By John Lynds
After a stellar 30-year career with the City of Boston, eleven of which was spent as the District 1 City Councilor, Sal LaMattina told the East Boston Times Tuesday that he will not seek re-election during the municipal election in September.
“It’s time,” said LaMattina. “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. From the Early Learning Center we built in the 90’s to the parks, to the waterfront development, I think its a pretty good legacy and I want to go out on top. But I want to continue to help the community in one form or another after I leave office. I’m not going anywhere and I’ll still be in East Boston as an active community member. Like I’ve been saying for the past year, Eastie’s best days are yet to come and I’m excited about its future.”
LaMattina was first elected City Councilor in June 2006 following a special election to replace former District 1 City Councilor Paul Scapicchio. LaMattina edged out Charlestown’s Dan Ryan in a hotly contested election by a mere 152 votes. Ryan went on to be elected Charlestown’s State Representative a few years later.
LaMattina was born in Eastie and raised on Drake Place off Chelsea Street near Santarpio’s Pizza. LaMattina and his four brothers were raised by his mother, Dolores, and his Italian immigrant grandparents.
“We were poor but we never knew we were poor,” said LaMattina. “My grandfather installed a shower in the basement that had only cold water so we would shower and then run up stairs in the winter and warm ourselves next to the gas on gas stove. If we wanted to take a hot shower we’d go to the Paris Street Gym.”
It was this upbringing that shaped LaMattina’s life and catapulted him into a life of public service.
“I always wanted to help people,” said LaMattina. “I worked at Crossroads Family Shelter before I got married and for a long time at East Boston Camps.”
There at East Boston Camps, a summer overnight camp for low-income inner city children who wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to experience nature LaMattina worked as a counselor. LaMattina’s mentor at the camps, the late Marty Pino had a mantra of ‘When we all give, We all gain.’ This stuck with LaMattina throughout his life.
“It was those lessons that stuck with me and it’s how I approached public service,” said LaMattina. “I truly believe that we all have to help each other and help those who have less than us. I think I tried my best to live up to those words.”
LaMattina was the first one in his family to attend college and graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1981.
LaMattina went to work for then Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn in 1987 as his mayoral liaison to Eastie. It was during his time in Neighborhood Services that LaMattina gained a great appreciation for constituent services.
“These are the things residents want,” said LaMattina. “It’s not rocket science that people want clean streets, nice parks, a safe neighborhood and good schools.”
However, LaMattina was living in an Eastie that was far different from the one he grew up in during the 1960’s. The late 1960’s ushered in massive Logan Airport expansion and the mid-1970s brought bussing to the city. In a span of less than 10 years these two issues caused a mass exodus of longtime Eastie residents and began a period of urban decay in the neighborhood.
“It was dirty, we had pollution from the airport, we had the least amount of open space in the city and a lot of my friends and their families simply left for the suburbs,” said LaMattina. “However, my wife, Lisa, and I made the decision to stay and dedicate our lives to helping to improve the community and the lives of those who remained here.”
The following year LaMattina founded Eastie Pride Day, an annual event that continues today and celebrates all that is good in the neighborhood.
“Everyone was saying what a dump East Boston was at the time. but I wanted to show people how good it was and the potential it had,” said LaMattina.
Following Flynn’s administration LaMattina went to the late former Mayor Thomas Menino’s Administration as a liaison to the Big Dig project. Again, LaMattina was charged with addressing the concerns, impacts and questions residents experienced during one of the biggest federal transportation projects in history.
“It was a tricky time but we had to make sure residents were not displaced, that businesses stayed open and that the impacts were mitigated,” said LaMattina.
Following the Big Dig, LaMattina continued with the city in the Department of Transportation before deciding to run for City Council in the spring of 2006.
During his tenure LaMattina dedicated his time to improving the look and feel of Eastie, He wanted more parks and the one’s that already existed he wanted transformed into better open spaces for residents. He launched a personal crusade against trash and litter in Eastie through partnerships, education campaigns and regular cleanups. He advocated for smart housing growth that balanced market rate development with affordable and workforce housing.
“Now with the Noyes Park project underway we will have rehabbed every city park in Eastie,” said LaMattina proudly. “We also added dozens of acres of new parks, parks we never had when I was growing up. We’ve gone from the least amount of open space to some of the best parks in the country.”
LaMattina also oversaw the start of Eastie’s long awaited waterfront development and spent the last two terms advocating for more water uses like regular ferries and better access to the waterfront.
“Eastie has changed a lot in the past 11 years,” said LaMattina. “It is now one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. That really blows my mind because no one could have imagined that would have been the case 30 years ago. But those of us who stayed here and fought for the community and had a vision for the future helped transform this neighborhood. It was’t just me and my family but an army of people that truly loved this community.”
LaMattina said it was people from all races and backgrounds that came together to put Eastie on the map and that, above all, has made him very proud of the community Eastie has become.
“Sal (LaMattina) has spent his life helping others and trying to improve the quality of life in East Boston,” said former colleague and longtime friend, former Sen. Anthony Petruccelli. “From his days as a camp counselor and swim instructor, to his many years in city hall as an aide to Mayor Menino and Mayor Flynn and as a city councilor for over ten years, Sal has always represented what Eastie Pride is all about. My family and I couldn’t be more proud of his political career and more grateful for our friendship. We wish him all the best with his future endeavors.”
Rep. Adrian Madaro said LaMattina has made a lasting impact on our community.
“From founding Eastie Pride Day to effectively addressing daily quality of life issues, Sal has been a tireless advocate for the people and community of East Boston,” said Madaro. “Sal is a mentor and friend whose hands on approach to constituent services is second to none. I will miss working with him as a colleague, but know that he will always remain an activist for the community that he loves.”
Madaro added that his political acumen and the relationships he forged over the past three decades at City Hall translated into the ability to deliver for his hometown time and again.
“It’s going to be a big loss not having someone with the ability to pick up the phone at Public Works or Transportation and get something done for the people of East Boston in a very short time frame,” said Madaro. “That will be a hard thing to replace and I don’t think it can ever be replaced on the same level.”
Sen. Joseph Boncore added that, “Over the last ten years Councilor Lamattina’s work propelled East Boston and the North End to the forefront of the city’s Renaissance. In his time on the council, Sal served with a humility and distinguished dedication to community that leaves a legacy worthy of Boston’s greatest elected officials. I wish he and his family all of the best in the future.”
LaMattina’s North End colleague in the House, Rep. Aaron Michlewitz said it has been an honor and a privilege to work with LaMattina.
“His hard work and dedication to our neighborhoods has been second to none,” said Michlewitz. “He has taught me so much about this business and about people in general. I will miss working with him, but I am very excited for him and Lisa and their future endeavors.”