one good ping deserves another
South Boston has had a lot of famous political names over the years: John Joseph Moakley, William M. Bulger, Louise Day Hicks.
Now, Americans can add another one to the neighborhood roster: Zeituni Onyango.
Barack Obama’s campaign confirmed yesterday that Onyango, who lives in a brick public housing complex on a side street not far from the headquarters of the Iron Workers, Local 7, is the senator’s aunt.
Ben LaBolt, a campaign spokesman, declined to comment further on the Democratic presidential nominee’s relationship with Onyango, who has lived in the complex for five years.
In a neighborhood known for producing generations of legendary Irish-American politicians, news that the town is home to the Kenyan relative of a presidential candidate was a shock.
State Representative Brian P. Wallace, a Democrat who lives a few blocks from Onyango, said he had heard rumors over the summer that Obama had an aunt living in the neighborhood.
“Obama’s aunt living in Southie?” he said. “I thought somebody was putting me on.”
Yesterday, as word spread that Onyango was Obama’s aunt, Wallace was bursting with pride.
“I think it’s great to have her,” he said. “Maybe her nephew will visit.”
Onyango is Obama’s paternal aunt, one of several children of the senator’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama. In his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” Obama refers to Onyango affectionately as Aunt Zeituni and recalls that she was the first person to greet him when he stepped off a plane for the first time in Kenya.
” ‘Welcome home,’ Zeituni said, kissing me on both cheeks,” Obama wrote.
Onyango, who is paid a small stipend for working as a health advocate in her housing complex, has shunned attention. Yesterday morning, she ignored a television camera, saying nothing to several reporters as she walked out of her first-floor apartment, handed a duffle bag to the driver of a taxicab, and was driven off.
For three years, she was a volunteer with Experience Corps, a nonprofit that trains adults over 55 to work with children in public schools, said Mary Gunn, the group’s executive director.
In a profile on the Experience Corps website, Onyango is described as a “former computer systems coordinator” who says she wanted to volunteer in the schools because “I felt that I should help the children in my community.”
“I love people and enjoy interacting with them,” Onyango said. “Also, I was idle, and this was a chance to get involved.”
Gunn said Onyango is a wonderful person, but said, “Zeituni wishes for me not to comment, and I want to honor her wish.”
During visits to her building Wednesday morning and afternoon, and in a phone conversation Wednesday night, Onyango made clear her desire to stay out of the way of her nephew’s campaign. “We’ll talk after the election,” she said. “Come talk to me after the fifth.”
A city housing official who visited Onyango this week found the walls of her apartment adorned with photographs of Obama, including some that appeared to be more than two decades old.
“She’s been a model resident,” said William McGonagle, deputy director of the Boston Housing Authority. “She did a remarkable job as a resident health advocate.”
Federal Election Commission records show that Onyango donated at least five times to her nephew’s campaign in July and September. Three of the donations were for $5 each, and two of the donations were for $25. Records compiled by The Huffington Post show she gave a total of $260 to the campaign.
Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And what a ping! Thanks, bitt!