Monday morning was like every other morning on the Mass/Cass corridor as the heartbreak of the opioid epidemic played out on the sidewalks, yet something was different.
A Kennedy was in town.
Congressman Joe Kennedy III visited the South End with State Rep. Jon Santiago twice during his U.S. Senate kick-off last weekend, concluding the statewide tour on Monday with a stoic look into the vortex of the opioid epidemic on the Mass/Cass corridor.
Kennedy had long been rumored to be considering a run against U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, and last weekend he made that official with a kick-off announcement in East Boston. That was followed up with a visit to Villa Victoria Saturday morning in the South End with Rep. Santiago and IBA representatives.
“This isn’t a moment for waiting, for sitting on the sidelines, or for playing by old rules that don’t work anymore,” he said at his Eastie kick-off. “This is the fight for our lives, the fight of my generation. I’m all in.”
However, it was Monday that was most poignant when he strutted down Albany Street from Boston Medical Center to visit Boston Healthcare for the Homeless. While surrounded by media, Kennedy greeted many of those walking the streets in the thralls of the opioid crisis.
Most knew who he was.
Several shared their stories.
More of them shared their concerns without filter.
He followed up by walking from Albany Street to the South End Community Health Center on Washington Street – where he also took a tour of that facility.
He said it was important for him to visit the South End’s Mass/Cass corridor and Washington Street area to find out what’s being done already, and how he can help if elected.
He said more needs to be done.
“I think this area highlights some of the challenges and juxtapositions that can exist,” he said. “You have some of the wealthiest and most desirable neighborhoods in the city, and then a couple of blocks away, you have folks that are really struggling. This is a challenge for policy makers at every level, but at a time when you do have Boston enjoying an economic boom like we haven’t seen in modern times – the fact that we are still struggling to the extent we are to address help to the folks that need it most. That has to force the question as to why aren’t we doing more, and more does need to be done to ensure the growth we’re seeing in Boston that we’re enjoying lifts up everybody. It can’t just lift up a segment of our society.”
Rep. Santiago walked the route with him on the tour, and said he has been a friend of Kennedy’s for quite some time. He said they had both served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic 13 years ago. When Santiago left to return home, Kennedy picked up several of the projects he had been overseeing.
Since that time, he said, they have remained close.
Santiago, however, is bucking the trend in the legislature as many state elected officials have already come out to endorse Markey rather than Kennedy.
“I’m on board with him and supporting him,” said Santiago. “I support Joe because I believe Joe is the best opportunity we have to change some the way we look at some of the most important issues of the day – things like systemic poverty, opioids and climate change. Joe understands that it isn’t the person in the seat that is the issue, but the system that put that person up there. Joe and others like us are interested in dismantling that system.”
One of the particularly noteworthy parts of the tour was the vast amounts of people who recognized Kennedy without any prompting or any encouragement.
A tow truck driver pulled over on Mass. Ave. and called him to the window, handed him her card and said she would do whatever it took to get him in office.
“Seriously, I’ll put a sign on my business,” she said.
There were those huddled on the corner who recognized him, some of the most marginalized folks in the state, and some even knew he was running for Senate.
“Wow, it’s Kennedy,” said one man. “It’s really great to see him down here. That’s a big deal.”
When asked what he thought it was that made so many folks from all walks of life recognize him and want to engage him, he paused and thought for a moment.
“The red hair sticks out man,” he said with a laugh.