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Courthouse dedicated to Moakley
By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 04/19/01
A month after President Bush signed legislation naming the courthouse for Moakley, the dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, the congressman strode onto the stage in the courthouse atrium as the USS Constitution -- in spectacular panorama -- was nudged into view by tugboats and fired a 19-gun salute. A Fire Department boat sent columns of water rocketing skyward and a stiff, chilly wind rippled an American flag on the old warship's stern.
"It's especially fitting to name this great courthouse for Joe Moakley," said US Senator Edward M. Kennedy. "It's rock solid, built of New England, just like Joe. And just like Joe, it's rooted solidly in South Boston."
Moakley, who appeared wan and tired, announced in February that he has a rare and incurable form of leukemia and he would not seek a 16th term representing the 9th Congressional District.
But yesterday's ceremonies had little to do with eulogies for a longtime political force, and were purposefully focused on the achievements and the style of a Democrat who traces his political lineage to iconic figures such as John F. Kennedy, Tip O'Neill, and James Michael Curley.
"I learned very early as a child that it is very important to never forget where I came from," Moakley said. "In so doing, I learned the value of loyalty, and that loyalty is indeed the holiest good in the human heart. And from there, I learned very quickly that in the old neighborhood to live for the people upstairs, downstairs, and over the back fence."
Like a gardener reveling in harvest coaxed from a hardscrabble patch of dirt, Moakley stood beaming inside the $228 million brick-and-glass edifice that is a testament to his diligence as a political rainmaker.
Fan Pier was a tired patchwork of warehouses and rock piles, parking lots and crumbling train tracks -- a dumping ground during his youth -- before Moakley went to work in far-away Capitol Hill corridors and obscure hearing rooms, eventually securing an initial $51 million for the building's siting and design.
And then he carefully fertilized the project over the years, brokering real estate deals, negotiating with urban planners, and eliminating sites until the lonely tip of an undeveloped Seaport District emerged -- unsurprisingly -- as the final choice.
The land, where a young Joe Moakley used to savor bruised but juicy melons dislodged from passing freight trains, now is a monument to the former amateur boxer whose choice of political arm-twisting over pugilistics made him the muscle of the Massachusetts delegation in Washington.
"It is almost poetic that this magnificent federal courthouse, this great symbol of justice, is located in the very same spot where my boyhood friends and I would meet the fruit trains coming up from the South in the summertime," Moakley said.
As he accepted the accolades from the pantheon of the state's political establishment, Moakley probably could appreciate even more deeply a silent tribute from the working men and women who helped shape the building that now carries his name.
The bricklayers who were hired to install a new plaque in his honor in the courthouse's lobby refused to charge for their services.
When the General Services Administration asked the masons what it would cost to slice into the red-brick wall and inset the new plaque, a member of the Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen Union Local 3 Eastern Massachusetts said there'd be no charge.
"We'd do anything for Joe Moakley," said Tom McIntyre, a bricklayer and former union official.
Like nearly everyone who came to honor Moakley yesterday, McIntyre had a personal testament to Moakley's unique ability to deliver for his constituents.
"He used to talk about building this courthouse and I'd say, `That's a great idea, Joe. Just make sure the ashtrays are built out of brick.' "
McIntyre broke into a wide grin when he noted that the courthouse contains 1,752,003 bricks. "Now, that's a congressman! From time to time I'd see Joe before it was built and he would say to me, `Tommy, you're going to love this building.' "
Kennedy's prepared remarks included a laugh line about Moakley "keeping that congressional seat warm for 29 years for Max," a line he ultimately chose not to deliver. Kennedy did describe the congressman as "a profile in courage," evoking his slain brother, JFK, who authored a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by that title.
"He's always been a voice for the voiceless, an inspiration to each of us who know him, with a common touch that has touched the heart and soul of all of us," Kennedy said.
His lifelong friend, former state representative John T. "`Doc" Tynan, 81, put it more succinctly. "Joe's a man's man," said Tynan. "If I called Joe to see if he could help out somebody, he'd call me back. He never passed you off to an aide. He's sincere."
"He's always been a scrapper from Southie," said David O'Connor, 77, from Mission Hill. "He was a meat-and-potatoes guy. No one will ever fill Joe Moakley's shoes."
Last night, Moakley was feted at a sold-out dinner attended by some 2,000 people at the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center. It raised more than $2 million for a foundation in his name that will assist the needy.
Moakley's formal portrait was unveiled, and he was serenaded with Irish standards by Kennedy and University of Massachusetts President William Bulger. He had been introduced by a video tribute that sparked a standing ovation.
"Most people have come to know me as a `bread-and-butter' Democrat from South Boston who cares first and foremost about local issues affecting the people I represent," he said. "The problems of the people that I represent are what I know about, and that's why I went to Congress. I've enjoyed tracking down Mrs. O'Leary's Social Security check, helping some young fellow find a job, working on health care, or providing kids the opportunity for a better education. . . .
"But in all honesty, one of the highlights of my career was helping bring to justice the murderers of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter in El Salvador. The reason I point this out is quite simple: For me, people are the same everywhere, and respect for decency must be universal."
ith poignancy, pageantry, and simple tribute, Boston's new federal courthouse was dedicated to US Representative J. Joseph Moakley yesterday on a patch of former marshland where he once romped as a young child.
It was a fitting honor for the harborside building's chief political architect, the son of South Boston who, senators and working-class friends agreed, never forgot where he came from.
ith poignancy, pageantry, and simple tribute, Boston's new federal courthouse was dedicated to US Representative J. Joseph Moakley yesterday on a patch of former marshland where he once romped as a young child. It was a fitting honor for the harborside building's chief political architect, the son of South Boston who, senators and working-class friends agreed, never forgot where he came from."The truth is that Joe has been writing his name in our history and in our hearts for almost a half a century," said US Senator John F. Kerry. "And even as he kept faith with his community, living out the credo that all politics is local, he added a special Moakley corollary that certain values and commitments are global as well."
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