Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pols (Not) Hedging Election Bets

Oh, now it becomes clear. Nothing, other than smart politicking, prevents our office holders from running for a higher office while simultaneously running for re-election.

I have been reading in the local rags that Boston City Councilors, for one example in the news, had to resign to run for the suddenly, shockingly available mayoralty. As is my wont, I headed to the City Charter and the Council rules to find, cite and link to the specifics. I pored through each with no results.

Then I ran across a piece in the J.P. Gazette that revealed reporter Peter Shanley's query to Mayor Tom Menino's office. It seems that it's savvy convention to show confidence by stepping down, but it's not required. In this case, a Councilor could run for both the mayoralty and re-election to Council. Then, assuming victory in both races, the double winner would choose which job to take.

Of course, at that level, it screams a lack of confidence to run for two offices. The perception is that voters would assume you presume loss before the first vote registers.

Yet we don't have to go very high up to see hedging bets for other offices. U.S. Senators John McCain,  Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, as other examples, held their seats while running for President (and Sen. Joe Biden as VP candidate). Likewise, both U.S. Reps. Steve Lynch and Ed Markey are running in the special election for U.S. Senate without resigning.

In a bit of humorous math, the risk level for Mayor is vastly higher than that for U.S. Senator this time and place. The field is wide and diverse. Some candidates are already well financed (as in $250,000 to $700,000 in the checkbook). At least four of the 13 Councilors are in and one or two more may make the leap in the next few days. The DA from Boston's Suffolk County is in, as were two early announcers (sill badly underfunded, but swearing money won't win this race). A state rep joined and so it goes.

There's no party affiliation in the preliminary in September, but nearly everyone is a Democrat by the bye. So far, we have no women running. It's also coincidentally the Middle Earth of Boston politics, with few candidates of color and nearly everyone Irish American. That's our history after the brahmans and before the ascendancy of those of Irish and Italian heritage.

The Council itself is a little more diverse. It only has one woman, one Latino, and three African Americans (including the woman).  Oh, and there's one Jew, and he's the most recently announced candidate for Mayor. The body certainly does not represent Boston's makeup ethnically or racially.

Now I wonder how many of those Councilors will or are even considering running for two offices in September and should they be in the top two finishers for Mayor, in the general in November.

Candidates who step away from secure spots and announce, "There is no plan B," as they run for higher office can seem heroic and confident. Yet, voters don't automatically reject those who hedge their bets.

Here, the Council could have the largest shakeup in memory if the candidates do not run for re-election as well as the mayoralty. Right now, that could mean openings for:

  • Felix G. Arroyo, at-large
  • John Connolly, at-large
  • Rob Consalvo, district 5
  • Mike Ross, district 8

Plus, maybe Steve Murphy, at-large, and the slim possibility of Charles Yancey, district 6.

There's no certainty that any one of them would win. They'd all take a huge flyer. The district Councilors are each and all from safe seats for them. Murphy is generally a big vote getter at-large, as are Arroyo and Connolly.

Murphy has held the Council presidency the past three times. That might well be at risk if four or more new Councilors come to office after November.  He's still thinking, he says.

The Boston Herald, our winger tabloid, has been flogging Suffolk DA Dan Conley. Their highly biased staff points fairly to his large checkbook at the beginning of the campaign. However, when he was a Councilor, he was neither particularly powerful nor memorable. He's had a much greater impact as a prosecutor. He hasn't had a chance to make his platform pitch. If it's law-and-order up top, that remains to be seen whether voters will weigh that heavily.

I'll be monitoring the stump speeches, tweets, FB postings and websites as these develop. Right now, the scrum to announce following Menino's decision not to run again has the runners still metaphorically tying their laces. As soon as enough of them put their platforms out, I'll comment on site contents and presentations.

A few quick thoughts though for the announced Councilors:

  • Arroyo: Bright, confident, progressive, charming, he's also a good speaker. I've also been to numerous meetings where I overheard young female voters of various ethnic backgrounds commenting that he's very handsome and saying they know he has a wife who's even prettier. While that shouldn't make any difference, people have noted they like to look at him...and Jasmine. He's the first Latino to run for the office and has a large supporter base.
  • Connolly: Wonderfully Boy-Scout level sincere, he has a deep passion for improving Boston schools...right now! He's run the Council's education committee for several terms, which is a royal pain on many levels, one that others run from. He was a teacher, his wife is, and they have two kids starting public school. He'll have other planks, but he is building his campaign first on the tough goal of high-quality schools in every single neighborhood. The question here is that if he's seen as the education guy, will voters who care more about jobs, housing and safety bypass him?
  • Consalvo: He is turbo-charged. He's been among the most active idea guys (like shot-spotter), proposing regulations and programs incessantly. He has the constituent services role down pat and learned from his Hyde Park friend and neighbor Menino to show up at every event and meeting, to know voters and get known. Rob seems to figure that if Tom can do this, he can. (Disclosure: He's my district guy, has done constituent services for me, and I like him.)
  • Ross: He's the Council smarty, which comes with mixed value. We saw in the last mayoral election that smart was not enough, as Sam Yoon came in third and out of the runoff. People tell me they find Ross cold. I don't; he and I have talked cycling and I thought he ran a ship-shape cruise when he was Council president. He is a more visionary sort with larger goals for the city. Will those ideas intrigue voters? Is the timing right for something demanding and different?

I love this stuff. I'm also glad I'm not running for anything. I do promise to pay attention to them though.

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