Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love Councilor Flaherty
Jamaica Plain has been Sam Yoon’s stronghold this election cycle. While Boston as a whole voted 51 percent for Mayor Thomas Menino and roughly split the vote for change between City Councilor Sam Yoon (21 percent) and City Councilor Michael Flaherty (24 percent), in JP Yoon and Menino finished neck-and-neck during the preliminary run off, with poll counts showing a narrow lead by either Menino or Yoon (each collecting roughly 40 percent of the vote), depending on how you define JP’s boundaries. Flaherty finished with a relatively weak base in the neighborhood (less than 15 percent).
With the announcement that Flaherty would be running a joint ticket with Yoon as his deputy mayor (“Floon”), JP is faced with a unique dilemma on Nov. 3, Election Day. Even more than Menino, Flaherty is rooted in the older, white, ethnic neighborhoods of Boston, often characterized by more socially conservative voters. Flaherty swept the preliminary election in South Boston and Charlestown, with strong showings in West Roxbury, the North End and East Boston. The divide between this Boston and Yoon’s base in communities of color and younger, more progressive districts is deep—stretching back through desegregation, busing, battles over transportation, the uprooting of communities using eminent domain and the mayoral election that pitted Ray Flynn against Mel King. The divide isProxy-Connection: keep-alive
eep, and the distrust can be almost instinctive.
It is the same dilemma that the Yoon campaign would have faced if we had bested Flaherty in the preliminaries: without finding a way to reconcile these two Bostons, no challenger can succeed against the power of an incumbent mayor. The mayor’s administration delivers municipal services in the form of “favors,” which the mayor colloquially refers to as “the personal touch.” Even though we pay for these services with our tax dollars, they come with strings attached, and are part of a political machine that uses municipal government to demand loyalty from businesses and residents who need help from the city. Machine politics also used to rule at state agencies, but by the 1980s most state-level services had been significantly professionalized, and were no longer thinly-veiled arms of campaign operations. Many, many residents of Boston benefit directly or indirectly from Mayor Menino’s help. However, the first thing we give up as a city to machine politics is our democracy. The second thing we give up is our ability to plan our future as a city.
This election has, against all the odds, become a referendum on how power is distributed and misused in city government, with far-reaching consequences for all of us. Bringing together the two Bostons represented by Councilor Flaherty and Councilor Yoon offers us a historic opportunity to restore democracy to our city, to make education and public services accountable to all of our neighborhoods—no matter who lives in them—and to allow us for the first time in a long time to envision a Boston where we do better than just filling the potholes.
The writer lives near Hyde Square and was an active volunteer for the Sam Yoon for Mayor Campaign. He works as the executive director of Mass-Care: The Massachusetts Campaign for Single Payer Health Care.