Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Flaherty Switches Council Mix to High

Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night.
—Bette Davis as Margo in All About Eve

The once and would-be Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty revivified the napping at-large contest with his entry. After yesterday's conversation with him on Left Ahead, I'm expecting quite a mix up in the next seven months.

For us interested observers, it's Hub political theater old style. For the voters, it should be a great chance to have their say and influence the direction of the four at-large November winners. For the four incumbents, it means focusing and clarifying positions nonstop.

Click on the player below for the half hour with Flaherty. We're lining up several more at-large folk, with incumbents John Connolly 5/24 at 11:30 AM and Steve Murphy 5/31 at 2:30 PM scheduled. Of course, there'll be lots more chances, a forum hither and yon, plus interviews and debates on MSM. Personally, I can't wait.

While nine other potential candidates, not including Flaherty, pulled nomination papers along with the four incumbents, the consensus was that those in office would have no problem staying there. Now there's real tension, as a catalyst is in the political solution.

In case you're not from here, be aware that Flaherty has depth and breadth on Council. His father (the Sr. of the same name) was a state rep for over three decades, a South Boston institution in his own. This Michael was on Council from 2000 through 2009, President for two years, and holder of the widest victory margin (2005) since the body went from all at-large to 9 of 13 as district Councilors 28 years ago. When he stepped back in 2009 to challenge for the mayoralty, he raised over $600,000 for the race, nearly all of it local, but lost solidly to longest-serving Mayor Thomas Menino.

Now, Menino is the candidate who is not running. His Council days are past and he's not up for reelection for a couple more years, but he colors this race. The powerful tension between Flaherty and Menino is undeniable. Moreover, it's a rare Councilor who does not carp about the Mayor having too much power and their gang of 13 too little.

In yesterday's show, Flaherty was refreshingly candid about Menino's role and attitude. For two, he did not hesitate to say the Mayor was often petty and juvenile. He cited such causes as if a Council says or does something that annoys Menino, he or she gets on the naughty list and may not be able to service constituents because department heads and other city employees won't even return phone calls.

It is an understatement to say that the Mayor won't be lending any help to Flaherty's effort to rejoin Council.

The dynamic tension here though is not the well-known, long-term animus between the two popular politicians. Instead, it's will Flaherty pull a seat from one of the incumbents. They are:
The moment Flaherty announced, pundits pontificated and pondered which of the four was most vulnerable. Assuming he has not lost his fund-raising magic and is willing to resole shoes as needed to spread his charm around, he has a solid shot.

Murphy (disclaimer, a neighbor) has been popular for a long time and winning with increasing totals. He's the acknowledged financial guy on Council, which may not be that well known to voters, but well respected in the body. Cultural factors may come into play here and there is a question about whether voters see competent Irish-American men as interchangeable. Murphy has run for statewide office a few times (Secretary and Treasurer) while a Councilor. Yet I don't hear voters say he wasn't doing his job while lusting after and campaigning for higher office.

Connolly is one of the Young Turks and recently achieved a very high profile. On the wonky end, he wants to reform the tortuous and hated school-assignment process. More viscerally, he discovered and investigated expired and past-sale-date food served en masse to BPS students. The publicity on the latter angered the Mayor and several people have told me that Menino considered this a profound embarrassment. Connolly is charming as well as a dedicate advocate for school students and parents.

Arroyo, despite his youth, has a history of public advocacy and even campaigning, as he worked with his Councilor father. He has a natural affinity constituency as the body's sole Latino. It doesn't hurt that he's good looking and personable. He works on housing, youth and labor issues. He is a complete package as youth sports coach, and has a wife and siblings who are BPS products as well a school-teacher mom.

Pressley stands out obviously in several ways. She's one of three African-American Councilors, the first ever black woman in the body, and as District 3's Maureen Feeney is retiring, may soon be the only woman Councilor. She is very bright, compassionate and driven, and as with Arroyo, it doesn't hurt that she's attractive. She too has made quite a splash recently, largely with her personal story and mostly with efforts to combat sexual violence.
Disclaimer: I was bit player in a February WBUR Pressley profile by Bianca Vasquez Toness. The reporter approached me and used a clip to illustrate the criticisms that Pressley may concentrate too much on big issues, putting herself at risk from constituents who like more, smaller accomplishments.
With just the five for our seats, it'll be tough enough. An additional key question is whether there will be a single November 8th final or a preliminary winnowing on September 27th. If nine or more candidates get the required 1,500 valid voter signatures certified by June 28th, a preliminary election will reduce the at-large candidates to eight. The final will determine the top four finishers.

Regardless of that, these five are all solid and will appear on the November ballot. Among others who may get through are Kevin McCrea (ran for Mayor last time), Sean Ryan (known for previous Council run), and Will Dorcena (brother of MA Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry). I wouldn't put money on any of the others to make November's list.

In his many appearances since announcing, Flaherty has said repeatedly that he isn't targeting any or all of the incumbents. I don't know if the may-the-best-candidates-win bonhomie will be the response from the four. Particularly Arroyo and Pressley are pretty new to this stage. They're just getting going on their agenda. They have to see him as a threat...hence the dramatic tension.

By the bye, I discount the ranting of the Chuck Turner supporters who shouted that Arroyo and Pressley would be in trouble for voting with the 11-1 Council to oust him in December. His anointed replacement, Tito Jackson, won and has been doing just fine. Plus, both Councilors showed serious integrity in their floor speeches that day.

Flaherty told us yesterday that he is the visionary, big-picture guy the Council lacks and needs. You can listen in below to hear what he'd concentrate on and how he differentiates himself from the existing Councilors. He also raised his feelings and thought about the Mayor several times in this context, saying the Council had to act like a check and balance and not like cheerleaders.

I'm seeing (and looking forward to) skirmishes right into November 8th. Flaherty's candidacy broadens the debate to include the roles of the Mayor and Council, and maybe whether it's time to overhaul the city charter. He'll have the luxury of saying what he would do if he got a desk in the Iannella Chamber on the fifth floor, almost within spitting distance of Menino's offices. The incumbents will also be pitching what they've done for constituents in big and small ways. They'll have the luxury of asking Flaherty how it was that he served so long and was President when existing finance, schools and other problems festered.

I'd suggest making it to any at-large candidate forum or debate you can. It does indeed look like a bumpy (and fun) night season.

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