By John Lynds
When City Councilor Sal LaMattina announced in April he would leave public office, the shockwaves rippled throughout the community. After a stellar 30-year career with the City of Boston, eleven of which was spent as the District 1 City Councilor, LaMattina said, “It’s time. It’s time to give someone else a shot who has new ideas. I did not make this decision lightly but I feel I’ve left my mark on East Boston.”
His mark on the community was evident last Thursday night at the Orient Heights Yacht Club as hundreds of supporters, elected and former elected officials, friends and family members packed the yacht club’s function room to wish LaMattina well as he prepares to leave office for good at the end of the year.
“Tonight is a special evening,” said Council President Michelle Wu, a friend and political ally on the Council. “I couldn’t be more proud to say a few words of our friend, our neighbor, but really someone who is a family member to everyone in this room about his life of public service. What a transformation his district has seen under his leadership from when he started Eastie Pride Day until now. Every single part of the district we see Sal’s leadership and how he has brought together the communities he represents. I know Sal as a friend and as a mentor, but we all love Sal because he never forgot where he came from. We would always look forward to his speeches on the Council floor because it always came from the heart. Some of the most moving moments since my time on the Council was watching him defend his district and its residents.”
Rep. Adrian Madaro, who introduced LaMattina last week, said his 30-plus years in city government and the impact he has had was nothing short of “incredible.”
“I think now is the perfect time to reflect on Sal’s legacy,” said Madaro. “Using the word legacy to describe someone’s work is something you can’t take lightly. You have to achieve pretty great things to have a legacy. But I have had the unique opportunity to watch the transformation of our community under Sal’s leadership.”
Madaro described how when growing up in Eastie, he did not have access to the waterfront, the neighborhood’s business district was depressed and filled with vacant storefronts, how the East Boston Greenway of today was a former train yard and a dump, Eastie’s parks were in deplorable condition and Maverick Square needed a spark to become a vibrant square.
“Since being elected in 2006 Sal made improving our waterfront his number one priority,” said Madaro. “Now, 11 years later we have housing being built and new and exciting restaurants and bars opening making East Boston an attractive place for people to come live or visit. He had the vision to stop a permit to extend the life of a parking lot in Maverick Square and supported the creation of the Health Center’s new building in Maverick Square. That became an anchor development and transformed Maverick into a thriving business district. We went from the least amount of open space to the best park system in the city. All these transformation was because of Sal’s leadership.”
After Madaro an emotional LaMattina, wearing the tie of his mentor and friend the late Mayor Thomas Menino, addressed the crowd.
“On behalf of my wife, Lisa, my daughter, Liana and myself I want to take this opportunity thank you for being here and supporting me for the past 11 and half years and helping me celebrate my 30 years working for the City of Boston,” said LaMattina. “To my colleagues on the Council, I love you, we really worked well together.”
LaMattina spent the next 15 minutes tracing his involvement in politics from when his mother, Dolores, first took him to a political rally on the Boston Common to his time working alongside Menino for many years.
“There was a time when a lot of Lisa and my friends were leaving the neighborhood and we made the decision to stay,” said LaMattina. “We stayed because Lisa told me ‘we have to take care of the neighborhood’.”
LaMattina said while his interest in politics began at an early age it was people like former Senate President Robert Travaglini, former State Rep. Gus Serra, and Mayor Thomas Menino that shaped the type of politician LaMattina would become.
“They were always working to help people, that’s what they did,” said LaMattina. “I was always fascinated by how they got things done and would make impacts on people’s lives and that what I wanted to do.”
However, LaMattina became very emotional when talking about his dear friend Mayor Menino. With Menino’s wife, Angela, in the crowd LaMattina thanked her for sharing her husband with the people of Boston for so many years.
“We love you so much in this District and I just want to thank you personally for sharing your husband with all of us,” a teary-eyed LaMattina said. “How lucky was I? I knew Tommy (Menino) for 30 years. I worked on his campaign for mayor in the 1990s and was so proud when he became the first Italian American mayor ever elected in Boston. You have no idea the relationship I had with Mayor Menino. We had some awesome fights, and I’d have to send over food from the office to make up with him. There are not many people that had the opportunity to be so close to a mayor like Tommy Menino.”
Menino appointed LaMattina to director of operations for the Transportation Department in the 1990s after his stint working on the Big Dig as a community coordinator.
“I always wanted to run for City Council and when Paul Scapicchio left, the opportunity was there,” said LaMattina. “I was unsure until Mayor Menino called me and told me ‘I had no (guts).’ So he challenged me and I ran and here I am today.”
In the end, LaMattina said his legacy is everyone’s legacy.
“We, all of you here, We did so much together to make these neighborhoods and this city what it is today,” said LaMattina. “It wasn’t me It was all of you here working together to improve this city. So when I leave office there’s just one request. I don’t want to hear talk of the new guard vs. the old guard, lifers vs. newbies, this is one East Boston, and we are a better people when we all work together and I want us all to keep working together. As I have said time and time again the best is yet to come for East Boston.”