Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kenneally Wins Best Motivation Prize

Whether you're a horse/jockey combo or a candidate for office, distinguishing yourself from the field can be the whole race. At-Large Boston City Council candidate Andrew Kenneally has a cross-cultural strategy...plus the best story on why he's running.

He is the second at-large hopeful I know of to seek some bloggers among his many outreach efforts. The first was Ayanna Pressley, whom I covered as full of ability but short on program. She's sunk unless she produces more in public appearances than on her frail website. Unfortunately in a field of 15 for the four at-large spots, her non-specific platform seems the norm.

I'll run a snarky quick hit on the initial impressions of the candidates' sites later today and link to it here.

Meanwhile, Kenneally met me at the Brigham Circle JP Licks for over an hour of chat. I can't see trying to do the same with all 15 candidates, but then again, only two have asked. Likewise, at least for the primary on September 22nd, Left Ahead! is not a good venue for podcasts for this horde.

Kenneally though has a compelling story. It's not his obvious background either. That's pretty much a Boston cliché — a blend of Irish and Italian (Gaelic and garlic as the expression goes), loads of siblings and other relatives who are cops, firefighters and even a mom who is a school nurse. No, in this case, it's the hole he didn't get in his head.

The short version is that awful headaches turned out to be a brain tumor sitting on his pituitary gland. The resolution ended up as his Road to Damascus experience that inspired his run for office.

Contrast that to most of the at-large candidates' websites. They each seem to hope that they can do a Deval/Barack, concentrating on let's collaborate to make the better world and city we want. In most cases, they don't offer any way to achieve that. It's more or less a trust-me strategy. No thanks.

For one, consider Felix Arroyo, son of a former Councilor. In a BMG post, he writes:
I am running for the Boston City Council at Large because I want to work with you to build a better Boston. As a community organizer, I believe in "collaborative politics" - bringing people together so that everyone's voice is heard. By working together to improve our communities and our city, we can and we will build a better Boston.
I bet that's not a mind-changing, ballot campaign.

Kenneally's motivation is meatier and more meaningful on several levels. While he is only about 34, he has over a decade of working for well-known and influential pols — U.S. Rep. Joseph Moakley, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, and Councilors Maura Hennigan and Michael Flaherty. He seemed to have found his gun battery as a man who makes things happen, without the grief of running for office.

For someone such as introverted me, it's hard to relate to his desire to run for office himself. While he had that in mind from at least college, it was the tumor that tipped him.

The drama all started with a non-political job offer. With his degrees (communications from UMASS/Amherst, masters in urban affairs from BU and masters in international conflict studies from Queens University in Belfast) and similarly diverse experience with politicians, he lucked into a lucrative offer from a big PR firm in Waltham, Racepoint Group. That suited him and his girlfriend as they projected their future together.

Then came the migraines and lots of tests over a week or more, followed by the operation, recovery and a huge aftershock. It's worth hearing the long version of the tumor tale as he tells it, replete with the surgeon saying it's a good kind of brain tumor if you get one because he could snake in through the nasal cavities instead of opening up the skull. The team got the whole marble-sized tumor and he was set to recover and resume his new, wealthier life.

Racepoint was very nice about it all, paying him full salary over his 10 week operation and recovery. Then they canned him. Being the recession and his being a last hired employee, he went out in a lump of layoffs.

The possibility of death at 33 was a real focusing lens. He wondered "is there anything I really want to do with my life?" He concluded that he really did want to hold public office and that "the last thing I want to do is wake up on my death bed and say that I wish I'd run for office."

So, here he is, raising what he figures is a minimum of $150,000 to get a shot at the November 3rd general election for an at-large seat. He's up to around $40,000 so far.

Even with his background in communications, Kenneally will have to play all sides to distinguish himself in this crowded field. He's fond of pointing to the numerous laws and regulations he originated or had passed over the years. As he says, he's done every aspect of the job of an elected official except run for office and have the title.

There are two incumbent Councilors in the field of 15, Stephen Murphy and John Connolly. Conventional wisdom has them taking two of the four available at-large slots. If so, that would leave 13 candidates wrestling for two. The primary will winnow the field to the top eight vote-getters. That's still long odds.

Assuming that he conveys his plans to tackle Boston's problems to the hundreds of groups and thousands of individuals he'll address by 9/22 as he did with me, Kenneally stands a good chance. Websites won't make candidates this time; many people don't know or care about online presence, at least not enough to click all over a site for detail.

Yet, this candidate can and has designed and run political websites. He'll probably get around to making the most of what he has on Facebook as well as his campaign site. As it is now, his platform and his personal tales require some work.

He does have a single and a trio of YouTube videos that explain much of his back story as well as his positions. The trio is from BNN's Talk of the Neighborhoods, with the ever dour and cadaverous Joe Heisler. Those spread over 22 minutes and require some persistence. Yet, as in all of Heisler's shows, the information is there.

Among his major talking points are:
  • Strong mayor/week council stereotype aside, the Councilor generate nearly all the legislation and determine where much of the city's discretionary money goes. Kenneally needs to make a big deal out of the laws he made happen.
  • He has different and fresh ideas for Boston in areas like crime, including empowering neighborhood watches in close coordination with police as has reduced crime in similar sized cities.
  • For education, he is not on the charter-schools-are-the-answer bandwagon, coming down on the side of keeping resources flowing into the schools. ("If I'm going to have to make a choice between laying off bus drivers or teachers, I'll lay off the drivers.") He wants money for mentor programs to make sure kids get the tutoring and role models they need to stay out of trouble and focused on academics.
  • He sees more pain as state budget cuts affect Boston more. His top priority is to jump start the stalled development projects downtown and around. He sees the added jobs as rippling throughout the city's economy. He sees more cash coming from fine-tuned PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) funds from colleges and non-profits.
Kenneally does have more specific proposals in many areas than most other at-large candidates. He does have a tangible can-do and have-done track record. He's just making it a little hard to see and hear those things for those who don't catch him in person.

He's a good guy, one as dedicated to public service as to himself (and his girlfriend). He'll need to wave his own flag a bit more to let people know what he's about.

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