Thursday, February 17, 2011

Weaving Threads from Tuesday's Vote

Good results can come from terrible processes. That appears to be what is in the works in the special election to replace Chuck Turner as District 7 Boston City Councilor.

Despite hand-wringingly poor voter turnout in Tuesday's preliminary, we are headed to next month's final with the two candidates most of us predicted, Tito Jackson and Cornell Mills. Any effort, including this one, to draw conclusions must be suspect.

Two striking stats were obvious though. First, Jackson got over two-thirds of all vote in a field of six on ballot and one declared write-in. Second, only 1 of 14 registered voters in the District smeared an oval.

The not-yet-certified results from the city site are:

CandidateVotesPercent
TITO JACKSON1,94367.33
CORNELL MILLS2719.39
DANIELLE R WILLIAMS2588.94
ALTHEA GARRISON1505.20
NATALIE E CARITHERS963.33
ROY OWENS893.08
Write-ins792.74

That included 31 precincts, with 40,985 registered voters. The 2,886 ballots cast represent 7.04% pool.

Mitigating factors to those of us scandalized by such low-show elections include:
  • Damned cold. The windy day had very low wind chill air.
  • Short cycle. Candidates had under two months to get on the ballot and campaign and otherwise differentiate themselves to the voters.
  • Crowded field. Seven declared candidates, with six on the ballot, made the debate-esque public forums tough for voters to pick a favorite.
  • Single race. This special had the one office and no questions. There was no citywide, statewide or national, highly advertised battle to draw people to the polls. Such specials generally have low turnout.
From another angle though, the District's voters should have been pumped for this. Turner was an extremely popular pol, his fall toward prison was well publicized (even here), several hundred of his supporters rallied repeatedly for him including at his expulsion hearing in December, and much noise was made at City Hall plaza when he was ousted that there would be election repercussions for this race and for the next two re-election efforts of those 11 of 12 Councilors who voted to remove him.

From yet another angle, Turner had asked Jackson to run if he lost his seat. Many voters who were aware of this special may have figured they were covered and all was well.

With such publicity, really starting two years ago, voters had lots of time to see this election coming. Most of the seven candidates really put out too. They likely had calloused knuckles and fingertips from door knocking and bell ringing. They were everywhere, including at solo and group public appearances.

Former state Rep. Althea Garrison was pretty much a no-show, apparently running yet another vanity/visibility race. Likewise, Roy Owens always seems to get modified with perennial candidate and pretty much limits himself to the usual suspects as voters in announcing that all the District and world ills are the result of abortion.

However, write-in Haywood Fennell as well as the other four on-ballot candidates put out for the race. They offered some real choices and had clear personality distinctions.

While it's risky to draw too many conclusions from such a small voter set, consider:
  • Huge win. Jackson's 67% nearly guarantees his victory on 3/15 in the final. Mills is the other preliminary survivor but voters are likely to go with the seeming sure winner. Mills, however, is not deterred and I am sure he'll take it to voters right up to 8 p.m. election night.
Humility note: I admit that in response to the Phoenix' David Bernstein surmised on Facebook that Jackson might win over 50%, I commented that was unlikely to happen with seven candidates.
  • Loyalists: While Carithers is well known for her work with Rep. Willie Mae Allen, she was sandwiched between Garrison and Owens in returns...and Garrison wasn't really running. On the platform, Carithers had it together, sounded good, and hit the right issues. This sub-result suggests voters weren't really plugged into this race.
  • Close second: Williams almost beat Mills. She is a long-time activist (then again, so is Fennell) and moderately well known.Yet, Mills has real presence and confidence, and while it is too heavy on crime, his platform tries to address District concerns. I am not sure what it means that he got lost in the scrum.
It would be great to feel comfortable drawing sweeping conclusions from this preliminary. The new conventional wisdom is that Jackson owns this race. Likewise, unless he really goofs up, the full term coming up for vote this fall is his, even if Mills, Williams or someone else makes another or a new go at it.

Tenuously, we might also conclude that Jackson's insertion will quickly mute the anger of Turner supporters and conspiratorialists. Their fury at the expulsion hearing was toward not the whole Council, rather two at-large members of color who voted in the 11-1 ouster.

The threats to defeat them in the fall seem hollow. Not only is that nearly a year away, during which time, the new Councilor will be doing his do and mollifying folk, but the pair is, after all, at-large/citywide. Honestly, if District 7 can't get it together to vote for Turner's replacement, the idea that a small set can turn the city into avengers is absurd.

PM Follow-Up: Callie Crossley started her show with a segment on the election. One of her panel noted that Jackson had a message and recognition out before the election gelled.


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