Twenty years since a Hyde Park Italian-American succeeded Ray Flynn, South Boston retains its public perception as the city's nexus of political power. That hold on the imagination was evident during the farewell speeches to Jack Hart, who abruptly resigned as state senator last month. Colleague after colleague spoke glowingly of Hart's representation of Southie, in the tradition of those like Steve Lynch and William Bulger who held the seat before him. It was up to Hart, when he rose to speak, to remind them that the lion's share of his constituents live elsewhere — in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park.
The reality of Southie political juice will be put to the test this year as never before. Consider:
• Lynch is running for US Senate in the special election prompted by John Kerry's appointment to secretary of state;
• Hart's departure sets up a special election for state Senate, pitting Southie state representative Nick Collins against Dorchester state representative Linda Dorcena Forry;
• Southie's district city councilor, Bill Linehan, faces a likely rematch with Suzanne Lee of the South End, who came within a few dozen votes of defeating him in 2011;
• If Lynch wins the Senate seat, a special election will probably feature at least one Southie pol trying to follow the footsteps of Lynch, Joe Moakley, and John McCormack;
• If Collins wins the state Senate seat, a special election will choose a new state representative from the South Boston district;
• The council election provides an opportunity for a Southie pol to win back an at-large seat, which has not been held by someone from South Boston since Michael Flaherty's failed mayoral run in 2009;
• Tom Menino's health problems present the possibility of a genuine battle for mayor.
Regardless of the results, that's a lot of electoral action coming to the 30,000 neighborhood residents in one year.
It could result in a muscle-flexing surge, with a whole new generation of Southie public servants taking their places of power.
On the other extreme, we might finally see Southie lose its disproportionate hold on those positions and find itself represented by outsiders.
Or the spate of elections this year might just reveal that Southie is not the isolated, unique enclave it's made out to be, but just another interconnected part of the city — one that can be happily represented by a Haitian-American woman from Dorchester just as well as Jack Hart can represent Mattapan.
The biggest win for Southie would be if Lynch wins the US Senate special election. That would be a first, even for the storied neighborhood.
It would also represent a victory for the conservative, Catholic, working-class Democrats associated with Southie. Three years ago, after Ted Kennedy died, those "lunch-bucket" Democrats all over the state crossed party lines to give Scott Brown his victory over Martha Coakley — after liberals hounded Lynch out of the primary for his vote against the Affordable Healthcare Act. Brown's most effective ad in that campaign, as many saw it, was one filmed in South Boston. Brown won both South Boston wards — the only Boston wards he carried — on his way to victory.