Opponents vent at contentious stadium ‘listening’ session

Dr. Jean Maguire delivered a speech in opposition to the White Stadium plan at a raucous meeting on Monday night.

A bowling ball full of discontent rolled through the William Monroe Trotter School auditorium on Monday night at a chaotic meeting that – for at least one night - deflated the optimism of those hoping to bring a women’s professional soccer team to White Stadium.

Fresh off a win in Suffolk Superior Court allowing the proponents of the soccer team’s plan to move forward at White Stadium, Boston Unity Soccer Partners and the city appeared at the meeting – with key mayoral operatives Tiffany Chu and Mike Firestone observing from the crowd. Mayor Wu was not in attendance.

More than 100 people packed the auditorium for the event scheduled last weekend by city and state elected officials whose districts abut Franklin Park. Most people who spoke offered opinions against the proposal, led by an impassioned speech by Dr. Jean Maguire, a well-respected Roxbury leader who was a plaintiff in a lawsuit that sought to block the stadium plan.

Dorchester’s Louis Elisa, of the Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association, spoke at the ‘listening session” on Monday night, saying his group doesn’t oppose the plan in concept, but isn’t persuaded it will work out in their best interests “in actuality.”
Seth Daniel photos

But the meeting was also marred by catcalls and noisy disruptions, including erratic declamations by a self-described “Nazi” who took over for several minutes to air unrelated grievances before slamming the microphone onto the ground.

The session, moderated by District 7 City Councillor Tania Fernandes Anderson, started about thirty minutes later than scheduled with a 45-minute presentation by city officials and representatives from the soccer franchise that is planning to use the renovated stadium.

Morgan McDaniel, of the Mayor’s Office, took the rostrum first and cited the victory in court as a mandate to get moving on the project. “We are happy to say at the end of last week the judge ruled against the injunction and the suit was unlikely to have success,” McDaniel said. “We’re very happy to turn our attention and resources to answering the substantial questions and concerns that folks have.”

By the time the public was invited to speak, around 7:10 p.m., many in the crowd had grown impatient and angry. The barrage of criticisms went on until 9 p.m.

“You have to hear, really hear, the level of distrust,” said Dianne Wilkerson, a former state senator and opponent of the city plan. “The level of tone-deafness to me to stand up there at the beginning and say you are happy you won when some of the very community plaintiffs are sitting right here,” she continued, her words and tone buttressed by cheers and clapping. “We’re happy to counsel you, but you don’t come in here and tell us you’re happy we lost. What do you think this is?”

The speech by Maguire, a long-time Franklin Park advocate and former director of the METCO program, was the centerpiece of the night’s comments. She urged the city to go forward with a renovation project using its own money.

“It disturbs me that for some reason we seem to be working on how we will pay for what we want,” she said. “Anything we want, we tax the public for…Whatever we want we can tax and pay for. It’s not a question of money; it’s a question of to whom do we want to have access to that…Let’s not act like we’re poor. This is Massachusetts.”

Louis Elisa, president of the Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association, said, “We have always supported the idea of this project,” he said. “We’ve never been opposed. We’ve been concerned from the beginning of how it will work out in actuality and not in theory.”

Others like Domingos Darosa – a youth football coach— doubts that Boston Public School athletes will benefit from the stadium’s new use. He noted that many city high schools, such as Dorchester’s Burke High School and South Boston’s Excel High School, don’t have football teams and he said only about half have soccer teams. He said that two teams that regularly play football at White Stadium – Boston Latin Academy and Boston Latin School – will be relocated for all but one game of their seasons under the soccer team plan.

“Let’s be real about what we’re talking about,” he said. “Who’s going to use this when there are no BPS teams left to use it?”

Added Nefertiti Lawrence, a former math teacher at the John D. O’Bryant School: “When you talk about creating awesome areas with beer gardens and all that, it just doesn’t feel like it’s for folks like us…I’m concerned people here won’t feel welcome. There’s got to be a way to do this without turning it into Northeastern University.”

The only elected official to take a position was state Rep. Chynah Tyler, who voiced her opposition, citing that she didn’t want the plan to result in another Carter Park – a park in the South End renovated by Northeastern University that she said has resulted in the community being cut off to access.

“I’m here to make sure White Stadium remains the White Stadium as we all know it – with some amazing improvements,” she said.

One of the few voices of support from the community came from Rev. Miniard Culpepper, who said “privatization” is something the community should embrace to help businesses that are struggling in Grove Hall.

The city said it plans to hold detailed online transportation and parking meetings on the stadium plan next month, with Roxbury’s on April 9 at 7 p.m., and Dorchester’s on April 10 at 6 p.m.

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