Remembering Dapper O'Neil

(Peter Kadzis, executive editor of the Phoenix Media/Commuications Group, makes a guest appearance in Talking Politics):

Former Boston City Councilor Albert "Dapper" O'Neil began his career as a political joke, and he ended it as a municipal embarrassment. But along the way, he won the affections of legions of blue-collar Bostonians by tirelessly defending their interests.

   >>From the archives: a 1997 profile of Dapper O'Neil by then-Phoenix (now Boston Globe) reporter Yvonne Abraham

Policy was not a strong point. In fact, Dapper opposed most "policies," such as forced busing to achieve racial integration, affirmative action, and just about anything that smacked of equal rights for women. Potholes, road signs, and zoning disputes were his specialties. Woe unto the public figure who even thought of compromising the rights of a home owner. And if a landlord didn't provide sufficient heat for the tenants in the winter, Dapper would huff and puff until city inspectors swarmed all over the rapacious bastard like a cheap suit, of which O'Neil had a closet full.

A lifelong bachelor, the Dap (as he was also known) was blessed with a longtime "lady friend." In fidelity to the customs of a now all but forgotten age, they maintained separate apartments. My late aunt, Margaret Donovan of Ward 16 (St. Brendan's Parrish, Dorchester) thought that was not only decorous, but also sensible. Her theory was that no woman in her right mind would want Dapper under foot night and day.

Dapper was a scold's scold, a loudmouth's loudmouth. His idea of a sound bite was a 15-minute harangue — and that was when he was aiming for understatement. I have a vague childhood recollection of an incident in the late 1960s or early ’70s when Dapper rented a flat-bed truck and had it driven to the Boston Common so that he could stand on the back and throw bars of soap at hippies.

City Councilor Michael Flaherty now holds the seat Dapper once held. By the end of his tenure, Dapper had become more of a footnote than an anachronism. O'Neil got his start in politics as a street worker for Mayor James Michael Curley and served for a time as driver for patrician Democratic Governor Endicott "Chub" Peabody. But despite this seemingly all-thing-to-all-people pedigree, Dapper did not win elected office until 1971 when City Councilor Louise Day Hicks  was elected to the US Congress.

At a time when Boston was rent with the crisis of forced busing, O'Neil was one of a gang of politicians who played the roles of brevet-rank George Wallaces. Over time, the more hateful aspects of his posturing came to be accepted as something less than charming but a fact of political life. Reality caught up with Dapper in the early 1990s when a wisecrack about Vietnamese residents of Dorchester during a Dorchester Day parade proved to be one drop of bile too many for city-wide voters.
O'Neil died in his sleep, in a West Roxbury nursing home, December 19. He was 87.
_Peter Kadzis

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Talking Politics Archives