When Chris Breen came into his new position as mayoral liaison for Charlestown a little over two years ago, few people knew him and the Town was headed into a time of major change.
With the casino fight behind it, major development, traffic and other serious issues faced the Town.
In stepped lifelong Townie Chris Breen – a former teacher at the Eliot School in the North End – who was ready to shoulder the burden and be all things to all people.
Now, Breen has moved on to work at the Boston Planning and Development Agency, and looking back on his time as the Charlestown liaison, he said, was a life-changing event for himself and his hometown.
“It’s an experience not everyone gets to have,” he said. “There are a lot of life skills I’ll take away. Basically, I kept to myself before this. No one really knew me, even though I grew up here. Now, everyone knows me. There’s been a lot of change, but it’s been good change…There is a vision for Charlestown now and every day in Charlestown is better than it was before. People don’t remember in the ’80s it wasn’t as great a place. I remember walking around here and the houses weren’t in very good shape. That’s all changed. Charlestown is better now than it ever has been in my life. It’s the best neighborhood in the city and I think people are starting to realize that.”
Breen was born and raised in Charlestown, attending the Harvard-Kent, Charlestown Catholic, and Boston Latin Academy. He went to UMass Dartmouth for college and got his master’s degree at Cambridge College while in the teaching profession. Though he taught at the Edwards Middle School and the Eliot School in the North End, Breen said he was really just always hoping to get his foot in the door of the political scene.
When he saw the energy and resources that Mayor Martin Walsh was putting into the Town, he said he decided he wanted to be involved. He helped the campaign and then decided to take on the liaison position, which is one of the most difficult positions in City government.
Not only does the liaison have to attend all functions and meetings, but they also have to keep on top of issues that are under the radar. Additionally, liaisons have to be on ‘Fire Duty’ during the weekends and are expected to respond to fires to coordinate victim services.
“Growing up as a City kid, the mayor is as big as it gets,” he said. “You don’t think about Senate or Representatives or Congress that much. It was the Mayor that was always in high esteem. I remember Mayor Flynn being on ‘Cheers.’ So, when the mayor asked me to take on the liaison position in my hometown, it was big time to me.”
But it was soon very overwhelming.
Breen shared that in his first months, he was overwhelmed by the calls and the constant motion required of someone keeping full tabs on a busy and active neighborhood like Charlestown.
“My co-workers would look over and ask me if I was going to make it,” he laughed. “I definitely didn’t realize how much work it took. I didn’t realize every single night you had to be out.”
But soon enough, Breen said, he got into the groove of things and actually ended up liking the position tremendously – especially getting to know people and organizations in his neighborhood.
Likewise, one of the greatest hurdles for any coordinator in Charlestown is being present and helpful throughout the month of June – which is Bunker Hill month, many say in jest.
Breen worked his way through three Battle of Bunker Hill Day Parades and Pride Weeks.
“As a kid, all I ever wanted to do is march in the Parade,” he said. “Then I realized it was more than a Parade. It’s a breakfast and it’s so much more than just the Parade. We have an entire month of celebrations that bring the community together. People come back and people really get into it. It’s a lot of work and you’re out all day and all night throughout June, but it’s also a very cool time of year to be in Charlestown.”
Some of the notable things that took place in his time there included organizing the first distribution of the casino monies, keeping tabs on One Charlestown, responding to two major fires on Bunker Hill Street, planning for the start of the North Washington Street Bridge project, seeing through the re-design of Rutherford Avenue/Sullivan Square, and holding the Walsh administration’s first open house.
“I felt a major responsibility from Charlestown to do the right thing for the community,” he said. “I don’t feel as a liaison I did anything the community didn’t want. If it was a development, it didn’t happen. I don’t plan to go anywhere. I’m still going to be in Charlestown all the tie. I’ll still go to the Trolley Tour and many of the events. I really enjoy being part of the community and will continue to be.”
Candidates are in the process of being interviewed to replace Breen, and all are from Charlestown. The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services said they should have an announcement soon on the new coordinator.