Monday, January 09, 2012

Dorcena Door to Door to Door

First, he got in real late and now real early. Will Dorcena was the last one in running for at-large Boston City Council last year but has not announced he's running for Mayor in the 2013 election.

Yet immediately when Dorcena's announcement was previewed, it began. The epithets were amateur, naive, hopeless, quixotic.

Pedestrian punditry, a.k.a. conventional wisdom, about Boston politics are a version of crickets on a summer night. The repetition and volume drown out all else.

For a recent example, nearly all writers and talking heads chirped in unison about the City Council at-large race just past. The newbies, Felix Arroyo and particularly Ayanna Pressley were underfunded and vulnerable. Michael Flaherty would push at least one of them out of the chamber. Of course, Pressley topped the returns and Arroyo was second. Flaherty was an also-ran.

Politically inured Bostonians are already expressing weary doubts. At the least, what I've heard is that there is a sort of hazing process whereby you run for local office two or three times before you have a chance to win it.

That hasn't happened in memory for Mayor, but certainly at the Council level it has. Think immediately of twinkly-eyed Matt O'Malley's comet-like appearance to take the special election for John Tobin's vacant seat. Of course, even though he was a political young'un, he had been aide or campaign worker for numerous elected officials. He got a pass on the two-or-three-times guideline.

Why should anyone care, you might well ask. The local papers largely ignored his announcement yesterday as they only begrudgingly covered him in passing during the at-large contest. They won't care unless he proves himself a real threat with contributions and crowds.

First, Dorcena does have a shot, particularly if the incumbent does not want another year of campaigning and four more of service. While we can all think of several Councilors who'd announce in such circumstances, Dorcena would have a well-established double message by then. He has a real vision with platform and he had the guts to step up while the others hid in their lairs until the big bear was hibernating.

Breaking Ranks

Dorcena also faces that double-sided support issue — money and endorsements. For the latter, it will be a hard sell to get other pols, like Councilors or legislators, to praise him. Not only is Menino a singularly powerful incumbent, but should he choose not to run, a couple of Councilors, each with body buddies, would go for the open office. Likewise, wealthy individual, corporate and organization donors would think one, two or ten times before crossing Menino.

In terms of state-level pols, he doesn't have any champions or mentors in the Administrator or legislature. In fact, neither he nor his sister, Rep. Linda Dorcea Forry, talk about their estrangement. That also counts out his newspaper editor (Boston Haitian Reporter and Dorchester News) brother-in-law, Bill Forry. Stranger events have occurred than a rapprochement between siblings, but in lieu of that, this is another area where Dorcena is at a disadvantage at the moment.

He admits his campaign will not be easy, but has terrific, almost contagious faith, in grassroots persuasion and fund-raising. In this words:
If I get to enough residents in the city and speak to them and tell them what I represent what I stand for and I intend to make decisions every day that's in the best interest of them and their families, I'll win. I just need to put in the work.
He also admits that he'd need to raise several times the money as he did in the short campaign for Council, but said, "This campaign isn't going to be about the contributions." Instead, "We're going to win this race by taking it directly to the people, taking the message to the people, street by street, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood." Well, that worked for now MA Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz.

In his high-minded opening statement this week, Dorcena said, "For the next two years, I'll  walk the streets, avenues and boulevards of our neighborhoods to make the case for new leadership, bold ideas, innovative solutions to our problems and most important to bring residents into the conversation and decision-making process."

Cynics can note the high percentage of residents who don't bother to vote, don't attend public meetings, and won't look at available issue papers. Yet, Dorcena believes he can't get enough interest to succeed. As he put the overall aim, "My campaign in not about Tom Menino. My campaign is about the city of Boston and the direction this city needs to move in."

Moreover when asked if he had two plans, one for if Menino decides not to run, he said, "I have one strategy and that strategy is to take a positive message of truth, of honesty, of speaking directly to the people to address these issues, not sugar coating some of the difficult discussions that need to be had and having it directly with the residents of this city across all the neighborhoods.

On the other hand, he was upfront about his door-to-door plan. "The Mayor has been her for 20 years," he said, "and he doesn't have to knock on many doors for people to know who he is, but someone like me has to."

Framing the Contest

The intriguing question comes about whether sustained candidacy of one or more mayoral aspirants this early will set the tone for the 2013 election. Can Dorcena's door knocking and other campaigning force the topics?

We won't know until it's clear whether the Mayor will run in 2013 who else is will be in for the job. Allegedly Clemons is running, but not only is there no evidence except for his saying so once and occasionally handing out flyers. Moreover, he has not advanced any platform or stated any positions.

With four times as long to campaign as he had for the Council race, Dorcena might get some traction and influence the dialog. He certainly was not for the at-large race. He noted that he and Sean Ryan did not get the coverage that the incumbents and Flaherty did. Call that whining if you like, but that was accurate.

His recent announcement likewise did not have the bodies or column inches or airtime it deserved. In contrast, the Globe and other local media made much of the non-announcement of Joseph P. Kennedy III. The virtually unknown dynast did have minions set up an exploratory committee for Barney Frank's U.S. House seat, but no announcement or promises or platform. It's a honking-in-the-background maybe.

A couple days after the Dorcena event, the Herald did run the one of its blogs. This included the homey posed shot of him and his very pregnant wife Eby flanking the Haitian/U.S. flags colored campaign sign. The post did not get into his platform but at least covered his promise to go street to street relentlessly.

You'd think that the Globe, local TV and the Phoenix at least would have attended the press conference and run the basic. A few, like Dorchester NewsGintautas Dumcius have previously noted the poor political coverage of some candidates, including Dorcena. This time, if nothing else, they could feign pundit sophistication with Council-loser-dreams-of-Mayor sneering. Then again, they are often cowardly pack animals who hold back until others decide a candidate is worth profiling or quoting.

I am interested in following Dorcena's campaign. Specifically:

  • Will his platform frame the issues of the next campaign?
  • Will he maintain the energy for tens of thousands of visits?
  • Will residents agree with his problems/solutions message?
  • Will plain folk contribute enough to keep his campaign viable?
  • What will he have to do to get media attention?
In the next two years, they will see the work. They will see how hard I work.

Series Note: 
This ended up taking on its own life. I attended Dorcena's announcement. The second post was on his platform. I am intrigued about whether this early candidacy raises interest and money, and whether it colors the entire election.

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