The last time the voting public encountered Jim Dwyer, he was sitting on the School Committee and carrying nearly 400 pounds.
Two years ago he dropped his School Committee seat.
Then he dropped more than 200 pounds.
Now, following gastric bypass surgery, Dwyer has a new lease on life and a slimmer version of the same man is headed back into politics – running for the contested District 6 Council seat.
One word of warning, though, those who knew the old Jim Dwyer might well not recognize him at all when he makes the campaign rounds.
“I get that all the time,” he said. “People who have known me all my life don’t recognize me anymore. I have to carry a picture of myself from before that I pull out and show to everyone. More than a few people that I’ve known for decades have walked right past me on the street as if I’m a stranger. They don’t place me until they hear my voice.”
While not being known by your friends might be troubling to some, Dwyer, 47, is reveling in it, because his dramatic weight loss has literally saved his life. His doctor even told him that he was nearing a heart attack before the operation, and would have most likely died by the end of 2009 had he not changed his life around.
“Three years ago I could barely walk up a flight of stairs,” said the Chelsea Court employee and long-time District 6 resident. “You get on an airplane at that weight and you have to ask for a seatbelt extender or buy two seats. When I would fly, I was always so anxious about whether the plane would be crowded; whether someone would be sitting next to me. Now, I can go to Fenway Park and fit in the seats. I can cross my legs at a game and lean back in the seats. Instead of having to take the elevator all day at Chelsea courthouse, I can walk all the way up the stairs and down again. I play hockey regularly and I walk four miles every night, winter or summer.”
Running for office again is sort of a celebration of those changes and a show of his gratitude, he said.
“I’ve been given this new lease on life and I want to have a good time and be able to help people,” he said. “I think by being a councillor I will be able to do that.”
Another sidebar to Dwyer’s interesting story is how he got on the School Committee in the first place.
Dwyer had run for office decades earlier without success, but a few years back when he went to the polls, instead of voting for a candidate in his school committee district, he wrote in his own name – a gag that many people often do. Later that day, though, Dwyer got a call from then-City Clerk Bob Bishop, who informed Dwyer that he was the new School Committeeman – and he had won with his single write-in vote. No one else had qualified and no one else got any votes.
“That was a shocker to me,” said Dwyer. “I thought it was all a big joke.”
But it wasn’t a joke and Dwyer embraced his new role in the schools, tag-teaming that with his years of activism in the Explorer Post at the Chelsea YMCA.
Two years ago, though, he had to give up his seat due to his surgeries, which were very time-consuming and took a lot of rehabilitation.
Dwyer said his family has been in Chelsea since the 1860s, and they have been in the district for 100 years. He lives in the same house that he grew up in and is a Chelsea High School graduate.
He said one of his main issues has been getting more police patrols, and making the streets more accessible and safe.
He said that while he and City Manager Jay Ash don’t agree on everything, they do agree on the success of the new LED lighting program in District 6.
“That was something I suggested during one of the City Manager’s input meetings – to get the streets more well-lit in District 6 – and he brought in this new program and it’s working great,” said Dwyer. “That’s going to be a big improvement in quality of life.”
He said another quality of life issue is the prevalence of rodents and rats in some of the district.
He said one house in particular on Congress Street has been documented to have huge rats running everywhere.
“I was stunned when I saw it and they have video too,” he said. “That place is in the shadow of the Early Learning Center and it wasn’t just two rats, it was dozens of them running freely. I will address that if I’m elected.”
He also has his eyes on Marginal Street, where many old warehouse buildings have drawn attention lately. He said it needs some beautification, and he is excited about the new pier built on Marginal Street and its possibilities for the public.
“I think that’s going to end up being great for the City,” he said.
He also cites the Chelsea Street Bridge project as a positive in the area whose momentum can be built off of.
Another issue, just out of his district, is the Garden Cemetery, which he said is in deplorable shape and needs addressing.
“I see a lot of things I’d like to address,” he said. “I don’t have a ego and my only agenda is helping people and building off of the positive energy my change in life has given me.”
So, the next time you see Jim Dwyer doing the campaign rounds, give him a big hello – even if you don’t recognize him at first.