Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tom Tumbled Not

Grading himself with a B+ and immediately dropping it to a B, Mayor Tom Menino was only OK in last night's debate with challenger Mike Flaherty. That almost certainly was enough...and for a notoriously poor orator, OK is a B.

As I dreaded yesterday, the fizz went totally off the election tonic. Short of the introduction of deus ex machina, Da Mare will shuffle into his fifth four-year term. For Flaherty's team, that contrived salvation would be a swarm of new and young and change-hungry voters to confound the pollsters have Menino up 10 to 20 or more percent with two weeks before ballot-smudging date.

Selfishly, I wanted a new, improved Flaherty to take the stage. Instead of bright, reasoned and pleasant, he'd be charismatic and insightful. Instead of just better arguments and more detailed plans, he'd offer indisputably brilliant guides to Boston's future.

He didn't appear.

Flaherty was aggressive, more than he has been the whole campaign, but he was still like a prosecuting attorney recapping his best, belabored evidence. Menino was evasive and unconvincing (see examples in the Globe, Herald and WBUR). The short of it that as unfair as the requirement might be, Flaherty needed to be Magic Mike and was not.

Where was Magic Mike?

Come to think of it, there haven't been challengers to any Boston mayor of vitality and excitement since Mel King almost became the guy to follow Kevin White when he nearly defeated Ray Flynn in 1983. Since then, most challengers or first-time candidates have been pretty drab or otherwise only OK.

Moreover, we tend to attract and elect city councilors who do constituent services well, but are not inspiring leaders or mellifluous orators. We have one who thinks he is, Chuck Turner; he's flaky and despite an Ivy degree has a very poor command of language.

A few others do well enough. I think of John Tobin immediately, who has tons of good ideas and shows intermittent eloquence. Steve Murphy and John Connolly are quite adequate. Yet, I think of my minister, Kim Crawford Harvie over at the Arlington Street Church. If UUs had a a hell, a word and wave from her would inspire people to follow her there...singing all the way. No one in Council or in fact in City Hall has that personal power.

That's fine, except when it would be essential, as last evening.

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