Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Same But Different Boston Councilors

No incumbent Boston Councilor lost yesterday, but several came close. The crowd favorites switched order. Southie's power comes into question. There was no revolution, yet the results have implications.

Right off, as someone who works the polls for the city, I was pleased that the turnout was just anemic and not the predicted terrible. At 18.1% of voters, you'd think it would mean keening and rending of garments by democracy advocates. However, our expectations have long lowered. Grumpy pundits thought this off-year election with no statewide, mayoral or congressional seats might mean as few as 6% of voters would do their do.

The polling place where I worked had over 28% turnout. Comparatively to expectations and the recent 13% in the last election makes that seem robust and involved. That written, as someone who never misses any election and as a poll warden who's invested, I don't see why we can't expect 60% or higher turnout. I can rant when anyone says, "I wasn't aware we had an election," or "I don't know anything about any of the candidates." Be warned.


Hub Shuffle

Here, Council results should provide sources for jokes among the winners, as well as offline planning for the next go in two years. The expected leaders trailed, and one at-large and one district councilor nearly got nipped. The pundit predictions going back at least six months were flat wrong in many cases.

The not-yet-certified-ergo-unofficial results for at-large run (informal names):

Ayanna PRESSLEY21.42%
Felix ARROYO20.26%
John CONNOLLY18.74%
Steve MURPHY15.26%
Michael FLAHERTY14.73%
Will DORCENA4.99%
Sean RYAN4.21%

This list has two big punchlines. Among the four winners, Connolly and Murphy had topped the ticket last time and Arroyo and Pressley scraped into office for their first terms. So, the order dramatically shifted in unpredicted ways. The other biggy is that former council president and five-term at-large Councilor Michael Flaherty missed the cut this time.

Oh, experts, where art thine expertise?

Many broadcast, print and blog observers figured Arroyo and particularly Presssley as likely to lose to Flaherty. After all, they were finishing single terms, he is very well known, a skilled fund-raiser and connected, and council elections have long been friendly to Irish American men. Plus, his home of South Boston had the only open district seat, and therefore, more reason for voters to participate.

Here the wise guys weren't so wise.

When I arrived home at 9 PM from closing my poll, the first results from the city showed Flaherty ahead of Murphy and down in District 2, Suzanne Lee ahead of two-term incumbent Bill Linehan. The almost-real-time reporting on election nights is a super feature. I watched as results shifted quickly over the next hour. In the end, we got the above results and a less than 1% apparent win by Linehan; whether Lee requests and gets a recount is TBD.


Rethinking

So, as I'm wont to ask, what can we learn from this? 

First, it's a positive statement about diversity in town. Voters pushed the only Latino and first black woman ever to the top of the at-large reelection results. In a city with a growing minority population and a sorry history of racism and sexism in politics, that's good stuff.

Neither Arroyo nor Pressley won sole because of their race or gender. Both have championed good causes,  as well as delivered the requisite constituent services. Moreover, as Pressley told me recently, she knows identity politics can work for any candidate. In her case, she looks to voters of color, of her gender, and from her neighborhood to support her, and then she expands from there for the whole electorate.

More surprising is that two Irish-American male councilors slipped to three and four in the results. Both are popular. Each has considerable expertise — Connolly running education and Murphy the budget processes. Also Connolly is the acknowledged campaign-contribution king. 

His organization seems to have anticipated a strong showing by Pressley, despite the gloomy forecasts. Last night, about the time the results gelled, his folk sent out a press release. They took a good share of the credit for her success in Connolly's West Roxbury, where he introduced and campaigned with her. And, oh by the way, he has over $100,000 left in this campaign coffers, the release noted.

Murphy is surely less sanguine. He has not yet posted on his campaign site or Facebook pages. 

Disclaimer: I know and like Steve. We're neighbors, living only a couple of blocks away. 

In his Left Ahead podcast leading up to the election, he did agree that his financial expertise is not as high in profile as some on council. It's my feeling that he's a bit humble and needs to make voters aware that when his peers want to know what this or that big or small matter means in money terms, he's the one they turn to for the judgment. This close vote may inspire him to brag a bit, even if that's not natural for him.

For his part, Flaherty has pledged to work with the council in any way he can. Dorcena and Ryan have not posted on their Facebook pages or websites. 

Flaherty remains popular, has positioned himself as an opposition voice to Mayor Tom Menino and surely will not disappear. I suddenly recall many years ago when I ran into President Thomas Jones of the University of South Carolina as we crossed the historic horseshoe of the antebellum campus in opposite directions. He and I (student newspaper type and general agitator) had clashed many times and he considered me a royal pain. Yet we had a begrudging respect for each other. I knew he was being ousted following the student riots there and I told him I was sorry. He said he was like a rabbit with many tunnels and holes. He would reemerge. I'm sure Flaherty will too, after some consideration.

Dorcena, I hope, will not be discouraged. He got in late, with little money and no history of holding office. He chatted with us at Left Ahead as well. He's smart, he's charming and he has a detailed, broad series of issues and proposals. There must be a good place to draw on that energy and those ideas.

Ryan, of course, runs for office. He has low-key, lightly funded campaigns, depending largely on ringing doorbells and speaking at every possible forum. He is one candidate who may change nothing after this election.

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