Albert "Dapper" O'Neil, Boston City Councilor

[caption id="attachment2261" align="alignleft" width="300"]<a href="">Dapper O'Neil Albert "Dapper" O'Neil addresses Boston City Council on court-ordered busing. Watch the full story.[/caption]

Boston City Councilors are a very important part of the Boston political landscape. Because they are elected every two years, they are constantly campaigning and making sure the public knows who they are. And because they can serve an indefinite number of terms, they can characterize a whole era of Boston politics. This can lead to some pretty interesting characters. To explore these influential and often fascinating people, the Boston TV News Digital Library has chosen to devote one post a month to highlighting a former Councilor.

This month we’re going to start things off with Mr. Albert “Dapper” O’Neil. O’Neil was first appointed to the Boston City Council to fill the seat of Councilwoman Louise Day Hicks, when she took her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (Hick’s tenure in the House was short-lived and eventually she returned to the City Council, serving alongside O’Neil). Following his appointment, he continued to run as an incumbent and was successfully reelected every two years until 1999. He became the President of the Boston City Council in 1992, elected after the previous president, Christopher Iannella, died.

[caption id="attachment2262" align="alignright" width="300"]<a href="">Dapper O'Neil Interview Interview with Albert "Dapper" O'Neil during his campaign for Sheriff. Watch the full story.[/caption]

O’Neil was known for his social conservatism and his spirited oratory. He fought against most racial integration policy and strongly defended 2nd Amendment rights. His training at the Staley School of the Spoken Word (from which John F. Kennedy also graduated), distinguished his speeches and arguments in the City Council chambers. This speech about Judge Arthur Garrity during the busing controversy is a great example.

Additionally in the collection, we have an original field tape from an interview Gary Griffith conducted with O’Neil in 1978 during his run for Suffolk County Sheriff. Unedited interviews are an especially good format for a user to get a sense of a person’s personality. The flow of the conversation is preserved, rather than edited for concision and clarity. A user can get a better idea of, not only the content being conveyed which would likely survive in an edited piece, but also the momentum of the discussion, including uneasy pauses and overexcited answers that start before the interviewer’s question is finished.

The 1978 interview gives the user a good sense of O’Neil’s personality and politics. In his light green jacket, with his hair slicked back, O’Neil composedly but passionately answers Griffith’s questions. He continually comes back to the phrase, “I’m a law and order man,” to differentiate himself from his opponent in the election for sheriff. The interview also touches on many of the stories and traits that make O’Neil a more contentious figure than most of his fellow City Councilors. Towards the end of the interview, he explains how he got his nickname “Dapper,” while growing up in Roxbury. He also states that although he still has a license, he rarely carries a firearm, although many people still assert he was never without one. He also addresses a story rife with rumors, about his extremely short tenure as Patronage Secretary under Endicott “Chub” Peabody. The rumors say it was a tiff with Edward Kennedy that forced O’Neil out of this position, while O’Neil asserts that he only held the office for six and a half hours because his method of running the department clashed with everyone else. Even though the truth may never come out, it’s very interesting to have a first hand account from the person involved.

There are even more stories about Dapper O'Neil in our collection, including this one that we previously highlighted, of him responding to the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit at the ICA.


Marquard, Bryan. "'Dapper' O'Neil, champion of personal politics, dies at 87." Boston Globe (Boston, MA), December 20, 2007. Accessed January 31, 2014 at