Thursday, September 26, 2013

Voter-Harvest Time in Boston

We political wonks are delighted that the scrum of a dozen Boston mayoral candidates has become a duel, or let's call it redundantly le duel de deux. Marty Walsh and John Connolly are the same but different. The next seven weeks will necessarily be nastier than the mannered preliminary campaign. Yet neither guy is likely to deceive or outright slander the other.

We have the same

When my kids were in preschool, each experienced that prolonged group-think moment of realizing what is like and different...again and again. With joy, they'd squeal as their classmates did, "We have the same. We have the same!" That might a shirt, a name, a lunch fruit or whatever.

Among Walsh and Connolly's correspondences are:

  • Irish-American ethnicity
  • Native Bostonian
  • Similar ages (46 and 40, Walsh and Connolly)
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Progressive politics, including LGBT rights
  • Stress on schools reform

A prime task for each now is to differentiate himself, we would hope by building himself up and not tearing the other guy down. That may include:

  • Walsh's recent immigrant family
  • Walsh's laborer and union background
  • Walsh's career as state Rep
  • Connolly's Harvard degree
  • Connolly's do-gooder education years
  • Connolly's lawyer career
  • Connolly's family of a secretary of the commonwealth and a judge

We would be well served if they avoided the obvious calumnies. At its worst, the run-up to the final could instead include:

  • Old v. New Boston, with Connolly as the privileged one
  • Traditionally stable v. traditionally checkered past, with Walsh as the redeemed
  • Union pawn v. City Hall hack
  • Connolly wasn't a school teacher long enough

Harvest time

With that dozen wanna-bes, no one dominated. Walsh edged Connolly by 1%, yet no one got even 20% of the vote and many were in the 7% or above.

I seem to be the only one I know who thought that Charlotte Golar Richie's third place was unremarkable. The top ran Walsh (18.47%), Connolly (17.22%) and she (13.77%). She was the sole black woman in the race, with a strong résumé. Yet, I pored over her campaign site and other materials, heard stump speeches and was in the BLS chats. I found her dry, vague and uninspiring. Many of us would welcome an African-American or woman or both mayor here. Yet to me, she didn't show any stuff, any reason to voter for her beyond race and gender.

Yesterday, in our Left Ahead podcast, Ryan disagreed as does my wife. I think my expectations for platform and presentation were too high. By the bye, the followup on the black community not supporting a single candidate of color by the Rev. Eugene Rivers is in today's Herald.

Instead, what's fascinating and even exciting, is that the very discrete dispersion of votes means both finalists have obvious work to get blocs aligned. Connolly is a bit ahead here; he was a big help to Councilor Ayanna Pressley and has worked hard for many years among Latino and black groups and neighborhood areas. Walsh has been largely a white guy, with very strong support in white areas of South Boston and Dorchester.

Looking at maps of donations and votes for each of the 12 candidates shows fascinating blanks for the two winners.  Already, Connolly said that starting election night, he was talking to the other 10 (maybe not Wyatt) to ask for support, including endorsements. Even if he and Walsh sew up their neighborhoods and split the white vote, the vast majority of Boston's population and geography is up for grabs.

This struggle will be the challenge for them and the delight for us.

Issues, oh yeah

We won't suffer through those dreadful forum events — tight timed towers of Babel. Instead, there should be several intense and meaningful debates of just the two. We deserve that.

Schools and unions, particularly the teachers' one, will loom large. Surely though, the media won't wallow to deeply and long there. Yeah, yeah, they both want reform and more charter schools. Walsh can make the argument that as a union macher, he can cut to the chase in negotiations. Connolly can pitch his path to top-quality schools in every single neighborhood.

Instead of only the most obvious, we need to make sure they get real on other key issues. Development, including housing, should top both of their agenda. I'd also hope that one or both will incorporate good concepts from the other candidates. I think of Michael Ross' plan for tens of thousands of housing units, many affordable, along the Fairmount line. That would enable more established and even younger folk to stay in town, while simultaneously preventing "investors" from snatching existing triple deckers and single-family houses, only to price them out of the reach of most existing residents. Commercial development too must not be more non-profit (like college), low or free of tax, often with incentives. These are huge long-term concerns.

It will be easy to lose our way in the stereotypes and clichés in the final. Yet, because both guys are smart, accomplished and, well, nice, I expect them to elevate the discourse. Also, because neither is the incumbent mayor, we shouldn't see the sniping that so often happens in municipals.

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