Sunday, October 10, 2010

Stealth City Council Electioneering

Moving to JP from downtown Boston over 20 years ago, openings for new acquaintances were often, "Where's do you eat around here?" and "Where's a good place for a drink in JP?" I got to enjoy asking because nearly every time, the answer to either was the same — Doyle's.

When we started doing both there, it didn't take long to see that it was the right place to campaign as well. Artifacts of various mayors, senators and more make the walls. Some, like Tom Menino, have their own room as well.

The oddment this morning was a pol in a pop-up race — the special election to replace District 6 Boston City Councilor John Tobin. This preliminary/final set play leapfrog with the ongoing state and national set. This is only for the neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury with a sliver of Roslindale. The votes run after their counterparts, in this case, October 19th and November 16th.

That is certainly not the advantage you might think at first of being alone in the spotlight. As candidate Matt O'Malley says repeatedly, "My biggest opponent is low turnout."

While it seems that everyone, his brother and aunt have endorsed him and holds signs at his standouts, his concern is at once overly cautious and sincere. Despite candidates' incessant bell ringing and phone calls, this race is in the shadows. Plus, last month's statewide primary had pathetic voter turnout. If a similar 14% or so appear in these neighborhoods for the interspersed preliminary and general, the obvious outcome could become the what-happened?

This special has five candidates, but by normal election cycles, two would have a chance — O'Malley and James Hennigan III. The weird timing is what muddies the vision. The latter is an insurance guy who has politics by blood, but not experience; his father was a pol and his sister a long-term City Councilor. O'Malley has also never held office, but has the education and staff experience with elected officials. If you pardon, it's gilt by association. He's all shiny.

O'Malley is relentless in campaigning. He earns effusive praise from the likes of Suffolk County Sheriff, whose successful effort he led (and she was at Doyle's today in support) and current Treasurer candidate Steve Grossman, even when O'Malley resigned from running field operations to go for Tobin's spot. He applies the same wired, insomniac energy to his own.

If yard signs and sign wielders are the measures, he owns this race. Certainly if everyone who shows up at his events goes to the polls, he seems to have at least the primary.

More important, folk endorse O'Malley. It seems everyone except God and Tom Menino has spoken out for him. Those every-bodies include numerous unions, but also City Councilors. Those include John Tobin for his replacement, John Connolly and Rob Consalvo.

At today's function, Council President Mike Ross spoke up again for him. Those three current Councilors speak of how much they want to work with O'Malley and how much they expect him to do for the city.

So far, conventional wisdom has the preliminary reducing this to Hennigan and O'Malley. I agree, though repeated conversations with O'Malley have infected me with that caution he expresses.

This morning, even Christine O'Malley, one of his sisters, as well as his mother, Marianne O'Malley, were full of anticipation, but with a brush of that wariness. It seems the whole family would like it to be November 17th right now.

After a couple of posts on O'Malley's kick-off hoopla, (here and here) I still feel like a PR agent for him. I have no stake in the campaign and recently moved out of the district. That's not my intention to flack for him, but it's difficult not to note how much folk praise him.

He remains unbelievably optimistic and barely shows the strain. The only hint I noticed this morning was when he addressed nearly 100 there. He thanked them for this, that and the other. He then referenced all that has happened in the couple of months since his kick-off event.

That was just a month ago, but I can believe that he must feel like he's lived several several months since.

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