Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Quixotic or Prophetic Candidates?

My version of an elephant graveyard is a leaning heap of political yard signs. Many are from dramatic winners, like Obama and Warren.

One that still bothers me though reads:


Jim is a friend. Moreover, he is a crusader and reformer. We don't like them much around here.

He ran in 2010 and got about 1 vote for every 23 that incumbent Bill Galvin did.

We have our own Deval Patrick. Much like President Barack Obama, our first black governor strode into office as a reformer, when the time and all conditions were right. Recently Sen. Elizabeth Warren did much the same.

Those are decided anomalies. We here in Boston, Massachusetts and New England are like much of this fairly conservative nation. We like our change in creeps not leaps...most of the time.

I definitely thought of the discarded reformers figuratively buried here when we spoke with John Connolly yesterday on Left Ahead. His show is here. This at-large Boston city councilor announced he would not run again for that post, rather for mayor, regardless of whether the longest-serving ever, wildly popular incumbent Tom Menino goes for a sixth term.

Da Mare loves to make councilors and other wait to see whether he's in for another run until well into spring  This year, candidates can wait until May 13th to pull nomination papers. Folks are understandably afraid to run against Menino, with his hoard of campaign funds, political organization, incumbency, and other powers. Those who don't have Connolly's guts are left scrambling for money, endorsements and ground troops on a truncated schedule.

Connolly says he has no plan B if he doesn't win. He says he can beat the mayor or any other councilor or outsider...and that's that.

He figures to get there with his reformer/transformer campaign. While citing his great respect for Menino personally and for his accomplishments over 20 years, Connolly says one way or another, time is up. He is impatient for big advances in public schools, not "tweaking around the edges."

While he has policies and plans for public safety, employment and more, schools are the heart of his plan to become mayor. Listen to his show to hear how he specifies the problems and solutions.

Mayor Menino may well run again. As he has told me and so many other, "What else am I going to do? This is all I know." Plus he clearly loves the job. On the other hand, he's coming up on 70, has been ill intermittently for years, and can be chauffeured away leaving a deep and wide legacy of accomplishments.

Clearly, Connolly has a greater shot at the office if Menino does not run. He has a strong message of reform, as well as teaching credentials, kids coming into public schools, a dedicate to public education, and years of experience running the council's education committee, leading numerous improvement efforts. Plus, he has very understandable and detailed proposals for revamping the city's schools.

Smothered Dreams

Our history here in not electing reformers came to mind recently as I watched the PBS series The Abolitionists. There were many tough times and even death threats and violence aimed at the likes of Angelina Grimke, Theodore Weld, William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. Boston has more than its share of slave-ship owners, fugitive-slave catchers, and many who just didn't want change or moralism.

We still like to think of ourselves in the main as lefties, liberals, progressives and such. Yet, really in the main we often share social conservatism as well as fiscal conservatism. We either need to ease into change or in those rare cases of an Obama or Warren be swept along in the excitement of reform.

I think again of Jim Henderson. His Left Ahead show where he advances his considerable reforms is here. Likewise, in 2009, City Councilor Sam Yoon ran on a reformer's platform for mayor. His Left Ahead show is here. Yoon lost in the preliminary (but not by much), had his candidacy folded into an unofficial vice-mayor slot with leading contender Councilor Michael Flaherty. Menino won 57% to 42%.

I've often held that Yoon was the smartest person in city hall. Many local observers are quick to agree and simultaneously point out that he lacked the political smarts and instincts of Menino. Almost invariably, those who win public office or become the wealthiest are not the brightest. They often don't have the best plans, but they hit sweet spots of timing and presentation.

Yoon was fine by me. I loved his intensity, his problem/solution analyses, and particularly his reformer conclusions. I too am an impatient sort.

To many though, Sam was overly wonky. He could be casual and personable, as I recall him at a big table at Flash's on Stuart Street. A bunch of us bloggy sorts joined him over ale to discuss his campaign. Sure, as always, he had the data and conclusions in his brain at the ready, but he delivered it with humor and excitement.

To most voters though, he may have been  too serious. He wanted us to take a flight on his reformation express. The voters liked Menino, saw that the city was gradually getting better with him in office, and found the call for reform too abrupt and uncertain. Instead of Boston mayor, Yoon is president of the Council or Korean Americans outside of D.C.

Another would-be reformer, Henderson, is a successful lawyer in Stow and principal of a video marketing firm. He's doing fine. He just has never gotten the chance to transform the secretary of the commonwealth's office.

End Game

Reformers tend to be resilient and relentless. Sometimes they prevail.

I recommend The Abolitionists, particularly the last episode. During four decades to eliminate slavery, Garrison specifically faced mobs, public shunning and disdain, financial catastrophe, threats of arrest and death and more. Eventually with the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, Garrison and his like-minded reformers won. Even the change-averse public praised and supported them in the end.

The visionaries generally struggle. It's almost unheard of that they propose their reforms and receive acclaim and support...without the angst, defeat and rising from the muck.

In Connolly's case, working to ensure that tens of thousands of youth receive high-quality education and the lifelong opportunities that accompany it is noble. It surely is less so than freeing millions of slaves, but noble and worthy none the less.

Whether Menino runs, is it John's time? Can he market himself and his ideas strongly and clearly enough to overcome to inertia of a change averse Boston?

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