Kevin Cullen

For Coakley, ominous sign

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / January 19, 2010

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Blue Hill Avenue runs like a vein through the city.

It stretches for 4 miles, from River Street in Mattapan to Dudley Street in Roxbury, and a little more than a year ago there was an Obama sign on every block. There were Obama signs in Mattapan barber shops, in the windows of the apartment buildings opposite Franklin Field and Franklin Park, in the restaurants of Grove Hall, in the bodegas near Jermaine Goffigan Park.

Fourteen months ago, there was a buzz on Blue Hill Ave. and the streets that run off it like caterpillar legs. This is the heart of the biggest minority community in the state, and the energy generated by the prospect of Barack Obama becoming president was palpable.

Yesterday, I drove the length of Blue Hill Ave. and counted exactly two Martha Coakley signs. One of them was on a fence next to the Roxbury Energy Gas station, on the corner of Moreland Street. The sign wasn’t properly fastened. It flapped in the wind, revealing a “Mike Flaherty for Mayor’’ sign underneath.

If Martha Coakley loses today, it won’t be because she didn’t put up enough signs on Blue Hill Ave. It’ll be because she failed to convince enough of the people who put up the Obama signs on Blue Hill Ave. and a lot of other avenues across Massachusetts that Obama’s ability to get anything done depends on her winning the election.

Besides the sign flapping at the gas station, the only other Martha Coakley sign on Blue Hill Ave. was in the window of Mattapan Family Laundry. Edgar Martinez was behind the counter and he said he knows absolutely nothing about Martha Coakley.

Edgar Martinez is 22 years old, and 14 months ago he voted in his first and so far only election, and he cast his ballot for Obama. “I remember then, when Obama was running, that was all we talked about, my friends, my family. We were excited,’’ he said. “I haven’t heard anybody I know talking about this election.

“All my friends voted for Obama. A lot of them were like me. It was the first time we voted. Even older people in my family, it was the first time they voted. Everybody thought things would get better. But they haven’t. I know a lot of people who have lost their houses this year. It’s sad. All my friends are saying Obama promised a lot but he’s doing nothing. I don’t know if that’s true. But that’s what my friends are saying.’’

Edgar Martinez was born in Guatemala and came here as a boy. He used to work as a security guard.

“I got laid off,’’ he said.

Seven months ago, he started working at the laundry in Mattapan Square.

“It’s OK, I guess,’’ he said. “I’m going back to school. Community college. Bunker Hill, in Charlestown. January 22d. Can’t wait.’’

There is a TV mounted on one of the lime-green walls of Mattapan Family Laundry and yesterday it played a constant stream of commercials for Martha Coakley and Scott Brown. The people doing their laundry didn’t look up at the TV.

“A lot of our customers are Haitian,’’ Martinez said. “They’ve got a lot of other stuff on their minds.’’

I asked Martinez if he was going to vote today.

He looked out the window. Across the street, the Together We Can hair salon had a sign out front, advertising a $20 early bird special. But yesterday, Together We Can was closed, locked up tight, dull gray iron grates pulled across the front door.

“I don’t know,’’ Martinez said, shrugging, pushing change across the counter to a girl in a puffy winter jacket. “Maybe. I just don’t know.’’

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at