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From Old to New Politics in the 9th District

Hicks: The 1970 Game Plan Failed

By Steven Luxenberg

WHILE DISILLUSIONED Hicks campaign workers drifted slowly out of Moseley's-on-the-Charles early Wednesday morning. Louise Day Hicks and a small group of campaign strategists set by themselves at the congresswoman's home. As returns from the suburban towns trickled in it became apparent that Independent Democrat Joe Moskley would be looking for Washington lodgings next January.

Hicks--the only congresswoman to lose last week--accepted defeat in the same manner that she ran her re election campaign--aloof from her supporters and surrounded by a tiny coterie of hard-nosed Irish politicians. Unlike Moakley who spent most of election night communing with his troops at Boston's Statler Hilton. Hicks made only a brief appearance at the Dedham restaurant that served as her "headquarters."

The rest of the night, the partism crowd had to survive on the exhilitration of the congresswoman's anticipated visit. When Hicks finally strode hesitatingly on stage at 11:20 p.m., the crowded banquet room had worked itself to a fevered pitch. In the 600 excited workers, it made no difference that Hicks zoomed to gave a short two-minute spiel, and just as quickly zoomed out. The people watching the local television monitors were closer to the candidate than those listening to her speech.

A few hored supporters milled around the press table, staring evers so often into the bright television lights, and watching in amusement as the local newscasters jockeyed with one another for airtime. The excitement started at 10:30 p.m., when a Channel 5 newsman sidled up to a Crimson reporter, and whispered "we're going to pick Hicks the winner at 11."

Fortunately for Channel 5, an audio malfunction prevented the newscaster from making his prediction, and by the time the problem had been cleared up, the central desk at Channel 5 had decided the race was "too close to call."

Channel 5's miscalculation was as close as Hicks and her Irish pols got to victory. Although the final tally showed Hicks a loser by only 2000 votes, the congresswoman suffered devastating defeats in the black wards, and secured only a modest 2500-vote margin in Ward 7--her home precinct.

THE HICKS CAMPAIGN came straight out of the 9th District's "old" political playbook, as the congresswoman stuck closely to the game plan she used in 1970 to get elected. She shied away from large political gatherings, greeting her supporters instead at informal open houses. But the Hicks machine found it difficult to transplant these informal chats into the suburban neighborhoods added to the 9th in the 1971 redistricting. On Election Night, the suburbs rejected the "old" politics.

Hicks surrounded herself in the campaign with pols left over from the old 9th, toughened battle-scarred veterans who still remember the district as John McCormack's stomping ground. After last week's defeat, these wily campaign vets may have to-scrap their playbook, and borrow a few pages from Joe Moakley.

Most of Hicks's supporters insist that the congresswoman is more accessible than 75 per cent of the Congress. They point to her afternoon teas in the individual neighborhoods as one example of how she "gets down" to the people in South Boston. But Hicks rarely ventured outside these favorable precincts.

This kind of low key campaigning worked for Hicks two years ago when she was elected to her first term but politics in the 9th changed considerably this year in the wake of the drastic redistricting. The gerrymandering removed some of Hicks's favorite tea spots and substituted more liberal suburban voters who drink mostly cockrails.

HICKS'S ACCESSIBILITY was confined not only to her home perctnets but to certain sectors of the media as well. The congresswoman played up to television and generally ignored radio and the newspapers. On Election Night, the quickest way to find out the vote total was to pick up the Channel 5 crib sheet or call Moakley headquarters Hicks's campaign strategists were holed up in a locked cloak room, counting tally sheets brought in periodically from the polls.

The two candidates squared off early in the campaign, and the race shaped up as a choice between the Irish incumbent's "old" politics, and the challengers's "new" working-class coalition. Moakley had to battle a lack of exposure as well as the stigma of running on the Independent ticket in a district where voting means pulling the Democratic lever.

Hicks stuck to her re-election slogan--performance counts"--throughout the race. One supporter proclaimed proudly on election night that Hicks had a 100 per cent attendance record in Congress. "The people in the 9th District can feel safe; they know they're represented," she said.

But the voters in the 9th never found out just how Hicks represented them in Congress. The congresswoman rarely talked about the issues during the campaign, and her staff would mutter something about "performance counts" whenever reporters tried to pin down Hicks's platform.

For Louise Day Hicks, last week's defeat marked the end of the congressional road. She will undoubtedly hit the trail again, since politics are a family legacy. Her father, a judge and political boss in South Boston, told Louise on his deathbed "to take care of my people." Last week, it was Joe Moakley who knew how to take care of all the people in the 9th District including Louise Day Hicks.

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