Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Boston District with Real Choice

Not much may be enough. TBD.

Uneasy must the head of Suzanne Lee lie. Prima facie, she whipped incumbent Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan yesterday. What can we learn from this? What will the result November show of Boston 2011?

The numbers look encouraging for never-run-for-office-before and long-time educator/community activist Lee:

39.12Suzanne Lee
35.03Bill Linehan
25.35Bob Ferrara

District 2 is one of the truly diverse ones in town. The final on this one is likely to bring culture, race, class and neighborhoods to bear. There's no question that Lee's the superior candidate and should win. There's considerable question about the outcome. It is likely to depend much more on GOTV efforts and parochialism than ideas or real self-interest.

By the bye, we have not spoken with Linehan or Ferrara, but did have Lee on Left Ahead recently. You can catch her half-hour podcast here

This race has a wide bifurcation. Incumbent Linehan is a life-long resident of Southie. He was a perfectly good Parks employee for decades. As a Councilor he has been all about constituent services, one of the key functions of the office. As a pol, he's all about I'm one of you. That is damned significant in South Boston, which tends to have a high election turnout. 

Plus, the district is about 65% white. The majority of voters are in South Boston. D2 also has the South End, Chinatown, South Bay and a snatch of Roxbury. By the bye, the South End News calculates turnout at 13%, which embarrassingly enough is not bad for such a preliminary with no big races. (Afternoon update, Chris Lovett has posted breakdown figures for where the votes came from for all three candidates.)

On the other fork, Lee is an actual doer. She turned around one awful city school and then ran the premier elementary (Quincy) for over a decade. During that time, she developed multiple master plans for neighborhoods and drove numerous projects that improved Bostonians' lives. 

You can get a full and fair contrast of the pair at their campaign sites. First note that I'm known to get excited about online presentation and social media. Linehan is a dud at both, which may not be too big an issue in a local campaign centered on South Boston, where identity politics have long been more powerful than ideas.

One of Linehan's daughters seems to dabble in net stuff. She apparently set up a kind of shell Facebook page for the campaign. It's an open group with next to no content. She or who knows who slapped together a campaign site, which is hard to find and not linked from his group page or his frail personal FB one. Pretty much, like Gertrude wrote of Oakland, there is no there there. 

You say you want to know his positions, platforms and plans? Well, I guess you'd better call him or get to a candidate forum. He's not saying. 

Lee, on the other hand, is out there. Her campaign site leaves no doubt about what she's about, what issues would drive her in office. She is very specific on her proposals in each of nine areas. 

For yesterday's votes, we have Linehan commenting to the Globe that he was number two on the preliminary when he first ran for the seat, to win in the end. He said that the South End and Chinatown also turned out for the preliminary and he'd have to rally his supporters in all three neighborhoods.

Ever backroom minded Phoenix writer David Bernstein had his own tweet about the outcomeLinehan alienated both Menino and Flaherty during their mayoral battle -- and paid a price today. So there is that atavistic belief that only machine politics can win locals here. Menino has ground troops and many said and wrote that youth-sports organizer Ferrara was Flaherty's surrogate to split to vote in Southie.

Ideas or Identity

So the simple-minded future would have a larger turnout for the final and every Southie vote going for the Irish guy. Done and done.

I give Lee a good shot here though, considering:
  • She is known and respected for her work as principal in both the South End and Chinatown
  • She more than blunts Linehan's support for the Asian-American community; he said, while she did
  • She has an honest to God platform, while he's old-style and limited to fixing potholes
  • She is even more indefatigable than he, ringing those bells throughout this huge district
Everyone, including the candidates, is well aware of the low motivation issue. There is no statewide, mayoral or national election, only a some ballot initiatives to fire folk up. As in any municipal election, GOTV is the thing.

The complications of course here are many and not too subtle. Like those inconsiderate schlubs who stroll slowly while jaywalking to inconvenience as many drivers as possible, some Boston neighborhoods love a sense of power. South Boston has been one, as in returning the dreadful bigoted Jim Kelly to this seat numerous times. He was obnoxious, inefficient and a true insult to the district outside of Southie. They did it because they could.

Linehan is much more low-key and doesn't exhibit the worst of Kelly's traits, certainly not the anti-gay stance that Kelly finally recanted when he was dying. Yet, despite the incumbent's drabness, there is a clear choice here. Lee is an achiever, an idea and action person, with specific programs and goals to improve the lives of those in the district and whole city.

Cynic this go-round can call on the wisdom of H.L. Mencken with "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." In fact, it may play out that South Boston voters will rally behind the guy who looks like them and who lives near them. It may also happen that enough in the district are tired of the joke nature of their councilors and take the rare chance to put some muscle on the bone.


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