, a lifelong East Boston resident, along with Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, were selected to receive this year’s Pirandello Lyceum’s prestigious I Migliori award.

The award recognizes outstanding Americans of Italian descent who have made important contributions to their profession, society and the Italian American community.

“It is an honor to be recognized by as prestigious a group as the Pirandello Lyceum,” said Nucci. “To be in such distinguished company, especially my long-time friend, House Speaker Bob DeLeo, makes this an even more important occasion for me and my family.”

Nucci added that he has always been proud of his Italian-American roots.

“I am sure that every recipient would agree that any success that each of us has achieved can be traced back to our strong tradition of family and work ethic…qualities driven home to us by our parents and relatives,” said Nucci.

Before leaving public life to serve as vice president for External Affairs at Suffolk University, Nucci had been a prominent elected official in the City of Boston for over 20 years.

Nucci served six years on the Boston School Committee, including four years as president, and was an at-large member of the Boston City Council for four years. He was also a Boston mayor candidate in the early 1990s.

During the twilight of his political career Nucci served as Clerk of the Suffolk County Criminal Superior Court for 11 years.

Petruccelli and Basile preserve toll discount in bill

The state’s transportation bill that moved out of the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee in March 2009 and was debated on the Senate Floor had good news for East Boston residents.

In the bill, Senator Anthony Petruccelli and Representative Carlo Basile inserted language that calls for the preservation of the 40 cent residential discount that Eastie drivers enjoy when going through the Sumner or Ted Williams tunnels.

In Governor Deval Patrick’s transportation bill he called for an increase to the residential program from 40 cents to 50 cents above a one way trip on the MBTA. That would have increased the residential discount to $2.50. This caused widespread alarm and panic as residents feared having to pay $650 per year to travel through the tunnels during the work week.

Luckily, Petruccelli and Basile were able to keep language in the Senate’s bill as it moved out of Ways and Means.

“We are very pleased at this point that we were able to convince out colleagues that the 40 cent residential discount is appropriate mitigation for a community that hosts many of the state’s transportation infrastructure,” said Petruccelli and Basile in a joint statement. “ As this bill moves through the legislative process we are prepared to debate the merit of this program with anyone at anytime.”

April

Judge Fiandaca sworn in

There was nothing but praise and accolades for Kenneth Fiandaca from the men and woman of East Boston District Court. Fiandaca, whose family has a long history serving with the court and neighboring District 7 Police Station, was officially sworn in as Associate Justice of the Boston Municipal Court East Boston Division in April 2009 by Governor Deval Patrick.

“These are the occasions I enjoy the most as governor,” said Patrick before administering the oath to Fiandaca. “To be able to stand here in front of a family bursting with pride because of the achievements of a son or father or brother.”

For Patrick, who appointed Fiandaca, it was the new judge’s reserved demeanor and humility that made him stand out among the group of attorney’s being considered for judgeships.

“His humility will be important to the people that come before him in this court,” said Patrick. “The ability to apply the law is important but the ability to make people feel, no matter what the outcome, that they received justice and fairness is just as important.”

Fiandaca, a Winthrop resident and graduate of Suffolk University and Suffolk University Law School, was a partner with the East Boston law firm Fiandaca and Ferrigno. He has throughout his career represented clients in a broad range of civil and criminal matters including real estate, business entity, probate and domestic relations, criminal defense, tort and estate planning.

Problem Properties take center stage

The first house on a tour of problem properties in Eagle Hill in April 2009 was a house I knew all too well. The towering Second Empire Victorian on Meridian Street once had manicured shrubs, a cherry blossom in the front yard and, most of all, was full of memories. This was, after all, the home my wife grew up in. This was the home where we held family parties and holidays, celebrated births of new family members and mourned the deaths of others. I still have photos of the family, some gone now, others still here, gathered around the dining room table inside that home smiling. The home brought joy and for my wife and I provided many good memories.

So, a few years back when my mother-in-law sold the home to man that said he planned on raising his family there, my mother-in-law was excited at the fact someone else would now be able to create their own memories in a home that provided so many to her family.

Sadly, it didn’t end up that way.

The home is now dilapidated due to neglect. It is half painted with the once decorative brackets and moulding lining the mansard roof rotting and falling off. Windows are boarded up and the ones that aren’t have blankets or towels as curtains.

The real kicker is the two family home has 16 names between the two mailboxes. The property has been on Boston’s Inspection Service’s (ISD) radar for sometime now and they suspect it’s an illegal rooming house.

“This is becoming a real problem on Eagle Hill,” said City Councilor Sal LaMattina. “We need to fight this epidemic now before it gets out of hand.”

But it may already out of hand. In April 2009 ISD shut down an illegal apartment on Saratoga Street and during last week’s tour of Eagle Hill, members of the Eagle Hill Civic Association (EHCA), Boston Police, ISD and other city agencies looked at a dozen or so other properties that could potentially be illegal rooming houses.

Usually the tell tale sign is the number of names on the mail box according to ISD. City ordinances prohibit more than four unrelated people to reside in one apartment. The house that the group first visited on Meridian Street had at least eight people living in each apartment.

Some believe these rooming houses pop-up in areas with large immigrant populations because the migrant workforce is only here for a short amount of time and only need temporary housing for the few months that they are here working. Usually men will travel from Central or South America looking for work, find a job, rent a room in one of these illegal rooming house for a couple hundred bucks a month and after making some money here in the U.S. they head back home with U.S. currency that is worth more than the currency in their native land.

However, sadly the conditions in many of these illegal rooming houses are unsanitary, dangerous and are prone to crime and theft because a large number of men are living together but are not friends.

“The sad thing is some landlords are preying on the desperation of some immigrants here in East Boston,” said LaMattina. “A lot of times these apartments are so overcrowded they are a disaster waiting to happen.”

Funding for a new Central Square preserved

With funding for so many programs threatened in this troubled economy in 2009, Mayor Thomas Menino said while meeting with a group of weekly newspaper publishers that city investments in capital improvements projects, like the one to revamp Central Square, will be okay.

The mayor said his capital plan will spend $1.5 billion in funding over the next five years on projects across the city including major reconfigurations to roadways and traffic patterns in neighborhoods similar to the Central Square project.

Twenty years ago the City of Boston took a look at unruly and downright dangerous traffic flow through Day Square. A plan was implemented and the city reconfigured the square so traffic flowed slower and safer while adding more parking for residents and businesses.

In August 2008, Menino announced the city will do the same for Central Square.

Last summer Menino, joined by City Councilor Sal LaMattina and Transportation Commissioner Thomas Tinlin, released a Transportation Action Plan for East Boston that lists short and long term recommendations to enhance pedestrian safety, improve traffic and provide more parking for residents in Central Square and other local spots.

The plan will spend nearly $4 million on a new design for Central Square and has already added new angle parking on Sumner Street for local residents.

Ecco still Eastie’s hotspot

Six months after opening Ecco, owners Dave Modica and Carla Santarpio are on top of the world. Across the street, Santarpio’s famed pizzeria is still one of the best on the East Coast and now her new venture with her husband has been nothing but a success. In late September 2008, Ecco opened to rave reviews and the praise for being a high end restaurant and lounge that serves up gourmet fare at neighborhood prices. The Boston Globe recently named Ecco one of Boston’s best new restaurants, the Improper Bostonian gave it a glowing review, and Ecco was recently featured on the Phantom Gourmet and T.V. Diner with Billy Costa.

“Every month business seems to be getting better and better,” said Modica. “It’s a great feeling to be able to offer reasonably priced good food here in East Boston.”

Eastie was the only location Modica ever considered for his idea of top notch neighborhood eatery.

“People always say when they come into Ecco that they don’t feel like they’re in East Boston,” said Modica. “I tell them this is East Boston and the restaurant that the people of East Boston always deserved.”

Modica said he was tied of seeing friends and family having to travel to the South End or Back Bay to enjoy good food and a relaxing atmosphere.

“I thought we should give it a shot,” said Modica. “My wife and I thought it was about time that East Boston had a place like this. Everyone I talked to in the neighborhood, from the longtime residents to the newcomers, told they were tired of driving through the tunnel and paying for parking to eat downtown. We figure we’d bring the dining experience people are looking for outside the neighborhood to the neighborhood.”

May

Capuano calls for inspection of all highway tunnels

The legislation U.S. Congressman Michael Capuano drafted to require mandatory inspection of all highway tunnels—like the ones leading in and out of East Boston–was reintroduced in the House in 2009.

This measure was first filed in 2007 and passed the House last year but was not acted on by the Senate.

Capuano modeled his legislation after the Nationwide Bridge Inspection Program which requires that all highway bridges be inspected and establishes a series of minimum inspection standards.

Since the tragic July 2006 death of Milena Del Valle after a section of ceiling concrete crushed her car in the I-90 Connector tunnel in Boston, Capuano and many others have questioned the short-term and long-term safety of the Big Dig.

“Clearly, this level of scrutiny was not enough in Massachusetts and more must be done to ensure the safety of the traveling public,” said Capuano. “There is no question that national standards should exist for the inspection of all highway tunnels. My legislation simply creates a National Tunnel Inspection Program modeled after the Nationwide Bridge Inspection Program. It is a simple yet effective method of ensuring the safety of highway tunnels nationwide.”

Helping the Salesians Boys and Girls Club

When Representative Carlo Basile lost his father at a young age his mother, Teresa, took comfort in the fact that he and his brothers were in a safe environment everyday after school. That place was the Salesians Boys and Girls Club.

“My mother could go to work each day to support her family and knew we were taken care of at the Club,” said Basile. “It was a great place to grow up and many of my friends today are the friends I made there when I was a youth.”

To give back to the organization that has meant so much to Basile and his family hosted a breakfast fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club in June at Spinelli’s in Day Square.

“Everyone in East Boston has either directly been affected or knows someone who has benefitted from the great work the Salesians do at the Club,” said Basile. “They do all they can with very little so know its time for the community to step up and help support the kids and families of the Boys and Girls Club.”

Fr. John Nazzaro, who grew up here and knows the neighborhood, has been running the Boys and Girls Club inside the former Savio Hall with tremendous success.

Walk for Hunger

It takes a special organization to bring thousands of people together to support one cause so it was no surprise that over 44,000 people turned out in 2009 to support East Boston based Project Bread’s annual Walk for Hunger.

The 20-mile walk began on Boston Common and attracted over 1,000 religious organizations, as well as 1,200 corporate teams, 1,200 schools, and 700 friends and family groups. These Walkers and their sponsors raised $3.8 million to provide food for 400 emergency food programs in 128 Massachusetts cities and towns. The funds will provide a hot meal or a bag of groceries for out-of-work families next winter.

“During these tough times, it’s heartening to see so many Walkers show their support for those struggling to put food on the table,” said Ellen Parker, executive director of Project Bread – The Walk for Hunger. “Our Walkers, Volunteers, and donors are the heroes of this event. They’ve come out to help those who are hurting as never before. We put out a call for their help and they’ve answered. Even the weather cooperated and we hope that’s sign of better days to come.”

Project Bread estimates more than 522,000 people in the state are food insecure. With foreclosures and layoffs, many more people find themselves hungry for the first time. Calls to Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline, the only comprehensive hunger resource in Massachusetts, have surged from month to month. Inquiries to the Hotline were up 61 percent for the first quarter of the year as compared with the same period in ’08. They were up 72 percent for the month of April.

Don Orione Nursing Home is still quality

One of the hardest tasks for a child is selecting a nursing home for an ailing parent. With countless reports by state agencies and website watch lists ranking nursing facilities throughout the state, the responsibility of picking the right home for a loved one can be confusing.

However, the Don Orione Nursing Home in East Boston has, for decades, made the task for local families easier. Relying on an impeccable record of compassion and caring the Don Orione has continued to provide a better quality of life for the sick and elderly.

“It truly is a unique setting,” said Father Mirek Kowalczyk Don Orione director. “The Boston Globe once called it the ‘jewel on the hill’ because of serenity of the grounds and the home’s uniqueness.”

It’s uniqueness is the fact the Don Orione Nursing Home is one of last Catholic run nursing homes in the state–perhaps the country.

“There are very few left,” explained Father Kowalczyk. “We have Mass in the chapel each morning and during Lent we had the stations of the cross for residents. There is a priest here on duty 24 hours a day so it’s a full religious institution.”

It’s also one of the last nursing homes that does everything in house.

“From mending clothes to cooking food to laundry everything is done on site here at the home,” said Board Member Fred Massaro. “The nursing home is run like it was when it opened in 1949–not much has really changed over the years and it’s still a quality first rate facility for the elderly.”

When you tour the grounds it does seem like time has stood still atop Orient Heights across from the Madonna Queen National Shrine. The facility, although immaculate and comfortable, could use some updating.

In 2009 the board of directors has embarked on an ambitious $5 million rehabilitation project of the nursing home’s East Wing. The board needs to raise $2 million and is looking for community support and help.

“So many people have been touched by this home or helped by the staff here,” said Board Member A. Mario Salvatore. “It really is a landmark here in East Boston and we want to be able to give it the improvements it needs.”

At the moment the nursing home has 105 residents but space for 200. The renovation will cut the available bed numbers down slightly to between 135-140, which Kowalczyk, Massaro and Salvatore said will be a good capacity for the newly modernized nursing home.

Welfare Building to be developed

It’s a unique development that will transform the decaying Welfare Building on Maverick Street into a vibrant commercial development.

John and Melissa Tyler got approval from the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) to develop the Welfare Building at 154 Maverick St. in 2009 after a lengthy community process.

The Tyler’s plan involves a comprehensive development strategy for the building that includes commercial, retail and residential components. Their plan called for converting the first floor of the building into 5-8 boutique shops in an open market style similar to Faneuil Hall. The second floor would be eight offices while the third floor would be converted into two residential apartments–one of which the Tylers plan to live in.

“Our plan would re-open the Welfare Building to the public while introducing entrepreneurs to a unique way of selling and promoting themselves,” said Melissa Tyler. “This building would be the perfect place to incubate new, small businesses in East Boston.”

The Tylers would also historically renovate the building and would only charge about $500 per month per office and shop.

“We want to make the Welfare Building into the shining star of East Boston,” said Tyler.

H1NI hit Eastie

The Mario Umana Middle School Academy and adjacent Harborside Community Center in East Boston were shut down in May 2009 by the city and remained closed for a week because of unusually high levels of influenza-like illness in recent days and one confirmed case of swine flu (H1N1 influenza). Classes are scheduled to resume on Thursday, May 28.

Superintendent Dr. Carol R. Johnson made the decision to close the school temporarily in consultation with the Boston Public Health Commission and Mayor Thomas Menino. Officials said the temporary closure will prevent new infections and avoid unnecessary illness.

The Umana was the second Boston Public Schools building to be closed because of influenza concerns.

June

Giovanni Gonzalez still missing

Hopefully a new reward established in June, 2009 will begin to bring new clues and leads to the disappearance of the 5-year-old East Boston boy that went missing in the Summer of 2008 after visiting with his father for the weekend.

A $7,000 reward will be given to anyone who can lead police to Giovanni Gonzalez’s whereabouts. Giovanni’s father, Earnesto Gonzalez is being held on $500,000 cash bail in connection with the boy’s disappearance and has even gone as far as to confess to murdering the boy–although authorities believe that is unlikely based on evidence.

Giovanni’s mother, Daisy Colon, has raised $2,000 with the help of friends and family and the Carole Sund-Carrington Foundation of Modesto, Calif., has offered an additional $5,000.00, bringing the total reward amount to $7,000.00.

In November 2009, right before Colon was to mark her first Thanksgiving holiday without her son Giovanni, Gonzalez dropped a cruel bombshell. The elder Gonzalez told a Boston Globe reporter he had in fact killed his son, chopped him up in his Lynn apartment, placed his body in trash bags and then distributed the bags around Lynn to various dumpsters throughout the city.

New art shop opens

Walking up to the new art studio at 6 Bremen St, I felt more like I was in Hyannis Port than East Boston–maybe it was the decorative porch, the hanging plants, the large picture windows that allows you can peer into and see all the art displayed on the walls.

This is Images by Chris and Khan, the newest addition the neighborhood’s burgeoning art scene. Dubbed a ‘visual vortex’ by the two artists, Ejay Khan and Chris Murray, no strangers to the Eastie art community, officially opened Image in 2009 to rave reviews by patrons.

“Everyone that comes in here loves the look, the layout and the art,” said Khan. “Although art has been very much alive in East Boston for many years a lot of people feel a shop and studio like this is just what the neighborhood needed.”

Tucked one block behind Maverick Square, the studio at 6 Bremen St., the former site of Rosie’s Market, is situated perfectly for the heavy foot traffic that shuffle up and down Sumner and Bremen Streets each day.

“You can see the shop from every angle,” said Murray, who did most, if not all of the rehab on the shop. “It took some convincing in this economy but I think Ejay and I have something good here.”

Khan, known for her work getting the 80 Border St. Cultural Exchange Center up and running, was hit hard by the economy recently and was forced to make some drastic changes.

“Chris and I began sharing space in order to save money and I moved back home,” said Khan.

Khan was on the verge of disappearing from East Boston, that was until her landlord stepped in.

“My landlord, Don Marr, has always been very supportive of me and my art so when I said I was leaving he began trying to figure out ways I could still be part,” said Khan.

That’s when Marr suggested Khan and Murray take over the storefront he owns on Bremen Street.

“I thought he was crazy because the whole reason I was leaving was financial and now he was suggesting I start a business,” said Khan.

But Marr made the offer to sweet to pass up and when Murray git back from a vacation in California the duo decided the time would be right to start a business.

“So far the response has been great,” said Murray. “It’s a great little commercial block here and our neighbors have been very supportive.”

Images will specialize in custom framing, printing, black and white and color copies, art, prints, photography, unique gifts and a great selection of custom greeting cards by Khan, Murray and an ever expanding array of talented local and Boston area artists.

“Why buy an impersonal card at a big corporate store when you can get a nice, personalized card with some local art on the front,” said Khan. “This economy has forced a lot of people to become creative and the art community is no different. There’s an explosion of creativity here and being able to offer unique things here at Images is exciting.

Images will be open Wednesday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Khan or Murray can be reached at 617-997-4429 at Images6Bremen@comcast.net

First Priority Credit Union opens

First Priority Credit Union, along with East Boston residents, community leaders and their members, celebrated its grand opening of their new East Boston Branch in 2009. 

First Priority is the first full-service branch not located in a post office facility and includes teller and member services areas, walk-up and drive-up ATMs, and a night depository.  First Priority’s chairman, Bob Brent welcomed those in attendance and stated, “Today, we remain committed to providing financial services to those in need and to the principles of serving the communities in which we are located.”

Derek Brodin of First Priority  said of the building itself, “Often times in this process, we have thought that this building will be here far after we have moved on and its presence will continue to improve the area in which it has been constructed.  Senator Petruccelli, Representative Basile, Councilor LaMattina, Congressman Capuano and Mayor Menino’s, support of this project has been unequivocal and we are truly grateful for their help.”

Community says goodbye to Donna Rauseo

Donna Rauseo, a longtime resident known for her outsized personality and sparkling sense of humor, has died.

Rauseo, who spent her life and working career here died Tuesday, June 9 at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston following heart complications.

Born Donna Morash, Rauseo was part of a family known for their political, social and environmental activism. At a very young age Rauseo’s social conscience was fully formed by her family, most especially by her mother, longtime community activist Evelyn Morash.

Rauseo was a graduate of East Boston High School and began her working career helping the neighborhood’s poorer residents through the East Boston APAC social service programs.

“She knew from day one the mission of the APAC–to help low income people access resources, advocate on their behalf against bureaucracy and cut through the red tape to get them the help they needed,” said APAC Director John White. “In addition to her secretarial duties and in her usual style Donna found time to counsel, console and cheerlead for the discouraged client. Those clients could be kids or elders– it didn’t matter.”

Recognizing her skills White soon promoted Rauseo to administrative assistant. It was at this time that Rauseo met her future husband John ‘Junior’ Rauseo. He was the son of Millie Rauseo, who worked as an employment counselor at APAC.

Olivia Quigley’s family says thank you

Six-year-old Olivia Quigley’s father could not find words to express his or his family’s thanks to the East Boston Central Catholic (EBCC) teachers, staff and Boston EMS EMT’s that all worked hard to save his little girl’s life on a cold day back in February 2009.

“Today, I want to thank all of you who helped Olivia from the bottom of my heart,” said Joe Quigley at a school assembly last week to honor the local heroes that saved the first grader. “I’ve always said that EBCC is like a family and during these difficult few months the time, love and support has been overwhelming and means so much to us.”

The elder Quigley went on to say how important it is to learn CPR.

“CPR is what saved my daughter and it’s an easy, lifesaving technique that anyone can learn,” said Quigley.

Olivia collapsed and nearly died during gym class on Friday, Feb. 13 from a previously undiagnosed heart condition. Olivia’s heart had stopped but thanks to kindergarten teacher Kathy Carabine and sixth-grade teacher Robert Casaletto, both trained in CPR, the girl is alive and was able to make a full recovery at Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton.

“Everyone involved in her rescue and everyone that supported her after are truly Olivia’s angeles,” said EBCC Principal Maryann Manfradonia, before Carabine, Casaletto, Olivia’s first grade teacher Lauryn Rozzi and the EMTs were presented with certificates of appreciation from Senator Anthony Petruccelli, Representative Carlo Basile and City Councilor Sal LaMattina.

Doctors do not know what caused Olivia’s heart to stop, but have taken steps to prevent a problem in the future.

“She has a pacemaker inserted, so in the likelihood that this ever happens again, the pacemaker will pick up and beat for her,” said Dr. Varuna Tully.

Simon Ho leaves his post

One of East Boston’s most revered and beloved principals, Simon Ho, who has served as principal of the Curtis Guild Elementary School since 1991, left his post at the school to take up the principalship at the Josiah Quincy School in Boston.

Ho, who became a well know figure in Eastie through his work at the Guild, its schoolyard initiative, and the school’s partnership with the East Boston YMCA, said on the last day of school that he leaves with a heavy heart.

“Sure I am sad,” said Ho, who moved to here a few years ago. “The staff and teachers here are some of the most dedicated I’ve ever met.”

Ho was born and raised in Hong Kong, China and came to the U.S. in 1978. He received both his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from Northeastern University. His first teaching assignment was in Hyde Park and he eventually became Vice Principal of the Harvard Kent School in Charlestown.

“I was promoted to principal here in 1991 because there was a large Asian population in East Boston and the Guild became one of only four Chinese bilingual education programs in the Boston Public Schools,” explained Ho.

However, over the years the neighborhoods burgeoning Chinese population was quickly overshadowed by the growing Latino population here. Ho, despite speaking English, Chinese, Italian and some Spanish said his talents are needed more at the Quincy School where 70 percent of the school’s population is Asian.

“There a very strong partnership between the school and parents and the community,” said Ho. “The challenge for me will be sustaining the schools reputation.”

July

Elderly art classes a big success

When local artist Jason Fitz-Gerald decided to volunteer to teach art to a group of seniors at the Elder Service Plan (ESP) inside the Lewis Mall apartments he didn’t know what to expect. Soon though, Fitz-Gerald found himself in the company of senior citizens that really took to art.

“We have some real talent here in this room,” said Guyana-born Fitz-Gerald. “It’s been a real wonderful experience.”

Last week, the group, led by Fitz-Gerald, held an art show at the senior center’s activities room. There, the artists got to display their final works for the world to see.

“We started with 8 to 10 seniors,” said the center’s activities director Paula Gunn. “All of sudden it mushroomed to 30 residents. Some had a history in the arts and all really took to Fitz-Gerald’s direction.”

The classes lasted for six weeks and were held every Friday from 11 to noon. Soon Fitz-Gerald’s students, some 30 years his senior, became like extended family as the artist taught the group the fundamentals of art and sketching.

“They really took an interest in me and my art so it was a very rewarding experience,” said Fitz-Gerald who promised to come back to the group and do another class. “These seniors were wonderful and their art was wonderful. The important thing though is that they keep it up and practice.”

Patricia Diaz, who overseas the all ESP recreation programing, said it was great to see so many residents take to a new activity.

“It was amazing to see how good so many of these residents got over such a short period of time,” said Diaz. “It was so amazing to see them concentrate for so long on one activity and I have give credit to Jason ( Fitz-Gerald) because he was such a wonderful teacher.”

Health Study funding cut

It was his first piece of legislation back when he was a young state representative, now Senator Anthony Petruccelli is lamenting that funding for a comprehensive study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) on the health of residents surround Logan Airport–in particular residents living in East Boston–was cut in 2009.

The study was an earmark put into the budget this year by both Petruccelli and Representative Carlo Basile. However, all state earmarks were cut due to the fiscal crisis that hit the country and the state.

Basile and Petruccelli tried to convince the Patrick Administration to make the health study a gubernatorial priority and get the approximately $200,000 of funding needed for the DPH to once and for all complete the decade long study.

“It’s a matter of public health so it something that should be a priority,” said Petruccelli.

Basile agreed and said that it’s a small price to pay to see the study be pushed over the last hump.

“It needs to be completed because it may reveal what people living in Eastie have suspected for so long,” said Basile.

Already bits and pieces of the study were leaked to the media. Last year a rough cut of the MDPH study suggested Logan is making Eastie residents sick and killing scores of residents here and in surrounding communities.

August

Angela’s Cafe celebrates continued success and a birthday

There was a lot to celebrate at Angela’s Cafe on in 2009. A packed house of guests, patrons and friends waited inside the celebrated East Boston Mexican restaurant on the corner of Brooks and Lexington Street to surprise the cafe’s namesake on her 66th birthday. As Angela Atenco Lopez walked into the restaurant, a place were her food has become the stuff of legends, the crowd yelled “SUPRISE!” to an emotional and thankful Lopez.

“She was very surprised,” said Lopez’s son and Angela’s owner Luis Garcia, Lopez’s son who named his eatery after his family’s matriarch.

The party lasted until midnight with food, drinks and a live Mariachi band playing and singing traditional Mexican folk songs. But it was the hundreds of Angela’s Cafe patrons that stopped by throughout the night to wish Lopez a happy birthday that really touched the chef.

A lot has happened in the two years since Angela’s made its local culinary mark. In August 2008, to mark the restaurants year anniversary, Garcia received a beer and wine license, the outside of the popular Mexican eatery had been painted a brighter color and on a new wooden sign was hung over the large windows that look out onto the street.

Community Block Grants preserved

When George Bush was still president, his administration threatened a federal budget cut of nearly 20 percent to Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for 2008. The cuts of 18 percent would have affected many non-profit agencies across East Boston, many of whom serve the neighborhood’s most vulnerable residents.

However, under pressure from big-city mayors Congress was finally able to push through an increase of $134 million to CDBG last year.

In 2009, as part of his Massachusetts Recovery Plan to secure the state’s economic future, Governor Deval Patrick announced that 75 communities including Eastie would share $40.4 million in CDBG to fund infrastructure upgrade projects, boost social services and increase housing, business and economic development opportunities throughout the state. More than $31 million will come from annual CDBG program funding, and the remaining $9 million comes to Massachusetts through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Suffolk Downs opens up its stables to youth

Kids in East Boston got a rare opportunity in the Summer of 2009 that most inner city youth would never have a chance of experiencing living in our concrete jungle.

Suffolk Downs provided children at the East Boston YMCA and the Salesian Boys & Girls Club horseback riding lessons each Thursday for several weeks. The program was part of the famed racetrack’s 2009 “Commitment to Community” program and allowed for the children, many of which are from low-income homes and would not be able to afford expensive horseback riding lessons, the chance to learn a fun and exciting sport.

The program was an idea of Suffolk Downs’ principal owner and horse enthusiast Richard Fields, who has continued and enhanced the track’s longstanding community outreach program.

Each week, the group of about 25 kids assembles in the Suffolk Downs paddock with instructor Jade Hamilton and her staff.  Hamilton has been teaching riding lessons since she herself was a child, having learned from her grandfather.

September

New Umana principal

It’s a new school year at Mario Umana Middle School Academy and the new school has brought a new principal. Former Boston Latin School assistant headmaster Alexandra Montes McNeil has taken over the running of the school from Dr. Jose Selgado, Selgado, the man some credit with turning the school from a place that resembled the set of a gritty school drama complete with a cast of gang members and drug dealers five years ago to a bona fide educational institution, abruptly resigned last month. Montes McNeil was informed by the Boston Public School administration on August 22 that she’d be the new head of the Umana.

The MIT and Boston College graduate said she’s excited at the possibilities and challenges she will face as the school year progresses.

“So far I’m very thrilled with the staff and they seem really excited and on board with the change here,” said Montes McNeil. “We have had real discussions and dialogue on academics and classroom structure and how we can work together to raise the bar here at the Umana.”

Montes McNeil said she and her staff are working on an accelerated agenda at the Umana to have students be more successful throughout the school year.

Eastie hosts first Boston Public Montessori classroom

In 2009 East Boston became the first neighborhood to host Boston Public School’s first ever Montessori classroom at the Early Education Center on Gove Street.

Twenty students entering preschool and kindergarten will be taught In the Montessori philosophy.

The Montessori philosophy is a child-centered, alternative educational method based on the child development theories originated by Italian educator Maria Montessori (1870–1952) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Primarily applied in preschool and elementary school settings (and occasionally in infant, toddler, middle school, and high school), its method of education is characterized by emphasizing self-directed activity, on the part of the child, and clinical observation, on the part of the teacher (often called a director, directress, guide) — to stress the importance of adapting the child’s learning environment to his or her development level, and the role of physical activity in the child’s absorbing abstract concepts and learning practical skills.

“It’s learning through all five senses and allowing children to work on activities that interest them instead of imposing activities,” said Olga Frechon, principal of the Early Education Center. “I love the approach because there is a philosophy to the curriculum, it’s an intellectual program. I think it makes a lot of sense for children.”

Italian Express reopens

After a trip around Italy researching food and pizza Jim Iannuzzi and Jonathan Harker are back from the sunny peninsular with new recipes and a new restaurant in Jeffries Point.

Italian Express, the place that began and gained its fame under Victor Grillo on Maverick Street, moved to Orient Heights under Iannuzzi and is back after a brief hiatus at 336 Sumner Street, the place that once housed the popular Dozzi’s.

However, Iannuzzi and Harker’s new concept is the furthest thing from a greasy spoon. While it’s a no frills, dress up or dress down family pizzeria, the entire building has been attractively transformed with new walls, floors, lightening and kitchen. Italian Express’s makeover has kept the charm and coziness of a neighborhood joint but is more sophisticated than its predecessor.

But let’s get down to brass tax–how’s the food?

Iannuzzi and Harker traveled around Italy to find the best recipe for pizza and settled on the popular pies being slung out of a small restaurant in Pisa. There Iannuzzi and Harker were schooled on how to make the dough, sauce and what types of cheese to use. The result is a delicious 14” thin crust pizza topped with a slow cooked, sweet tomato sauce and 100 percent whole milk, low moisture mozzarella cheese.

Pixie Palladino honored

Elvira “Pixie” Palladino, a longtime East Boston activist and local leader most notably remembered for her fiery opposition to Federal Judge Arthur J. Garrity’s court order requiring the city of Boston to implement desegregated busing in the mid 1970s, was honored in 2009 as members of the Piers Park Advisory Committee (PiersPAC) dedicated a bench in her name. Palladino died in 2006 following a brief illness. She was 74.

Mrs. Palladino, or ‘Pixie’ as she was affectionately known, was born in 1931in East Boston to Italian immigrant parents. She grew up here and spent most of her life in the Orient Heights section of the neighborhood.

Small in stature but always ready for a fight when it came to issues affecting East Boston’s quality of life, Mrs. Palladino was feisty with a no-nonsense language that gave her the reputation as a straight shooter. Mrs. Palladino was fearless in expressing her point of view even if the crowd disagreed with her.

Early in life Mrs. Palladino became active in community affairs and in neighborhood politics. Fearing that busing, or forced busing as it became know among the opposition, might threaten community schools in East Boston in the mid 1970s, Mrs. Palladino ran and was elected to the Boston School Committee in 1975, a citywide seat at the time.

Hyatt Hotel’s questionable decision

In return for community support hotels like the Logan Hyatt Hotel made big promises to East Boston residents. During community meetings hotel officials promised accesses to hotel amenities, reduced prices for hosting community events and, more importantly, jobs.

Now, the Logan Hyatt, and two other Hyatt Hotels in Boston, is using the country’s economic downturn to lay the entire housekeeping staff and outsourced the jobs to Georgia based Hospitality Staffing Solutions (HSS).

In all about 100 housekeepers, most making $14 per hour plus benefits like health insurance and 401(k)s, were replaced with HSS employees that will make $8 per hour with no benefits according to reports. The Hyatt also reportedly used their old housekeeping staff to train HSS staff members under the guise that they’d be used during the holiday season as extra help.

The decision to fire local residents during these tough economic times drew and immediate backlash from elected officials.

Paul Evans takes a post at Suffolk Downs

His work here reducing crime in Boston gained worldwide attention and soon he was snatched up by the British government and given a contract to reduce crime there.

Now, former Boston Police Commissioner Paul Evans is back and will spending his days in East Boston, a neighborhood that became his model for community policing during his tenure as Commissioner.

Evans joined Suffolk Downs as a consultant on public safety and compliance policies.

Evans, who served as BPD Commissioner from 1993-2003, is advising the Eastie track as it assesses future business development options.

“Over the last few years, we have placed greater emphasis on issues of integrity, public safety and regulatory compliance,” said Suffolk Downs Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle. “We identified Paul as someone whose vast expertise in these areas will be beneficial as we not only look at our existing operations but as we contemplate possible development and expansion opportunities.”

DiNunzio gets six years

The man the authorities say is the reputed underboss of the Boston’s La Cosa Nostra but in East Boston is seen as just another guy that went to work everyday at his cheese shop in the North End, doted on family members and loved ones and had nothing but respect for his neighborhood is facing six years in federal prison.

Those who knew him, despite what extracurricular dealings he may or may not have been involved in, liked the 51-year-old Carmen DiNunzio of East Boston–who could always be found playing host, talking with patrons or eating with friends at his sister’s popular Orient Heights restaurant.

In August, DiNunzio pled guilty to federal charges of conspiring to bribe a state official in connection with a proposed sale of materials to a project related to the Central Artery Tunnel Project, otherwise known as the “Big Dig,” and for providing a $10,000 down payment on the illegal payoff back in July.

DiNunzio previously pleaded guilty in a separate hearing in Essex County to state charges of extortion, promoting an illegal gambling operation, and conspiring to violate state gaming laws in connection with his role in the ongoing mob-related extortion of local bookmakers.

DiNunzio was sentenced in federal court to serve six years in federal prison.

October

EHCA recognized for its Crime Watch efforts

At an October 2009 Eagle Hill Civic Association (EHCA) meeting Vinny Ieni came up to me and proudly showed off an award the association and its membership received recently from the City of Boston. This year, the EHCA’s Crime Watch group was one of 10 crime watches citywide honored by Mayor Thomas Menino, the Boston Police and National Night Out.

“The Eagle Hill Civic Association was proud to receive this crime watch award because it shows that when the neighborhood groups work together with the police and residents, we can make our communities safer for everyone, said President of the EHCA Debra Cave.

Over the past year EHCA has implemented several successful programs aimed at keeping Eagle Hill safe and clean.

“Cleaning up the streets through our Barrel Initiative, making the streets safer through our Crime Watch program, and beautifying our neighborhood through our neighborhood cleanups are all ways in which we are changing Eagle Hill for the better,” said Board Member of the Eagle Hill Civic Association Chris Marchi. “The East Boston Police have talked with us about how keeping our neighborhood cleaner can contribute to reducing crime. Along with reporting crime and cooperating with police, this is how we have been working to make our neighborhood safer.”

EHCA Vice President Jim Bowen credited the strong police presence at EHCA meetings as one of the ways the group’s crime watch helped curb crime and violence in the area.

“Officer Dan Simmons, Sergeant Arthur McCarthy, and Sergeant Kenny O’Brien are at all of our monthly meetings,” said Bowen. “This close relationship allows them to immediately alert the community when new crime patterns emerge and we can respond by being alert in the high crime areas and helping the police with extra eyes and ears on the ground. For example, when there was a recent rash of muggings near the Airport T Station, many of our members were keeping a closer watch on the streets leading to the T and we were spreading the word with our neighbors about the issue.”

Another successful Open Studios

Part of what has made East Boston a wonderful place in which to live is the neighborhood’s flourishing artist community. The East Boston’s Artist Group at 80 Border St., recently renovated by the East Boston Community Development Corp., is unlike any other art gallery or studio in Boston. Here the building balances unique workspace for artists, a fine gallery in which to display local art shows and a new cultural exchange center with weekly and annual events to embrace community participation and support.

Year after year, no other event tries to engage Eastie residents and expose them to the world of art and culture than the annual East Boston Open Studios.

This year over 50 local artists had invited the community at large to see their latest creations in their studios, view group exhibitions, attend live music and dance performances and visit the new 80 Border Street Cultural Exchange Center.

The two day event ran Saturday and Sunday, October 10-11.

“This year we had a great group of artists,” said Fran Rowan. “The idea this year is to get as many people to see all this wonderful art.”

Eastie’s Geronimo Santiago and ABCD President Bob Coard honored

A fixture around the East Boston APAC office and retiring Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) President and CEO were among those honored at the 35th Annual ABCD’s Community Awards Dinner in October 2009 at the Marriot Boston Copley Place in Boston.

Both APAC’s Geronimo Santiago and the late President Bob Coard, who died shortly after receiving the award, were be celebrated for their efforts as two individuals who have worked tirelessly to address and placate the plight of Boston’s underprivileged communities through voluntary leadership and service here and Eastie and beyond.

In years past volunteers, residents and community leaders dedicated to helping the undeserved and underprivileged at the East Boston APAC office like Officer Daniel Simons, Dolores Aguirre, East Boston High School Headmaster Mike Rubin and Joseph Amodeo Jr. have been honored.

Immigration Station

Believe it or not, that depilated warehouse next to the Navy Fuel Pier on Marginal Street was second only to Ellis Island as a point of entry for thousands of Irish, Jewish and Italians immigrants into the U.S. during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Across Marginal Street from the former Immigration Station building are the ‘Golden Stairs’ named because they represented the final climb to golden opportunity in America for countless Europeans.

Along the docks this rich history survives but years of neglect have destroyed the old docks and now the Immigration Station building is about to topple over.

Situated on Massport property for decades long time residents and their families have always been concerned that the building’s historical role in this immigrant community be recognized and preserved. During the late 1990s a request for Landmark status for the Immigration Building was filed with the Landmarks Commission, but was never acted upon. In 1999 the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association (JPNA) made a proposal for the building to become a Boston Immigration Museum and Cultural Center. Former Senate President Robert Travaglini supported the plan and dozens of newspaper articles were written in support.

Massport bobbed and weaved, ignored and procrastinated until finally nothing could be done.

November

Excel continues to excel

If having some of the best MCAS scores in state wasn’t enough, the Excel Academy Charter School for Chelsea and East Boston students ranked first in the state in English and fourth in the state in math for improving student performance over time and has been identified as a high growth school.

In 2009, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released a new growth model that measures the achievement of students across a three-year period and compares a student’s academic attainment against that of their peer group. In the aggregate, Excel Academy students grew at the 86th percentile in English language arts, meaning Excel Academy students progressed at a faster rate than 86 percent of their peers statewide. In math, Excel Academy students grew at the 83rd percentile, outpacing the improvements of their statewide peers by a rate of 83 percent.

Menino elected to historic 5th term

Mayor Thomas Menino was elected to a historic fifth term as Mayor of Boston cruising to victory past City Councilor Michael Flaherty in November, a night that he also did very well among East Boston voters.

Although Flaherty, and his unofficial running mate, City Councilor Sam Yoon, put up a good fight it wasn’t enough to topple the Menino dynasty.

Citywide, Menino received 63,123 votes or 57 percent while Flaherty got 46,768 votes or 42 percent.

In East Boston, where Menino’s popularity has always been strong he received 2,983 votes to Flaherty’s 1,927 votes in the neighborhood.

In his victory speech at the Copley Fairmont last Tuesday, Menino thanked his opponent for a hard fought race that shed light on the issues.

“Thank you Councilor Flaherty for your leadership and for what you brought to this campaign,” said Menino. “You made us earn this spot, and that’s the way it should be. Your voters reminded us how urgent the mission is, and their votes mattered, too.”

While there was much excitement in the air at the Copley Fairmont, Menino offered words of caution and the tone of his speech was one that offered a challenge to those that may become complacent in what very well could be his last term as mayor.

“The headlines may read that today we were elected to a “historic” fifth term,” said Menino. “Let’s be clear. We haven’t made history with this election, but we will with what we create of it.”

Sergeant Richard F. Halloran honored

When someone asked Sergeant Richard F. Halloran son, Michael, how old he was when his father was killed in the line of duty his response was ‘Nine, but I remember it like it was yesterday.”

On Friday, November 6–34 years to the day he was killed–officers from District 7 joined Mayor Thomas Menino and Police Commissioner Ed Davis to unveil a bronze and granite memorial at the corner of Bennington Street and Neptune Road in Sgt. Halloran’s honor.

It was a touching tribute as the slain officer’s wife and two sons, friends, and fellow officers remembered the man and talked of the ultimate sacrifice he made to make the streets a little bit safer.

“He was out there making a difference every day, and our great city is a better place because of his service,’’ said Mayor Thomas Menino.

At an annual luncheon held for retired officers at Spinelli’s is where Officer Robert Anthony, the unofficial Boston Police historian, got the idea for a memorial to Halloran. Anthony was responsible for erecting a plaque on Maverick Street in memory of Ezekiel W. Hodson–the first Boston Police Officer killed in the line of duty in 1857 two years ago year.

“He was part of the fabric that makes up the thin blue line,” said Anthony. “It is not how this man died that made him a hero it was how he lived.”

During his speech, Anthony told Halloran’s wife Francesca and sons Michael and Leonard that “Today, because of the sacrifice your family has made the house of freedom is stronger, sturdier, and more secure. As we run our hands over the gouged depression on Sgt. Halloran’s memorial granite slab, there, written on the bronze plaque are the words that cry out “Fidelis Ad Mortem” or Faith Full onto Death. On behalf of all my brother officers in law enforcement I vow to you today we hear that cry we will answer its call.”

Massport scales back controversial consolidated rental car facility

The Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) notified the state’s Office of Environmental Affairs of changes to its five-level, 2.8 million square foot garage at the airports Southwest Service Area (SWSA) in 2009. The garage will be used as a consolidated rental car facility to better serve airline passengers needing rental cars and the rental companies themselves. Massport says the rental car facility, which will replace the existing car rental and ground transportation facilities  in the SWSA, will reduce ground transportation impacts and improve air quality for Eastie.

According to Massport’s Notice of Project Change (NPC), the Port Authority plans to reduce the size of the overall garage structure by half, reduce its height by one level (or 18 feet), reduce the total number of structured parking spaces by 59 percent, provide additional setback of the garage from the airport edge to East Boston, retain the bus and limousine pools in the SWSA, retain the long term commercial overflow parking within the SWSA, eliminate the second phase, making it a one phase project, and combine rental car shuttle buses and Massport buses under a unified bus system thus reducing the number of vehicles from 94 to 28.

Massport said these changes to the projects size and scope would further reduce vehicle miles traveled and the associated air emissions as compared to its Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Assessment (DEIR/EA), provide additional landscape and provide the Port Authority with greater operational efficiency of the garage facility through the reduction in floor area and volume of the garage structure.

Blue line’s aging fleet replaced

While some in East Boston commuters have complained the new Blue Line trains are less comfortable then their outdated and older counterparts–others like the sleek new look and added capacity.

Whatever your opinion is of the new trains they are now the only ride in town.

“With little fanfare, the Blue Line made the transition to all six-car trains at all hours of the day and night,” said MBTA’s Joe Pesaturo. “The last of the old, unreliable cars were removed from service, and now customers are served only by the new fleet of 94 cars.”

The transition to all six-car trains came just as the modernization and accessibility project at Maverick Station was completed.

“The entire fleet old four car trains have been replaced with the new six car trains, providing for 50 percent more capacity per train,” said Pesaturo. “Today, twelve six-car trains operate 4-to-5 minutes apart in the peak commuting periods and 7-to-8 minutes apart during off-peak periods.”

Eastie commuters have been enjoying a more comfortable ride on the new Blue Line fleet since January 2008. In February 2008 former MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas, joined elected officials at Aquarium Station to roll out four more of the new, sleek, state-of-the-art trains that now running between Wonderland and Bowdoin Stations.

Education Reform and Excel Academy

The morning after the Senator Anthony Petruccelli and his colleagues in the senate passed landmark education reform in Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick was in East Boston to visit one of the highest performing schools in the Commonwealth.

Patrick and Petruccelli toured the Excel Academy Charter School on Saratoga Street and were blown away by the level of education, passion and dedication of its teachers and the focus of the students there.

As a regional charter school Excel takes students from Eastie and Chelsea and has consistently bucked the statewide trend of underperforming schools that are a minority majority.

Excel’s 5th grade class, with a student population that is majority Latino, scored 89 percent proficient on English, 80 percent on math and 85 percent on the Science and Technology/Engineering test in 2009.

“What is going on here at the Excel is truly magical,” said Patrick. “It’s schools like Excel that we have used as the model in our education reform plans. The school shows that, like myself, someone from poverty and of color can still excel if the education at the school is one of quality.”

December

Another year, another Eastie’s Elves

What began as a good idea by Senator Anthony Petruccelli has turned into something East Boston residents look forward to each Christmas Season and this year’s annual Eastie’s Elves Fundraiser was no different.

This year’s event kicked off on Friday, December, 4 at the Logan Hilton.

Over 500 supporters turned out for the event, which raises toys, clothes and money for low-income families.

The East Boston Central Catholic’s Chorus and Bell Ringers singing Christmas Carols, a holiday meal of carved turkey with all the trimmings and the satisfaction of knowing you were helping hundreds of local families this holiday was a treat for all the guests in attendance.

“It was a great time,” said Petruccelli. “We were able to raise over 700 toys for families and $2,500 that will be used to buy gift certificates at Shaw’s Supermarket so families at APAC, Crossroads Family Shelter and Project Bread won’t go hungry this Christmas Season.”

Each year the annual event has grown by leaps and bounds and reaches more children and families. Because the event began when Petruccelli represented only Eastie as the neighborhood’s State Representative, only Eastie non-profits like the East Boston Social Centers and YMCA benefited.

Now that Petruccelli is a State Senator the event benefits children and families of his district, which includes East Boston, Revere, Winthrop, the North End and East Cambridge.

MWRA project pipes along

The project to create 2.5 miles of new sewer lines in East Boston has reached the halfway mark according to Massachusetts Water Resource Authority head Fred Laskey.

“So far so good,” said Laskey, the MWRA’s executive director. “There’s been no major snags to speak of and aside from a few expected glitches the project is moving along on schedule.”

The contract for the $59.9 million project was awarded to Barletta Heavy Division of Canton back in July and work began in the fall. The primary construction method has used micro-tunneling, which was chosen to reduce the amount of open trench excavation along the East Boston streets.

“It’s like giving East Boston sewer system a shot of steroids,” said Laskey. “On a traditional street there are two pipes–one for sewage and the other for rain water. Each pipe takes separate flow of either sewage or rain water to the treatment plant so it can be purified.”

However, in Eastie, sewage and rain water mix together in a one pipe system.

“So the problem is when East Boston gets heavy rain the pipes overflow to out-falls along the Boston Harbor and Chelsea Creek,” said Laskey. “This project will reduce the number of overflows in East Boston.”

By the time the project concludes in the Spring the MWRA will have placed of 2.5 miles of new sewer lines along Chelsea, East Eagle, Condor, Border, Marginal, Orleans, Gove, Bremen and Porter Streets.

Patrick preserves funding for Crossroads

At Crossroads Family Shelter in East Boston, fifteen families share five bathrooms, two living rooms, a dining room, kitchen, playroom, library, nightly meals, stories, frustrations, dreams and inspirations. Individually, mothers and fathers battle road blocks to success and address the roots of their homeless experience to ensure stability for themselves and their children.

So it’s no wonder that Crossroads Director Judy Beckler is relieved that the transitional shelter she runs for homeless families in Eastie can still continue to serve the families in need of a home thanks to Governor Deval Patrick’s restoration of funding for homeless shelters in the state.

“Very relieved and very heartened for the families here,” said Beckler. “These are people that are past the edge of poverty and have nothing left but places like Crossroads. The next step for may of these families is living in a car or on the streets.”

Crossroads provides space for 15 families at its Havre Street location behind the Holy Redeemer Church and 10 offsite or ‘scattered; spaces throughout the city for 10 other families. They do all this with only $125 per day, per family from the state and other providers.

“It could be a family of 2,3,4,5,6 it doesn’t matter,” explained Beckler. “While the constellation of the families here always changes the funding never does.”

Revenues from a significant tax settlement the state Department of Revenue agreed, along with a modest increase in tax collections above the year-to-date benchmark, allowed the Patrick Administration to avoid a further round of emergency budget cuts to close a previously identified outstanding budget gap of $120 million.

“We had some unexpected good news this week, and it gives us some breathing room,” said Patrick. “At best we can do better by homeless individuals and families with the winter coming.”

Health Center gets a nod from the President

It’s arguably the biggest news to hit this little corner of Boston in decades. It was announced in 2009 that President Barack Obama has chosen the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) as the recipient of $12 million in stimulus money to build a brand new, state-of-the-art facility in Maverick Square.

The news has swept through Eastie like a firestorm and at the EBNHC offices last week President Jack Cradock was on cloud nine.

“We are delighted, excited, overjoyed,” said Cradock. “For the last two weeks we were actually banking on not getting any stimulus money and exploring alternatives to the Maverick Square project.”

Cradock and EBNHC’s Manny Lopes were then invited down to Washington D.C. It was obvious that something big was about to happen but neither Cradock nor Lopes expected how big it would be.

“This was the last round of federal stimulus money,” said Cradock. “And out of 600 application only 85 projects were chosen and out of those 85 projects the Health Center received the most money.”

Cradock said the elation among the EBNHC staff is because the health center has now been recognized, by the President of the United States, as a top notch facility.

“It’s a bit overwhelming,” said Cradock who attended the Presidential signing of the $600 million in stimulus money package for health centers. “we always knew we were one of the best…this just gives credence to our claim.”

The $12 million will be used for a $20 million project to place a 45,000 sq. ft., four story professional building in the square. The building will supplement the Health Center’s Gove Street operation and add more than 30 exam rooms, eye and dental offices, family medicine and administrative offices. The building exterior will mimic the architecture of the famed Maverick House that once stood on the site.

Capuano unable to topple Coakley

For the other three candidates running for Senate during the U.S. Senate primary, overcoming Attorney General Martha Coakley’s statewide name recognition was near impossible except here in East Boston. While most political pundits argued that U.S. Congressman Michael Capuano’s streetwise Boston politics and grassroots campaigning could match Coakley’s popularity, the Attorney General was able to topple Capuano 2 to 1 in votes and easily cruised past Alan Khazei and Stephen Pagliuca for a place in the final election against Republican Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown on Tuesday, January 19

However, Capuano was able to carry Boston, which includes neighborhoods in his Congressional District like Eastie, but could not pull of what would have become a huge political upset. Even in Boston, Capuano beat Coakley by only three percent.

“I would like to congratulate the next U.S. Senator of Massachusetts, Martha Coakley. She ran a good campaign. I am going to be there to help make her our next Senator, and when she gets elected, we are going to work hard to make sure she is successful,” Capuano told supporters at the Copley Fairmont after the election was called for Coakley. “This has been an amazing time for me. Our campaign was about working from the bottom up. So many of you have done this in your own lives. And I thank you for helping us to do so in this campaign. You have all become a part of this family, and I will never forget what you all have done for me.”

Statewide, Coakley ran away with 310,827 votes or 47 percent. Capuano was next with 184,791 votes or 28 percent. Alan Khazei came in third with 88,929 votes while Celtics owner Stephen Pagliuca, who spent nearly $10 million on his campaign, finished last with 80,248 votes or 12 percent.

Piers Park Sailing’s Maureen McKinnon Tucker in Sport Illustrated

It isn’t often that the sport of sailing makes a story in a mostly “ball sports” magazine like Sports Illustrated lamented Piers Park Sailing Center’s Maureen McKinnon Tucker. But there she was in the pages of this month’s SI in a feature story that highlights her skipper, Nick Scandone’s, battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) and he and McKinnon-Tucker’s Gold Medal win at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.

The article, which can be found at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1163721/1/index.htm#top, track Scandone’s life from childhood, diagnoses with ALS, partnership with McKinnon-Tucker and, against all conceivable odds, their miraculous win at the Summer Olympics.

“Please take the time to read this article, I promise you will not regret the time spent,” said McKinnon-Tucker. “The story is about Nick (Scandone) and his battle with ALS, which to me he conquered as well as anyone could have. He lived to sail, he breathed to sail and he conserved all he had to make it with me to the Beijing Games.”

Sadly, Scandone died on January 2. However, before he died he was here in East Boston at the Sailing Center.

“We were lucky to have him grace us here on a race night when he schooled the fleet,” said McKinnon-Tucker. “All of us who knew him, and those who never did, all miss him. As the time draws near to the holidays, please take with you the lessons Nick taught all of us on both on land and at sea.”

McKinnon-Tucker and Scandone, took gold in the SKUD-18 Sailing event at Qingdao Olympic Sailing Centre during day seven of the Paralympic Games.

East Boston Chamber to relocate

Big news was announced the other night at the East Boston Chamber of Commerce’s annual Holiday Party held this year at 175 McClellan Hwy.

It was announced by the group’s president, Angelo Vigliotta, that the Chamber would move its operations to 175 McClellan Hwy. in March 2010.

“There was a good opportunity for us to expand and we jumped at it,” said Vigliotta at the party. “The space is bigger, there’s more parking and I think our presence here will help attract more businesses to 175 McClellan Hwy. and hopefully more Chamber members.”

The Chamber will abandon its longtime post in the bustling neighborhood epicenter of Eastie’s Day Square. However, Vigliotta said that the new owners of 175 McClellan Hwy. offered the Chamber a deal they couldn’t refuse.

Verizon invests million in Eastie

The company that touts itself as the most reliable wireless network is investing millions of dollars in East Boston to stay ahead of rising demand for wireless voice, 3G multimedia and Internet access in the area.

Verizon Wireless’ new cell site will provide increased wireless voice and 3G data coverage along Bennington, Saratoga and Chelsea Streets, Route 1A, and Eastern Avenue in Chelsea.

Expanded 3G data coverage in Eastie allows customers using notebook computers or smartphones the ability to browse the web faster with quicker page loading times, quickly download and play music, watch streaming video, send emails with attachments, download and play 3D games, video conference with contacts and rapidly share files.

Menino aid arrested

It was with tremendous shock when Eastie woke up to news that John Forbes, an aid for Mayor Thomas Menino, was arrested for allegedly selling drugs.

No one saw it coming.

The news in December was like a nuclear bomb going off in Eastie and the personal reaction was like taking a serious blow to the body from a heavyweight boxer–all the air goes out of your body and you are left confused, bewildered and unable to react.

When someone with the last name Forbes–a name synonymous with all that is good with this neighborhood–is in the grips of addiction and at the helm of a derailed train that has just spiraled out of control and finally crashed last week–this neighborhood, this state and this country has to re-examine just what it is doing to combat this awful drug.

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