Chief of staff John Kelly, whose task includes enforcing order in the White House, has deep roots in a Boston enclave that epitomizes the America President Donald Trump referred to in his MAGA theme, Politico reported.
When Kelly called Rep. Frederica Wilson, a black lawmaker from Florida, "an empty barrel" — or said immigrants who did not apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program "were too lazy to get off their asses" — current and former residents of Oak Square recognize strains of the old neighborhood, Politico reported.
Some of them are unnerved by it.
"We have a mix of people from the neighborhood who are conservative and people who are liberal," Charlie Vasiliades, a 60-year-old lifetime resident told Politico. "And there are people who are conflicted about John Kelly working for Trump."
Others understand it.
Leon Panetta, the former secretary of defense and Kelly's former boss, told Politico that Kelly is "a Marine’s Marine, but he's also a Bostonian's Bostonian. To know John Kelly is to really know the heart and soul of his Brighton-Oak Square roots. That's where he came from."
"Immigration is a law-and-order thing for him," Panetta said. "It's not that people can't come here, but they've got to follow the rules. That's what he learned growing up."
According to Politico's Ben Strauss, Oak Square pulls Kelly in two main directions: "the traditionalist who reveres the military and rhapsodizes from the White House podium about how 'women were sacred' when he was growing up, and the hardened bureaucrat who may harbor few prejudices of his own, but doesn't flinch at working for a president who denigrates immigrants and minorities."
Strauss writes Kelly remains "one of Trump's most influential senior staff just by dint of his aggressive enforcement policies during his six-month stint as head of the Department of Homeland Security," when he oversaw a 40-percent increase in arrests of illegal immigrants by permitting his agents to detain anyone here illegally, rather than just people who had committed serious crimes.
Fruit stand owner Johnny DePietro, who is Kelly's stepbrother, is proud of the neighborhood hero.
"He's a neighborhood guy made good, you know?" he said. "There's a lot of people who hate everything about the Trump organization and everyone connected to them. But if anybody brought any of that stuff up to me, they know I'd cut 'em right off."
But Kelly also carries a neighborhood scar: During the 1970s, Oak Square became a rendezvous point for the heroin that was coming into Boston from New York City, Politico noted.
In 2016, Kelly told Defense One all but one of 25 of his childhood friends had died from alcohol or drugs, and Kelly has attributed his hard-line stance on drugs to losing friends in Oak Square. He also lost a brother, Charlie, to AIDS in 2006.
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