The History and Tradition of the Mayor of Charlestown

First Mayor of Charlestown, Lillian Boutilier receives “Key to Boston” from Mayor Ray Flynn.

First Mayor of Charlestown, Lillian Boutilier receives “Key to Boston” from Mayor Ray Flynn.

After a 15 year gap, a local not-for-profit organization known as the Townie Association has revived the traditional town race for Mayor. The successful re-launch of the tradition last summer brought an exciting and refreshing incentive for town unity. The honorary title has almost always been awarded to extremely active members of the community, often beloved members who truly have an impact within Charlestown and beyond.

In 1982, the Charlestown- to- Charlestown Committee created the race for Mayor as a fundraiser to send the winner of the Charlestown Rose contest to the Western International Rose Festival in Charlestown, Mayo, Ireland. The competition rules for Mayor were simple: for every raffle ticket sold by a contestant, a vote was earned in their name. Whoever sold the most ballots would become the honorary Mayor of Charlestown and possibly, depending on the financial success of the fundraiser, win a trip to Ireland. Competition blossomed and Lillian Boutellier, a fiery town elder, won the title as the very first Mayor of Charlestown. Lil has since passed away, but has by no means become less revered.

Her granddaughter Christina Walsh recounts, “My grandmother, I can say with no doubt about it, is probably one of the proudest townies that ever lived in Charlestown.”

A member of the Charlestown School Girls Association, the Irish Heritage Society, the American Legion, a mother of four, and retired Nurse’s Aid, Lil was not only a symbol of Charlestown strength and determination, but a trailblazer for future Mayors such as Michelle Canizzarro, Patty Kelley, Debbie Lang, and most recently, Shannon Lundin.

Although Lil was quite the Townie matriarch, succeeding candidates and Mayors are nothing to scoff at either, raising mountains of money and throwing fundraisers with incredible turn outs.

“It was great,” says Michelle Canizzaro, “I had sold $5,310 in tickets. My dad would help stand outside the supermarket and sell them with me.”

From peddling tickets outside storefronts, to themed parties, sporting events, and just plain hustling their friends and neighbors, each Mayor has had unique campaign flairs with one common goal in mind: bringing everyone together.

The tradition was clearly thriving right up until Patty Kelley ran in 1997, when everything stopped short. The pack of good-natured contestants that had always arrived ready and willing in the past had dwindled inexplicably and, for whatever reason, no one wanted to run that year. As it turned out, Patty was the only one who campaigned.

“They kept saying keep going, someone will throw their hat in the ring eventually so I kept selling and thought it was kind of crazy.”

The lack of competition may have had to do with the fact that the Charlestown Rose contest had come to an end both in Ireland and in Charlestown with the final crowning of Colleen Hayes the year before.

“The contest was done away with that year and I felt like it was a whole big mess,” Patty explains. Regardless, Patty continued fundraising and did “all kinds of stuff” to keep people involved in the process anyway.

The final Mayor before the 15 year gap was Debbie Lang, who won in 1998. Now that there was no Rose Contest in Charlestown, County Mayo, Ireland to attend, Lang changed the nature of the competition by agreeing that all money raised should be put back into the youth organizations.

“It was so exciting; it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. The whole community pulled together. [For my campaign] we had all kinds of activities: darts, horseshoes, I did some softball and the kids were included too…It was fun for everybody,” Lang explains.

An extremely active member in the community Lang has put on events including the Townie Santa Thanksgiving meal, T-Ball for 2-6 year olds, and just about everything else in this town for the last 15 years, truly earning the title of Mayor in deed and action.

There are some possible reasons for the end to the tradition. Some believe it was the dissolution of the Charlestown-to-Charlestown Committee with no young blood to reactivate, others think it was because giving the money back to the youth organizations wasn’t as compelling as a ticket to Ireland, and still there are some who believe it was the end of Charlestown Rose contest. For whatever reason, the race had remained dormant until those from the Townie Association reincarnated it last Parade Week. Dedicated to building community bonds by organizing and sponsoring events, the Townie Association’s President, Sean Boyle, explained, “Our overall goal is to beautify and unify our beloved town, Charlestown – we are all Townies.”

And so the history of the Mayor of Charlestown will continue on. Beginning on March 15, potential candidates can submit their applications for the honorary title, and a trip to Ireland. Applications will be available online, at the Cooperative Bank and at other Charlestown business locations. Although the 2014 Mayor of Charlestown Race begins on April 1, 2014, candidates can toss their hat in the ring up until June 1, 2014. The Townie Association will announce the winner during Parade Week.

Applications for the 2014 Mayor of Charlestown Race will also be available at the Townie Toast on Saturday, March 15 at the Knights of Columbus. The Toast is an Irish themed fundraiser and is a salute to the 2013-14 Mayor of Charlestown, Shannon Lundin, who will give a “State of the Town” address. Those who would like to compete in the 2014 Race are invited to attend the Townie Toast to announce their candidacy. Tickets for the Townie Toast are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. For tickets, call Sean Boyle at 617 784 4519. Proceeds from the event will benefit both the Townie Association Inc. and Charlestown Youth Football & Cheerleading League. The Townie Toast is being sponsored by Whole Foods Market, Charlestown.

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