Politics as Unusual: Join in Boston’s fight of the century

As a New York-bred carpetbagger on these Boston streets, I still don’t understand certain dynamics of local culture and politics. I’m stunned that despite all the brainpower in town, few people care much about elections. Historically, I’m clueless as to why more folks don’t acknowledge Louise Day Hicks and Dapper O’Neil as the ghoulish bigots that they truly were. Most recently, I’ve run into a more pressing puzzler that’s also hard to fathom: Why does every decent pol around here feel like they have to run for mayor right now? Do they think that the victor will inevitably keep the seat for five terms? Do they actually doubt that they’ll ever get another crack at it?

The short answer, at least to the latter question, is “yes.” And I’m beginning to understand why. On Planet Earth, the retirement of a hard-working septuagenarian would come as little surprise—especially when that 70-year-old has a loving family to kick back with, and an iconic, internationally praised two-decade tenure in his rearview. But on Planet Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino’s news of not seeking another term proved shocking. Part of that reaction may be delusional, but at least candidates are taking the situation seriously. As for constituents, they seem somewhat aware of the alien notion that a new administration looms, but appear to be wholly unengaged in choosing the best prospect.

The ubiquitous amazement among officials was summarized in the reaction of Councilor-at-Large Felix G. Arroyo. In a televised interview at City Hall the day after Menino’s announcement, the Jamaica Plain resident still looked as if somebody told him that developers were going to replace Fenway Park with a plate of spaghetti. Arroyo soon refocused, though, and he wasn’t alone. Fellow Councilors Charles Yancey, Michael Ross and Rob Consalvo also jumped in, as did current state Rep. Marty Walsh, who told the Boston Globe, “The day Menino said he was not running…a lot of people’s lives changed.” What followed was a plethora of perennials, plus some heavy hitters and a few wild cards who I’ll sort out in upcoming columns.

The mad rush of candidates is unsurprising. After a generation under Hizzoner, the biggest prize in Boston politics is finally in play. And though it will take years to adequately gauge the benefit of this increasingly unwieldy scrum, my guess is that while some of the pre-preliminary contest debates and forums will be cumbersome, the kaleidoscopic cornucopia of candidates will prove to have a positive overall impact.

But enough about those who are running. There’s plenty of time left to praise and mock the inherent arrogance and bravery it takes to seek the highest Hub office. For now, what’s more important is that voters wake up and smell the Dunks. This race is critically important, and the public has yet to seriously acknowledge the high stakes.

I typically employ subversive liberal rhetoric and media mind control tactics to persuade readers. But in this case I’ll pontificate and shout that IT’S TIME FOR BOSTONIANS TO RECOGNIZE THAT THERE’S A HUGE MAYORAL RACE UNDERWAY. Barring a potentially extraordinary Red Sox season that will fully divert public attention, participation this time should easily trump the relatively strong but still pathetic 30 percent voter turnout of 2011. The street fight at hand deserves the heightened attention of this whole city, and certainly more community chatter than any pennant or World Series run. Go ahead and brand me a blasphemer; like I said, I’ve yet to fully comprehend all of the native customs.

If you’re reading a community newspaper—and are interested in my arcane inside-baseball bulletin, no less—then you’re probably one of the few people who do participate in local elections. You’re a virtuous individual—even if you were cursing the fair-weather voters who crammed your polling station last November. But exercising that basic civic obligation is no longer enough. Not for this race. It’s time to be a geek, and to promote the looming mayoral bout like it’s the fight of the century. Gossip at the hair salon, the bodega and your corner pub. Ask cab drivers who they support—they all seem to have opinions on the matter. Most importantly, treat the election like there won’t be another one for decades. You know—like the candidates are doing.

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