'If most people did this, Boston would be a better city'
City Council's quiet observer shows up on time, nearly every time
Edward Barrett is a rare Bostonian. He roots for the Yankees, adores Republicans, and prefers Ronald Reagan to JFK. And every week, he voluntarily attends Boston City Council meetings.
Every Wednesday morning for six years, Barrett has shuffled into City Hall's Iannella Chamber in time for the 11:30 meeting, waved to the stenographer, and assumed his preferred spot in the top row of stadium seats.
The 68-year-old has scrutinized the council's every move, because he wants to ''get a handle on things," and, as he put it, somebody has to keep an eye on government.
''I don't come here for fun," Barrett said. ''All politics is local, and there's so much waste of money in city government. If most people did this, Boston would be a better city, once they see what's going on."
Barrett writes opinion articles about terrorism and corruption and sends them to various newspapers, hoping to someday get one printed.
On a recent day, he found his usual seat, sat and unfolded a crossword puzzle. ''They never start on time," Barrett said with disgust, pointing to the clock, which indicated 11:53.
On the floor of the chambers, city councilors stood in groups, chatting over cups of Dunkin' Donuts coffee. As the clock swept past noon, Barrett sighed and rolled his eyes.
''They don't care if they don't start on time," he said and then offered a slightly scaled-down variation of Lord Acton's warning, ''When you make the rules, you bend them."
The councilors have taken notice of their quiet observer and say they can't think of any other civilian who has been as consistent in monitoring their meetings. Councilor John Tobin of West Roxbury calls him the Cal Ripken of City Council meetings, because ''he doesn't miss a game."
Barrett's reserved demeanor belies his enthusiasm for criticizing the council that he's committed to watching. Given an opportunity, he gives heated critiques.
''Every time they read something in the papers, they call for a hearing," Barrett said. ''That's all they seem to do."
Asked if he could think of one thing the City Council does well, he laughed and shook his head. ''Nothing," he said.
For 26 years, Barrett was a city employee, vacuuming and sweeping the Boston Public Library floors before retiring 10 years ago, he said. He first ventured into City Council chambers when he sought to report what he said was corruption at the library to his district councilor, James M. Kelly. Barrett began attending weekly in 1998.
''Eddie Barrett is indeed a fixture in the City Council," Kelly said. ''He can tell you as much about City Council for the past decades . . . as anyone in the city."
Barrett, a medium-built man with whitish blond hair who usually wears collared shirts and khakis, said he frequently gets bored watching the meetings, and sometimes pays less attention to the proceedings than to the various local newspapers and news weeklies that he stuffs inside a tattered, black leather briefcase. Other times, he quietly studies the councilors and the meeting agenda.
''It's like he's been sentenced to community service; it was either five years at the House of Corrections or three years of City Council meetings," Tobin said.
Barrett lives in South Boston. When not at City Hall, he said, he watches the New York Yankees and the New England Patriots.
His civic activism goes beyond Boston local politics. Sometimes, he researches and observes State House politics. Councilor Paul Scapicchio of the North End spotted him there a month ago.
''I think he was cheating on us," Scapicchio said. ''I thought he was our guy, but he might be attending meetings at the State House, as well."
Madison Park can be reached at Mpark@globe.com.