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THE 9TH DISTRICT Congressional race overshadowed the national election for supporters of John "Joe" Moakley as they converged by the hundreds at the Statler-Hilton Ballroom on election night. The McGovern debacle and those "other 49 states" were preempted for the evening as all televisions in the ballroom were tuned to local elections. Anticipating a long-sought victory, Moakley supporters left no room for defeatist sentiment at their gathering.
The Hicks-Moakley contest was actually a valid testing ground for the 1972 Democratic Party program. As a long-standing opponent of busing in Boston schools, Hicks represented the old-style conservatism. Throughout the campaign she failed to clarify her platform beyond "you know where I stand" or "performance counts." Moakley, by contrast, pushed a package of specific Democratic Party reforms.
A Moakley victory would then give impetus to "the new politics" not only in the 9th, but in Congress as well. Coming from an Irish working class neighborhood and speaking a moderate-to-progressive dialect that also attracted upper-income groups, Moakley provided an essential link between the liberal coalition in Congress and the often-distant object of its programs, the American working man. Moakley thus put forth a program designed to "bring the people together" and his supporters' election night gathering was a convincing Phase I of the new 9th togetherness.
THE "LUCK O' THE Irish" and a sense of inevitable victory pervaded the Statler-Hilton ballroom as supporters watched the precinct-by-precinct progress of "our Joey's" challenge to Hicks. Moakley and his supporters were rolling in four-leaf clovers by the end of the night as official election returns confirmed his victory.
"The Irish Volunteers," an electric rock band that seemed to specialies in American folk tunes with an Irish' brogue, set the cadence for the lively victory celebration that appeared destined to begin since the early evening. Louise Day Hicks and the old 9th District politics were left behind in the wake.
Even the elements seemed to line up with Moakley Long before returns began to trickle in communications director Timmy O'Neill predicted that the clear, sunny day would shine on the side of the Independent challenger. "Hicks does well on dreary, rainy days," he said. "On bad days the good people don't get their share of the vote."
O'Neill's optimism was typical of Moakley's coordinators throughout the evening, despite discouraging reports from several precincts that unexpectedly favored Hicks. "That's okay, the results aren't really enough to go by," one coordinator sighed unflinchingly as he continued explaining Moakley's program to a crowd of reporters.
But if a Moakley victory celebration was written in the stars on November 7, it took some pretty fancy pencil pushing to put it there. Hicks had defeated Moakley in the 1970 Democratic primary with her solid core of supporters. Realizing that it was impossible to unseat Hicks in the primary, Moakley sat out the 1972 preliminaries to challenge her head-on as an Independent in the general election.
Moakley's campaign then became a step-by-step program to break down Hicks' seemingly impenetrable fortress and to build on his own base of support. As the highest vote-getter in the 1971 City Council election and with a 14-year record in the Massachusetts legislature, Moakley began the campaign with a sizeable constituency. And Senator Bob Cawley's redistricting scheme added Moakley supporters to the voter rolls.
There was another obstacle besides Hick's indomitable supporters and her immediate visibility as the incumbent. The Independent Moakley had staged his fight in one of the most traditionally Democratic districts on the map, and he was forced to spend much of his time convincing the voters of his Democratic loyalty. "I was trying to reaffirm my principles as a Democrat by giving the Democrats a real choice," he said. A pre-election survey of the 9th District electorate showed that the battle plan had worked--only 10 per cent would vote against Moakley because of his independent status.
Moakley, however, used this factor to explain the defeat in his own South Boston neighborhood: "People felt I'd left the church," he said. "But I'll be a Democrat when I get to Washington and I'll run as a Democrat in the next election."
THE MOAKLEY FORCES zeroed in most strongly on the black inner city wards and the suburbs, hoping to cash in on Hicks's "un-favorability factor" in those areas. Weekly mail drops spelled out Moakley's stand on the elderly, income maintenance, housing reform welfare, and other reformist issues. The strategy paid off on election night as the black wards "went overwhelmingly Joe--they saved us in the city," and the suburbs handed him a 3600 victory margin.
At 11:30. p.m. on election night, the Moakley victory was irreversible. Inside the Hilton ballroom. O'Neill introduced hundreds of Moakley supporters to "the next congressman of the 9th congressional district" as Moakley and his wife flashed victory "Vs" to the rejoicing capacity crowd. Amid the cheers, someone menponed that McGovern had conceded, but the news was squelched in the triumphant uproar. "He's dynamite, isn't he?" swooned one admirer as Moakley began to speak.
Moakley, who "took his campaign to the people" right up until election day, spoke to his supporters in the same spirit of openness and togetherness that he stressed throughout the campaign: "We're going to be the first Independent congressman to be sent to Washington in over 5000 elections." The candidate who had promised to represent "all the people" in the diverse 9th District seemed ready to fulfill that promise to the point of taking the whole district with him to Congress.
The "new politics," stressing issues of reform and full representation, received its mandate from Boston's "new 9th" on November 7. And there was evening and there was morning, and the 9th District shrank back to normal proportions, even for those who had helped to transform it. By the morning of November 8, however, the district wore an unmistakably new political aspect to complement its new shape on the map.
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