Sunday, September 12, 2010

O'Malley Kick-off 2

Friday evening before we left to visit distant friends, I came into a sparsely populated Annunciation Hall in West Roxbury for the Matt O'Malley kick-off for his Boston City Council run. Quickly and then relentlessly, the fans and followers joined until it was packed like a rave.

Were I any of his opponents for what was John Tobin's District 6 seat for nine years, I would have thought, "Oh, crap!"

This special election follows in parallel after the state one going on now. The Council preliminary will be October 19th and the final on November 16th. Voters have until September 29th to be registered for the preliminary and October 27th for the final.

Among O'Malley's opponents will be yet another Hennigan hopeful, younger brother of long-term Councilor Maura, James Hennigan III. He runs the family insurance company and has been on the WR YMCA board for many years. Normally those I-know-you credentials in one part of the district would be a powerful advantage. In this case, I really can't see voters heaping praise and support on him they way they have been on O'Malley.

Far beyond OK

Kick-off events are generally OK or worse. At the high end, Steve Grossman gave a rousing stump speech and had a fun show-and-tell with his assembled family when he announced for MA Treasurer. Other such announcements are often painfully awkward pleas for money.

The young Mr. O'Malley was earned renown among the many pols and others on his stage for his planning and management. It showed in the hall Friday. From the array of endorsers on stage to endless food to sub-neighborhood table signs throughout to trans-generational music, he kept a full house (maybe 700 to 800) for three hours.

You can be pretty sure when he and his crews come around for votes, money and volunteers, he'll get paid back.

Most of these events are too predictable and unremarkable. Grossman's was noteworthy because of his clearly defined, brave platform for major changes in the office. O'Malley's should get people's attention because the incredible faith in and affection for him his endorsers exhibited.

That starts with Tobin, who just left the office. He left a strong endorsement on his councilor website on the way out. He iterated that and expanded on it Friday.

In case you haven't seen the initial post, be aware that his on-stage promoters were:
  • Steve Pagliuca, co-owner of the Celtics
  • Andrea Cabral, Suffolk County Sheriff
  • Rob Consalvo, Councilor for the abutting District Five
  • Kate Plunkett-Tobin, wife of 9-year Councilor in that district
  • John Connolly, At-Large City Councilor and emcee
  • Larry DiCara, former Council President
  • Steve Grossman, MA Treasurer candidate
  • Liz Malia, state Rep. for the district
  • Tim Murray, Lieutenant Governor
  • John Tobin, newly dubbed VP for community relations at Northeastern
So what are the big shots saying about him and how did someone who just became a 30-something earn such affection and respect?

Does everyone love Matt?

Some of it is only logical, such as Cabral, whom he helped elect by running her campaign, Pagliuca, whom he failed to help get the Dem nomination to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate, and Grossman, whose campaign was doing fabulously under his leadership. Yet a lot of it is personal, particularly from those like both Tobins, Connolly and Consalvo, who have known him and his family socially for decades.

To hear them from the stage, the Councilors desperately want O'Malley to win. Apparently no one can match John Tobin's wit, but one after another, the pols (and even Tobin's wife) said O'Malley is more than up to his level of passion for the job, energy for a hugely demanding workweek, and political smarts. It seems that Tobin carried more than his weight and several times, Connolly bemoaned that his job was harder without him.

Likewise, Consalvo said that O'Malley was the one he trusted to become his counterpart. As District 5 Council (mostly Roslindale and Hyde Park), Consalvo sees District 6 as the other half of the Parkway team (mostly Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury). To him, those neighborhoods have similar and sometimes identical concerns.

Before the endorsements started, I shamelessly eavesdropped, as well as speaking with many of the pols headed toward the stage and those where to glad-hand and be seen in preparation for next week's primaries. O'Malley must have the highest profile of any young pol who has never been elected to anything...yet.

The people drifting in by pairs and in larger groups seemed all to know him or know of him. I arrived near the starting time of 7 p.m. and the initial crowd of 100 or so looked a lot like the smaller group the previous week gathering at West on Centre Street for Mac D'Alessandro — white and middle-age or older. Eventually one black woman showed, but there's a reason WR has the nickname White Roxbury. Yet those are good people to have on your side. They vote, they donate, they volunteer, they tell their neighbors, friends and family.

In the next 90 to 100 minutes, a much more diverse audience filled out. There weren't many little kids or even teens. Yet everyone from 20 up had good representation. A few dozen African Americans and Latinos also showed. It may not have represented the demographics of Jamaica Plain, but when several speakers, including O'Malley said the diversity of District 6 was on display in the hall, that was accurate enough.

Another unusual aspect of this even was how community-social it was. There were plate upon plate of food, like sandwiches. One remarkable aspect of that was that people didn't come to get a free meal and then split; they were in for the evening. Another was that they enjoyed every moment for the hours they were there; they brought their plates and cups to the tables of eight like it was a church social. They sat together with family, friends and coworkers, laughing and well, just being together.

The audible but not intrusive music helped. The DJ seemed to hit the tone just right, largely with 70s and 80s tunes like Stevie Wonder's Superstition and Buster Poindexter's Hot, Hot Hot. There were a couple of hours of tunes people knew, numbers that were energetic but not demanding.

Praise for the living

Near 9, the endorsers headed to the chairs on stage. They maintained the BLS, purple-and-white color scheme of O'Malley's literature. He truly is a Boston Latin guy, as were most of people on stage. Several noted that he has asked them to wear something purple for the event.

That was the chance for the second funniest person on stage to strut (John Tobin is a pro). As 6-something Connolly introduced about 6-foot Cabral, she ran with that. She claimed that she changed into her purple top pulled over on Route 1 around the corner from the hall. She feigned that she left a trail of car wrecks and dazed pedestrians. She then pointed to her wrist and earlobe to note the other purple she had put on for Matt.

That actually ended up being the tone of the speakers and the other unusual aspect of the event. Speaker after speaker said he or she would do anything for him, that they loved him as well as respected him, and that he has a passion for public service that we'd be utterly foolish not to harness in that office. Wowzers.

As samples:
  • Connolly: "Matt cares about people and cares about the community. He knows you make a difference every day."
  • Kate Tobin: No one else has "the love, passion and class" for this job that O'Malley has. She and her husband both used the running joke that O'Malley spends so much time with them that people refer to him as her boyfriend.
  • Cabral: "You never have to wonder a single day if Matt O'Malley is on your side." She also said no one knows the city or its issues better in every neighborhood.
  • Murray: While many say to a politician, "I'm with you," when O'Malley says it, "he puts his shoulder to the wheel." He added, "If anyone can fill the Shaquille O'Neal sized shoes of John Tobin, it's Matt O'Malley." He concluded, "There's nobody, nobody, nobody better prepared for this job than Matt O'Malley."
  • Grossman: He urged O'Malley to take this shot at office even though the Treasurer campaign would lose out. He judged him as, "Matt treats ever person as though they have infinite value."
  • Consalvo: "He gets it right his heart. In his heart, he knows it's about serving people.'
  • Tobin: When a pol leaves an office he loves, he wants his replacement to have "the same heart and passion and commitment you did. Matt does and he has it in spades."
Murray had set the tone that many speakers echoed with, "He's earned it. It's his time."

I keep my initial impression that this event was like a great funeral with eulogies of the beloved deceased. The big difference, of course, is that O'Malley's not dead, he's just coming into his own. Somehow along the way in his 31 or so years, he's made a lot of friends, including in high places.

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