Friday, October 30, 2009

Rolling the Councilor Dice

Being relentlessly egalitarian, I would like to be able to believe that we voters decide on merits and issues, not looks, race, gender and such.

Not only is that not realistic or historically accurate, but those factors are so intertwined, separating them would be impossible.

A short post in No Drumlins, Women for Coakley say woman for Coakley is not for Coakley because she's a woman, plays on that. It touches on U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas' endorsement with some wit, noting:
I have no doubt that Tsongas’s endorsement is based on merit and not gender. But it’s awfully rich for “a small team of women seeking big gains for women in politics,” which is hoping to unleash “the full potential of ‘the other half’ of the population’s unique perspective, talents and leadership” to criticize someone else for asking if gender is part of the decision-making process.
That can oppose to endorsements that don't pretend. Think EMILY's List. They say up front that they support and endorse pro-choice women who are Democrats. So there. You don't listen to them for the best candidate with their three criteria of gender, party and single position.

The votes and endorsements for 11/3 and 12/8 for Boston City Council and U.S. Senate are more muddled and subtle. They also highlight what the endorsers don't say or only mention in passing.

The Phoenix, Globe and Herald have coincided with my at-large council calls by 75%. They each and all substitute Ayanna Pressley for Andrew Kenneally.

Candidly, I admit that choosing one over the other on 11/3 won't save nor destroy Boston. Yet having interviewed both here and at Left Ahead!, I stand by my choice with confidence. That leaves some musing on the others' endorsements.

It's glib and somewhat justifiable to dismiss those as race and gender based this year. Set aside that Kenneally is vastly more qualified by experience and expertise than the other five never-elected candidates, including Pressley. There's something to be said for trying occasionally to balance the scales.

In this allegedly liberal and civil-rights oriented commonwealth, we have a shameful tally of office holders who are either women or of color. Without Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, for one, our Senate would look like a 1950s country club golf course.

As she noted too often early in her campaign, Pressley is a two-fer, African-American and female. Our very white, very male city council needs the perspective and indeed the mere presence of some diversity. ...inbreeding and inertia and idea poverty and all that.

Consider the papers' justifications:
  • GlobeIf elected, Ayanna Pressley would be the first black woman to serve on the council. She offers an impressive resume, including the post of political director for US Senator John F. Kerry. A first-time candidate, she is sometimes prone to political platitudes on the stump. But she is also deeply passionate and knowledgeable about elevating the lives of poverty-stricken families, drug addicts, and victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Pressley, 35, is open about the pain she experienced as the daughter of an addicted and incarcerated father, and she is eager to use those experiences to help others through strong constituent service and sound lawmaking.
  • HeraldNewcomer Ayanna Pressley, the only woman in the race, brings experience running the political arm of U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s office in Boston and handling constituent services for ex-Rep. Joe Kennedy, and she has the human touch. We predict differences with her on policy issues, but Pressley would bring a fresh, new perspective to a body that could use it.
  • PhoenixPressley learned how government works as a staffer for Senator John Kerry and Congressman Joe Kennedy. She has also been active in a variety of nonprofit organizations. Pressley speaks passionately about making the city work for everyone. Her commitment is convincing. Her experience, buoyancy, and energy suggest she will be a results-oriented public servant who will use her skills and connections to get things done. Pressley would also be the first African-American woman ever to serve on the Council — and the first African-American elected to citywide office in Boston in 16 years. Most important, she has the right priorities and basket of skills.
So, they each bring in gender and two cite race. That's fair; Pressley is a package and those are as obvious as her intelligence and smooth presentation. Yet, none of the three suggest she is the best candidate and the Herald is plain about her likely shortcomings. None of them admits that Kenneally suffers from being yet another Irish-American on a council that has a full history of favoring white men from WASPs to Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans, with far too few people of color and damned few women.

I like Ayanna and respect her intentions as well as her intellect. Yet, her primary selling points are similar to those of the seven candidates who did not make the preliminary-election cut last month. She'd work real hard in unspecified ways with vague pathways toward broad goals. We are supposed to trust that she will grow into the job and not be just another councilor who does constituent services well enough to keep enough voters content to get re-elected. In terms of her having worked for a U.S. Senator, there's no correlation to the job in question.

Well for me, I oppose casinos here and I don't like to gamble on our political future. We decidedly could use some diversity in both the State House and City Hall. Getting it by betting on unproven pols is not the way to achieve that.

What we really must demand as an electorate is that pols in power step up as mentors to develop and promote good people. We have a terrible culture of that here. Those in office need to identify potential stars who are not of the same gender, race, culture or class. They are there. Some pass through as interns or other employees. They meet others among activists and community leaders. Office holders should be the professors and impresarios of those stars. We can't count on a few Black, Latino or other hopefuls to claw their way unaided into office.

For this election, we should have no doubt that Kenneally can do the job, and do it better than the other five never-elected candidates. Not only did he do services, policy, budget and public interface for Councilors Maura Hennigan and Mike Flaherty, on his own he has specific platform planks and steps for achievable goals for the council and city.

This really isn't a choice, not this election. I'd rather not gamble on who might be able to grow into the job.

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Josh Dawson said...

I couldn’t disagree with you more. I’m supporting Ayanna, and some other city council candidates – check it out here. However, Ayanna should be in anyone’s top four. Your reasons for supporting the other picks should, in my opinion, group Ayanna into your top four. I believe her 14 years of political experience mean so much because of the high demands placed on staffers for that level of politician – let’s remember, regardless of how you feel about John Kerry, you have to admit that his position in America has been held by some of the most famous politicians in American History. Ayanna was his chief political director in the state. As a legislative staffer on a state level, I respect all those folks who serve at that level of government – I deal with them and count on them daily.

Ayanna has sold me from day 1, and she will continue selling me after getting in office. – I have no doubt about that.

Boston residents are lucky this year - the crop is rich of talented candidates this year.

massmarrier said...

I have to laugh, if that's really what you consider maximum disagreement. I have a teen at home and know a few things about real disagreement.

I checked your endorsements. You think (what I consider unrelated and big-picture) experience in a U.S. Senator's office prepares Ayanna. I don't. We agree she is real bright and dedicated to public service. It's the voters' call whether working for Kerry got her ready for City Council.

Ross Levanto said...


I respect your blog, but I do believe that you are making a bit much about Ayanna's gender.

I was very impressed by her intellect and her knowledge of the city. I also think she understands well how Boston is a collection of communities.

I also love Ayanna's story, and believe her background gives her a rich foundation through which to view the City's challenges. Does that "background" include the fact that she's a woman? Sure. But that's not the only part of her profile that makes her a great candidate.

massmarrier said...

That was her, not I. Initially she plugged heavily that she was a woman as well as African-American. Accurately, she noted that the Council does not fully comprise representatives of the Boston voters. She said she was both female and Black, implying that this was a good reason to elect her. She has since backed off and stressed her experience in delivering constituent services, particularly for Kerry. That's much more believeable. Yet, the ensorsements I've been reading all mention her gender and race, adding we need more of each in Council. These are obvious calls and obvious conclusions.