SALEM — For Darek Barcikowski, a Salem resident managing Bill Walczak’s campaign for mayor of Boston, community involvement began a decade ago in his family’s deli in South Boston.
Since arriving in this country as a 9-year-old boy from Poland, Barcikowski had proudly helped out in the family business. His full-time job after college, though, was at a large accounting firm.
“I was basically crunching numbers every day,” said Barcikowski, now 35 and working full time on the historic campaign to elect a mayor of Boston following the 20-year reign of Tom Menino.
“I knew it wasn’t for me. I wanted to do something on my own — my own business. I came up with this idea to start a Polish newspaper in Boston. There were no Polish-language media outlets in the city.
“I remember at the deli people would come in and we had this bulletin board with events, apartments for rent, Polish attorneys. ... It was the only way to get information about what was happening in the community.”
From that bulletin board at The Baltic Deli on Dorchester Avenue, Barcikowski went to the neighborhood Polish church to recruit graphic designers and other volunteers, reached out to businesses with ties to the community and put the first paper together in his apartment.
From that humble beginning, a small empire grew that eventually would open doors for Barcikowski in the world of politics.
At one point, Barcikowski’s White Eagle Media had eight newspapers stretching from Florida to California, a subsidiary in the United Kingdom and a graphic design studio and magazine in Poland.
In 2004, John Kerry’s presidential campaign approached him to do ethnic outreach to the country’s 10 million Polish-Americans.
“That was my first political involvement,” he said.
It lit a spark.
Barcikowski was invited to join the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council, an arm of the Democratic National Committee.
In the most recent presidential campaign, he was national coordinator of the Polish-American vote for President Barack Obama.
As a board member of another Polish organization, he has been invited to the White House for meetings on immigration reform and other issues important to ethnic communities.
Locally, Barcikowski is best known for opening, with his family, Cafe Polonia, a Polish restaurant in downtown Salem that closed last year.
Two years ago, in his first run for political office, he just missed winning a councilor-at-large seat in Salem after running an impressive campaign — for a newcomer — that relied heavily on social media and a loyal band of supporters. After that race, he moved over to the organizational side of politics, managing Joan Lovely’s successful campaign for state Senate.
Along the way, he became chairman of the Salem Democratic Committee, a position he still holds.
He worked on U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch’s bid for the U.S. Senate and, after a primary defeat, was asked to help Lynch’s primary opponent, Edward Markey. After Markey won the June 25 special election, Barcikowski took off the month of July, returning to Poland and traveling in Europe. Before he left, however, he said he was contacted by staff of four of the candidates for mayor of Boston.
When he returned in early August, Barcikowski was asked to manage the campaign for Walczak, a community activist who has stood out in the field of 12 mayoral candidates due largely to his independent stands on several issues, including opposition to a casino at Suffolk Downs.
Running a campaign for mayor of Boston is a big job.
“It was a huge undertaking, but for some reason I felt very confident from the very beginning,” Barcikowski said.
“I was very impressed with Bill and a lot of the ideas he had. ... I know a lot of people in this business and they go where the money is, or where the opportunity is, or where the jobs are. But for me, I can’t imagine working for a candidate I wasn’t passionate about.”
Barcikowski isn’t sure what he will do after this campaign, whether he will get a graduate degree in government or pursue one of the opportunities that have come his way as a result of his work in politics and Polish-American issues.
But he is grateful that a bulletin board and newspaper helped open doors that eventually led to a front-row seat in a history-making campaign, a dream hard to imagine for a little boy arriving from Poland.
“I love this kind of work,” he said.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.