NEWSMAKER OF THE YEAR: Boylan: Giant Killer
Joe Boylan's office window in San Marcos, Calif., overlooked a bus stop. One day, two people walked up and shot a man waiting there.
It was a gangland shooting, between two rival Hispanic gangs.
Boylan's first thought was that it was a good thing they were decent shots; otherwise the bullets might have entered the bank, where his mother, wife and kids just happened to be visiting. His second thought was what a hassle it was going to be to convince his family that he didn't work in a bad neighborhood.
"I was more concerned that they would make a big deal about it," he says. "That's when I knew there was something wrong with the picture."
He had watched his home state of California struggle with social problems for years. It eventually led him to relocate his family to North Carolina, where his parents had moved, and where he now owns two hair salons, including one in Aberdeen.
He doesn't want what happened in California to happen to his new home. And soon, as a brand-new member of the N.C. House of Representatives, he hopes to be in a position to help do something about it.
In May, Boylan defeated the most powerful Republican at the state level, Speaker Pro Tem Richard Morgan, in the Republican primary for the District 52 seat in the state House of Representatives. Then, in the November election, he went on to defeat two unaffiliated candidates, a well-liked former police chief and a retired U.S. Army general.
This out-of-nowhere political feat made Joe Boylan a natural as The Pilot's 2006 Newsmaker of the Year.
None of it came without struggle or controversy. The election was hard-fought and ugly.
Joan Thurman, a longtime Morgan supporter, filed a formal complaint with the State Board of Elections in October, alleging that two of Boylan's campaign workers registered to vote in Moore County during the primary even though they were only temporary residents, which is a violation of state law.
The state elections board is expected to investigate the claim, as well as other minor issues, in January, according to county Elections Director Glenda Clendenin.
Boylan has repeatedly said that it was an innocent mistake and that there was no willful intent to violate the law. He said he was unaware of the law.
He has called it an unfair attack on two young women who worked for his campaign and that the two votes would not have affected the outcome of the election.
While Boylan's election had the potential to solve a long-standing rift in the local Republican Party, it seems to have made things worse.
In the middle is Boylan, about to take a seat in the state House as a junior member of the minority party. He has to answer constant questions about owing his victory more to Morgan's many enemies than to his own hard work. He also has to live up to campaign promises to fight forced annexation and illegal immigration.
But he looks forward to taking it on. Boylan jokes that his biggest concern is "seeing how small my office is going to be."
He's the type to look ahead, not behind.
"I've never been one to glory in my past," he says. "I'm always really trying to look forward. I like challenges. I like doing things that people say you can't do."
Boylan also admits that he tends to minimize his own accomplishments. He tells himself that it wasn't that hard and that he didn't do that much. Maybe he's just trying to make people think he's self-deprecating, or maybe he's trying to keep himself hungry. He offers no theories of his own.
"You'd have to ask a psychologist that," he says.
They Called Him 'Moose'
Boylan was born in Hollywood, Calif., on July 24, 1957. He weighed 10 pounds, one ounce. The Boylan family doctor on the day of his birth gave him a nickname that still sticks with him: "Moose."
"When he gets gifts, his are the ones marked 'Moose'," says his mother, Trudi Boylan.
He grew up in Torrence, Calif., in an area that was mostly dairy farms. Joe got lost in the woods so often as a kid that his mother made him carry a whistle.
He was the youngest of three children, with twin sisters, Barbara and Beverly.
"They used to beat me up all the time," he says.
Joe's sisters taught him how to be a savvy negotiator. They would make deals with him -- to help them rake the yard, for example -- then renege.
"You learn pretty quick," he says. "You say, 'We'll do mine first, now.'"
His father, Joe Sr., was a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps, a World War II veteran who was shot down during the Battle of the Bulge and suffered shrapnel injuries. After the war, he went into business and traveled frequently.
Young Joe was close to his mother. She taught him how to play chess, at which he was good, and duplicate bridge, at which he was very good.
When Joe was 12 years old, he and his mother won first prize in a Los Angeles junior bridge championship. She still has the article from the L.A. Times.
Trudi Boylan was the antithesis of a 1950s stay-at-home mother. She had been a mayor and county commissioner and was active in the General Federation of Women's Club and the YMCA, carrying Joe with her everywhere.
"He was so well behaved that my friends nicknamed him 'Gentleman Joe'," Trudi says.
She often hosted world dignitaries at the Boylan home as part of President Dwight Eisenhower's People to People International program. Young Joe had no problem throwing questions at the mayor of Tokyo, a West German professor or a Nigerian dignitary in full traditional attire.
Joe also was devoted to his father. Today his parents live a wedge shot away from his home in Pinehurst No. 6. They remain the best of friends.
Joe Sr. spent time with "Moose's" YMCA-sponsored Indian Guides group. Young Joe separated himself from the other boys by consistently winning the campground peeing contest.
"Joe could pee the farthest," his proud mother says.
Each year there would also be a lizard race, with each boy catching his own competitor. The leaders kept the lizards in a shoe box before the race. One year, Joe caught a lizard so big that it ate all the others in the box.
"The lizard race had to be canceled that year," his mother says.
Like any boy, Joe threw in some mischief. One day, he and his friend decided to play a prank on his mother. When she called the friend's house looking for Joe, he told her that Joe wasn't there. After looking elsewhere for him, she promptly called the police. As the police interviewed an anxious Trudi, Joe walked through the door.
"The police gave him a talking-to that he has never forgotten," Trudi says.
The Boylans seem to have had plenty of money. They vacationed each year at a ranch next to one that President Ronald Reagan would later own. Joe rode a horse named Mary Poppins. He says he doesn't remember the horse's name.
He got his first car at age 16 -- a Chevrolet Impala -- and promptly wrecked it into a fireplug his first night out. Joe had learned to drive on his grandfather's farm in New York, popping the clutch on the tractor. He was grounded for a month.
Boylan's parents made a deal with him when it was time to go to college. They would pay for his education, but he had to work during the summer. The money he made would be what he had to live on during the year.
He went to the University of Southern California. In his first semester, he decided to set a goal for himself of getting straight A's. He succeeded, never getting below an A the entire year.
His father was working for the defense company TRW Inc. One summer, he said he could set Joe up with a job in either Cleveland, Philadelphia -- or Rogers, Ark. Rather than go with one of the big cities, Boylan decided that Rogers was a place where he could spread his wings.
"I figured that Cleveland or Philadelphia are big towns, and I grew up in a big town," he says. "So I figured Rogers, Ark., would be a different, bigger challenge."
He wound up having to live in a fraternity house at the state university to avoid paying rent.
"Go Hogs," he says.
In 1976, Boylan spent one semester in Madrid, Spain. He got an education in more ways than one. Military dictator Francisco Franco had died the year before, and the country was still reeling. Boylan lived with a widow and her daughter in a fascist neighborhood called Ruben Dario.
Boylan grew up a well-traveled lad. His family took vacations all over the United States, and his father took him to the Soviet Union, Germany and Yugoslavia. He learned that immersion was more fun than tourist attractions.
"When I go someplace, I try and blend in," Boylan says, "so you see what the real place is like, as opposed to the tourist place."
In Madrid, the separatist group ETA -- which the United States considers a terrorist organization -- was active in the area where Boylan lived. The area still had a chapter of the Hitler Youth. Heavily armed police, called the Guardia Civil, roamed the streets.
"It was more like a political police state," he says. "They wore these black vinyl hats. They kind of looked like the Flying Nun, except with machine guns."
ETA had assassinated one of the colonels, and Boylan went out to watch the horse-drawn funeral procession. It was an unbelievable sight for the son of a World War II hero.
"The people on the street were doing the Nazi salute," he says. "That just floored me."
'Got to Speak Their Language'
Boylan was going to the University of Madrid as part of an exchange program that gave days off for both Spanish and American holidays. It worked out so that Boylan hardly ever had a week of school without a long weekend. He got a Europass and traveled all over.
One day in Morocco, his train passed through a small village. Boylan watched out the window as a circle of children came into view. "Probably about 12 to 14 kids in the 10- to 11-year-old range," Boylan says, "and they were having the best time of their lives, like they were playing with Mickey Mouse or something -- except they were stoning a dog."
When he arrived in Marrakech, as he was chatting with two Palestinians, a young boy went running by, followed by a man of Boylan's approximate age. The man caught the boy and threw him to the ground and started "kicking the crap out of him," Boylan says. No one moved to help or lift a finger. Boylan asked what was going on. They said that the boy probably stole something.
"They were like, 'so what?'" Boylan says. "The price of life is ... is pretty, pretty cheap."
Boylan believes that these experiences -- along with some positive ones -- helped shape him as a person.
"It kind of forces you to understand how somebody else perceives the problem," he says. "If you want to solve an issue, you've got to speak their language, speak their culture and approach from their perspective -- not dictate from on high."
Trudi Boylan remembers her son asking how he would know when he had met the right woman. It wasn't long before she got another call.
"Mom," she recalls him saying, "I met the girl I'm going to marry."
Joe met Linda at a St. Patrick's Day party on St. Joseph's Day. Linda teases him because his full name is Joseph Patrick.
"It was his lucky day," she says.
Joe and Linda married 22 years ago in a ceremony that took place just after a lightning storm.
"He had somebody else carry me over the threshold," Linda says. "He was so scared of commitment."
Trudi Boylan says that Joe adores Linda and is quite the family man. They have two children, Joe, who is going to Wake Forest University on scholarship and Jessica, who is a senior at Pinecrest High School.
"To our amazement," Trudi says, "he's the most wonderful father. ... He took to responsibility very, very well."
'On the Abrasive Side'
When Joe and Linda decided they were going to have children, they moved from Orange County to northern San Diego County so that they could raise them in a better neighborhood.
But getting a job in the San Diego area was a challenge.
"They were very parochial," Boylan says, "in that they didn't want outsiders."
He was transferred to downtown Los Angeles, a three-hour commute each way. It got to the point that he would wake up on the train and not know if he were coming or going. During the ride home, he would alternate classical music with Led Zeppelin, depending on the day's stress level.
"The only thing I don't listen to is rap," he says. "It just doesn't do anything for me."
The train ride also gave him time to do some reading. Boylan describes himself as a voracious reader and prefers fiction to non-fiction.
"It's enjoyment," he says. "Calm the savage beast, I guess, and take the stress away."
He's never read a Steven King book because when he finds a book he likes, he reads everything the author has written. And King has written far too many.
"He's got like 500 novels out," Boylan says.
Boylan did such a good job at the L.A. bank that he finally did get a position at a small San Diego branch. Over six years, he grew the branch by about 15 times its original size.
"It got to the point where we had to add teller windows and actually cut the vault and extend it," he says.
Boylan's banking friends know him as a smart and funny guy, a decent poker player and someone who they could tell was destined for more than banking.
"There was never any question about Joe doing something big," says Mike Hahn, Boylan's friend from his California banking days, who is now the president of Pacific Coast National Bank. "Banking was just a steppingstone."
Hahn has known him since 1983. They immediately formed a bond and talked about once a week.
"Joe's a funny guy," he says.
The two might go out for a couple of drinks after work, though Hahn maintains that they kept it within reason.
"Things were always on the lighter side with Joe," he says. "He was the life of the party. Not with drinking, I mean. People just liked him. He's got a really comical side to him."
Linda Boylan says she often has to translate her husband's jokes for the uninitiated.
"Sometimes people don't know how to take him," she says.
Some of his friends were hesitant to speak with the press about Boylan. They would respond to the request for stories about Boylan with a laugh and say that most would be unprintable.
"He's a politician now," says his banking friend Rich Grinyer, who is chief credit officer at Pacific Coast National Bank. "You have to be careful what you say."
Nevertheless, Grinyer says he expected Boylan to be a successful politician because he's so likable and is a quick study. But he worries that Boylan might be too free with his opinions.
"He might be a little bit on the abrasive side," he says.
Boylan showed his brains and ingenuity as a branch manager when the industry was beginning to switch over to computers, Hahn says. Boylan stood out by becoming a computer expert while everyone else was still learning.
Out of about 50 branch managers, Boylan was the only one who used his computer right away. In fact, the regional manager asked Boylan to come in an give him a tutorial.
He also had a talent for bending the rules to get things done. When most branches had only one computer, Boylan managed to get one for each of his officers. He had about six.
"My boss called me the Sergeant Bilko of Union Bank," Boylan says. "I was just able to work the system and get things done."
Boylan friends say he succeeded in the banking industry by being personable and unpretentious and by cultivating relationships. Hahn says that Boylan had a stable of local accountants who would funnel business his way.
"Sometimes he beat me out," Hahn says.
Boylan thinks that he was successful because he always was himself.
"I was known as a banker with a personality," he says, "which I guess is something unique."
Boylan's gift was in not accepting defeat, his friends say. Whenever a customer came in, Boylan would find a way to help.
"He would always come up with a solution," Hahn says.
Boylan says that his basic philosophy was: "to protect the customers from the bank and protect the bank from the customers." He quit the industry when things became too corporate and he could no longer have an influence on outcomes.
Boylan also showed a gift for marketing with direct mail, Hahn says.
"Technology and marketing has been good to Joe," he says. "That's probably why he won the election."
Hahn expects Boylan to do well in politics.
"With Joe, you see what you get," he says. "I think that's why he'll represent the people so well -- he's one of them."
Grinyer agrees and also points out that Boylan is not afraid to say what he believes.
"He'll speak his mind, that's for sure," he says. "He's not all politically correct."
A Jittery Banker
Through Boylan's many years in banking, he was involved in 17 incidents in which police had to respond to the bank.
During his first bank robbery, back when Boylan was still in his 20s, an armed man jumped on the counter and demanded money. After the robbery, it was Boylan's job to keep everyone calm. He passed out coffee, but his hand was shaking so violently that the customers could hear the cups rattling against the saucers.
"He was quite frightened," his mother says.
On another occasion, an off-duty police officer shot and killed two robbers in Boylan's branch while Boylan was on his lunch break. Another time, a false alarm went off. When police arrived, Boylan walked out to tell them everything was all right. He was suddenly looking at the wrong end of two handguns and two shotguns.
"I was like, 'Hold on to your bladder, Joe'," he says.
Customers got robbed as they left the branch. Rival Hispanic gangs fought over the territory. Once, it looked to Boylan as if they were having a demolition derby.
"They were crashing into each other's cars," he says.
Perhaps because of these experiences, Boylan has made a pledge to voters here in Moore County that he will do something to help combat illegal immigration.
When he first moved to Moore County in 1997, he says, it was difficult getting used to an area with no graffiti.
"Graffiti was a way of knowing if you were in a safe neighborhood or a rough neighborhood," he says. "I couldn't believe the whole area was safe."
'Could Have Been Anyone'
People say that the way to get by in prison is to find the biggest, baddest guy you can and kick his tail. If politics is anything like prison, Boylan shouldn't have anyone giving him grief after he's sworn in January 24. He took out the man many considered the House bully.
Boylan will become the representative from District 52, which encompasses most of Moore County. It will be his first time holding public office.
He's taking over from Speaker Pro Tem Morgan, the man he defeated in the May primary. Of all the Republican legislators, Morgan carried the biggest stick.
He was the most powerful Republican at the state level, but the state GOP had excommunicated him for a 2003 power-sharing deal he cut with Democrats, creating a historic co-speakership. The state party did everything it could to help defeat Morgan.
Morgan thinks the identity of his opponent had little to do with the race.
"I don't have an opinion of him," Morgan said in a recent interview with The Pilot. "I think he was entirely irrelevant to the election. It could have been anyone."
Wake County businessman Art Pope may well be the happiest man in the state to see Morgan leave office. Pope invested $186,000 from Variety Wholesalers, his company, in defeating Morgan, giving it to a 527 group called Republican Legislative Majority, which produced local anti-Morgan mailers.
Morgan, while still maintaining that the mailings are illegal (he is appealing a court's decision that sided with Pope) suggested that Pope will be one of the people Boylan will be beholden to once he takes office. Pope countered by saying that he barely had any contact with Boylan.
"I admired him from afar," Pope says. "He's got great determination. ... I really did not meet or talk with Joe at all this year."
'Exhibit Some Leadership'
The May primary was characterized by name-calling and everything but rock throwing. Now, however, it's difficult to find anyone who will go on the record to say anything negative about Boylan.
Bob Tweed, a Morgan supporter, says that he doesn't have an opinion of Boylan.
"I would like to see him exhibit some leadership," Tweed says, "and unite the party and bring the various factions together and say, 'Let's knock it off, boys.'"
Unlike Morgan's previous opponents, Boylan actively sought the endorsement of the state Republican Party. He received it -- and much more help than he ever expected.
In April, a call went out statewide for volunteers to travel to Pinehurst and campaign on his behalf. Though Boylan said he knew nothing of the volunteers and hadn't asked for them, Morgan pounced and cited it as evidence of interference.
In a late April rally for Boylan at John's Barbecue, former state GOP Chairman Frank Rouse likened Morgan to a grave robber or child molester and said that "the only difference between Morgan and gangster Al Capone was that Capone died of syphilis."
The comments, which came a few days before the election, forced Boylan to issue a statement saying he didn't agree with them.
After defeating Morgan on May 2, Boylan thought he could finally get some rest.
But retired Gen. Manila "Bud" Shaver and retired Southern Pines Police Chief Gerald Galloway both filed to run as independents. By defeating them in November, Boylan overcame Galloway's powerful name recognition and Shaver's siphoning-off of Republican votes.
Shaver's candidacy split the local Republican Party down ideological lines. Some former Morgan supporters took up Shaver's banner.
Though Galloway emphasized that he was an independent, his Democratic ties showed, and some voters saw him as a Democrat in unaffiliated clothing.
Would Do It Again
During the fall campaign, Boylan walked to his truck one morning, ready to spend another day canvassing neighborhoods for votes. Someone had driven nails into the side wall of his tires. They also got his wife's car. Politics had suddenly intruded on his family life.
Boylan says his family went through 12 tires during the election process -- seven on his truck and five on his wife's car. He got death threats. Someone called his home and berated his daughter.
The vandalism and the threats were the only things that ever bothered him, he says.
"I expected people to come after me like that," he says, "but not after my family. I mean, my God, it's not like I have my thumb on a nuclear button and I can blow up Laurinburg."
Even knowing now how difficult and stressful the process was going to be, Boylan says that if he had it to do all over again, he would still run.
"I ran because I didn't think that people were being well represented," Boylan says. "Very few people had access to the representative. I think everyone needed access. That's what the campaign was all about, and I think that's why I won."
Two years down the road, Boylan says, he wants to run a re-election campaign based on access and constituent services.
"The biggest success is that I've been accessible to the people of Moore County," he says. "I can't say that I'm going to get a certain bill passed, because, you know, I don't know. All I'm really doing is just being there, and that means a lot to people."
Matthew Moriarty may be reached at 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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