In one of the bluest states in the country, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is being accused of racial discrimination against one of America’s most iconic ethnic groups.
Boston’s North End is home to some of the oldest generations of Italian immigrants in the United States. The cantinas and trattorias, which generations of Italians continue to run throughout the waterfront quarter, draw thousands from all over the country for the authentic fare and ethnic culture they serve up.
But this summer, it will be the only Boston neighborhood where visitors to the popular New England city won’t be able to enjoy an outdoor meal, which has grown substantially in popularity due to the pandemic.
Last month, Wu announced that she will be allowing outdoor dining everywhere in the city, except for, that is, the North End.
The restaurants have fired back with a discrimination lawsuit filed this week against Wu. The restauranteers accuse Wu of making racially motivated decisions against them.
“This is one of the last white European neighborhoods, not just in Boston, but the entire country and Wu wants to ethnically cleanse it,” North End restaurateur and resident Jorge Mendoza-Iturralde, who is of Italian descent, told The Epoch Times.
Mendoza-Iturralde, owner of Monica’s Trattoria and Vinoteca di Monica in the North End, said he has been called a “white supremacist” on social media for speaking up against Wu.
Wu’s office refused to answer questions about the discrimination allegations, but instead sent The Epoch Times an email with a Feb. 16 press release on the issue.
In it, Wu explained that her decision to ban outdoor dining in Boston’s North End was based on anticipated strain in the already congested North End from two road projects—the scheduled closure of the nearby Sumner Tunnel and an ongoing bridge construction project on North Washington Street.
The two projects, Wu said, would “make it harder for residents and first responders to navigate the area” over the summer.
But Mendoza-Iturralde and other restaurant owners called the explanation “nonsense,” noting that Wu is allowing dining in the equally congested districts of heavily-trafficked Newbury Street in Copley’s Square and Boston’s tight-fit Back Bay.
Richard Chambers, an attorney representing the North End restaurateurs, told The Epoch Times that Wu has a clear racial bias against white people, especially white men.
He alleged that Wu’s entire staff is made up of Asians, African Americans, and members from the LGBTQ+ community. “There isn’t a straight, white man’s face on her staff,” Chambers said.
Mendoza-Iturralde said another example of Wu’s “plain bias” is her silence on Boston’s Chinatown, another heavily congested Boston neighborhood with a predominantly Asian population.
In an attempt to bolster their claim of discrimination by Wu, the Italians also pointed to allegedly racist comments Wu made last year at Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Brunch, a longstanding roast hosting notable Massachusetts politicians.
“I’m getting used to dealing with problems that are expensive, disruptive, and white,” Wu stated at the brunch.
In a March 12 editorial, Boston Broadside—the city’s only conservative newspaper—wrote that “if she had used substituted the word ‘BLACK,’ or ‘HISPANIC,’ or ‘TRANSGENDER’ for WHITE, she would have been dunked in Boston Harbor.”
In their lawsuit, the Italians allege that Wu discriminated against them for being “white persons of Italian descent.”
Existing Discrimination Lawsuit
The racism allegation against Wu was added to an already pending discrimination lawsuit filed by North End restaurateurs last year against Wu, a Democrat.
The original suit was based on the high fees that Wu was imposing against them for outdoor dining before announcing last week that she was banning it altogether in the North End.
According to Chambers, Wu was allowing restaurants in other parts of the city to set up outdoor dining for free while requiring the North End eateries to pay a $7,500 fee for a permit plus an average of $1,000 per month for the parking spaces they would be taking up.
“If that is not obviously designed to price us out of our own neighborhood, then the woke is winning,” said Mendoza-Iturralde.
In justifying the new fees, Wu stated that “with about 95 restaurants in just over a third of a square mile, the North End has the densest per capita number of restaurants in the state,” she said. Mendoza-Iturralde called the numbers inflated, saying it’s more like 60 restaurants.
Attorney Chambers admits that politics could be influencing the policies that Wu is posing against the North End restaurant owners.
When Wu ran for office in 2019, the almost-all Italian neighborhood did not support her. The then 36-year old Harvard grad went on to win with 64 percent of the vote.
In her victory speech, Wu vowed to create a “Boston for everyone.” “We’re ready to be a Boston that doesn’t push people out, but welcomes all who call our city home,” she said.
‘Killing the Old-Fashioned Italian Vibe’
Both Mendoza-Iturralde and Chambers said there is plenty of evidence that Wu’s “Boston for everyone” does not include the Italian-Americans restaurant owners that make up the North End.
He said there was a farmer’s market that Wu used $26 million in taxpayer money to help establish next to the North End, which has hurt existing local produce shops run by multi-generation Italian families.
He also pointed to a 63,000 square foot hotel complex the city has pushed through in the North End. It that will replace single story buildings and include space for two ground floor restaurants plus a seasonal rooftop dining terrace.
“So much being wanting to ease congestion,” Mendoza-Iturralde said. “No, what it is, really, is she is doing everything to kill the old-fashioned Italian vibe of the North End and the pride and the white heritage that built it.”
At the height of the pandemic, North End restaurant owners spoke publicly about their financial struggles that came with shutdowns, followed by costly requirements to comply with a series of newly implemented COVID safety protocols.
In 2021, Christian Silvestri, an owner of Rabia’s Dolce Fumo, said, “We have been getting killed by this whole pandemic. And now, right when you think you can get a little head start, make some money at last, you get hit again.” Silvestri is now among the restaurant owners suing Wu.
Wider Support for Restaurants
Outside the North End, it appears the Italian restaurateurs have their share of support.
According to a March 10 poll conducted by Boston.com of 2,000 city residents, most said they disagree with Wu’s latest decision to ban outdoor dining in the North End.
The North End/Waterfront Residents Association (NEWRA) did not respond immediately to enquiries from The Epoch Times.
The restaurant owners are seeking $1.5 million in damages against Wu in the lawsuit.
Chambers likened the dispute to a major legal battle that the city of Boston lost last year when it banned a Christian group from flying its religious flag on a city-owned community flag pole after favorable treatment of other groups. The matter went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in what was considered a landmark case reinforcing the religious rights, that the city could not ban the Christian group if it was allowing other special interest groups to fly their flags on the pole.
“What Wu is doing is just as unconstitutional,” Chambers said.
Attorneys for Wu’s office have filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the restaurant owner’s claim on the grounds that there is no fundamental right in Boston to operate a restaurant in a public way and that the city has the right to sent certain requirements for outdoor dining licenses in Boston.