Politics as Unusual: At mayoral keg party, who would you drink with?

May 7, 2013
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During the 2000 presidential race, one prevalent and aggravating accolade bestowed upon George W. Bush was that of Candidate Who Voters Would Most Like To Drink Beer With. Whether survey-based or anecdotal, the trope was absurd; even if Al Gore is the most arrogant stiff on Earth, he’s beyond intelligent, and obviously a better date than any righteous reformed alcoholic turned faux-hick evangelical. What was most annoying, though, was that manufactured news of such hypotheticals trumped coverage of Bush’s and Gore’s discrepancies on real issues. The country was at stake —health care, foreign policy, you name it. Yet outlets fixated on Dubya’s endearing hillbilly persona, patently fraudulent as it was.

While the brew index is a silly assessment on the national level, it’s nevertheless important in local politics, and especially in Boston. Voters here have legitimate concerns as well; from potholes to education, viable candidates will ultimately be asked to produce policy ideas, and to speak intelligently on several subjects. Still, this is a city where, according to Boston Globe polling, more than half of residents have personally met Mayor Thomas Menino, whose accessibility and affable demeanor helped him hold the belt for two decades. So at this early stage in the race for his successor, with roughly two-dozen hopefuls selling similar generic points, it seems an appropriate time to judge these books by their covers, and to decide who we want to imbibe alongside. Guided by nothing but my brief encounters with a handful of them through the years, I’ll lead the bar crawl.  Pull up a stool.

You’ll have a hearty laugh and heart-to-heart with Felix G. Arroyo. He has his serious moments—the city councilor-at-large and Jamaica Plain resident likes to wax on about how banks should invest in Boston, and about the need for deeper scrutiny in education budgeting. But he’s also prone to howl at any moment, and can even mesmerize with his soliloquies.

The grinning will continue with John Barros, executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. The Ivy Leaguer emanates some arrogance; his piece about taking a pay cut to leave Wall Street and return to Roxbury is the stuff movies are made of. Barros does walk the walk, though, and he owns a Cape Verdean restaurant in Dorchester where you can “cheers” over stewed beef and octopus.

Our smiles may turn upside down for Dan Conley. The Suffolk County district attorney knows how to work a crowd—it’s one of many reasons he’s been able to raise nearly $1 million so far. Get closer, though, and the rigid prosecutor appears to have the soul of a rusty hubcap. We’ll feed Conley a few shots, engage him about the vulnerable neighborhoods where he spends most of his time, and see for ourselves.

After Stone Cold Conley, it will be refreshing to hang with District 5 City Councilor Rob Consalvo. He’s the kind of honest dude you want to bowl with—perhaps approach with a personal problem. As a candidate, he could use some snappy slogans and perhaps a few punchlines, but in person his pitch is nearly perfect.

We also need a female presence at this soiree. Enter Charlotte Golar Richie, the former Dorchester state rep. who also once directed the Department of Neighborhood Development. She’s charismatic, a bright mix of nonprofit crusader and bureaucratic insider. Maybe wine over beer, though, as Golar Richie comes off as more refined than most of her male opponents.

With such a massive field of candidates, it’s intoxicating to consider entertaining a citywide keg party with all of them. Both community advocate Will Dorcena and City Councilor-at-Large John Connolly are congenial and fun-loving—certain good company. Charles Clemons, a former cop and proprietor of TOUCH 106.1 FM in Grove Hall, connects on a personal level, a touch he’s honed as a longtime voice on his station’s breakfast show. And don’t forget the sociable District 8 Councilor Mike Ross, who navigates the cocktail and culinary meccas of Beacon Hill and Back Bay like Magellan, or former state Rep. Marty Walsh. Just don’t judge Walsh according to the cover of his book, per the drinking game at hand. Despite having some stereotypical qualifications for barroom revelry—Irish-American tradesman from Dorchester, the thickest Boston accent in the field—Walsh has been sober for 18 years. Of course, that may explain his ace comedic timing and ability to crack jokes with the best of them—both of which, I surmise, are the qualities that pollsters are really pinpointing when they ask which candidates we want to get trashed with.

Chris Faraone is a former Boston Phoenix reporter and author of “99 Nights with the 99 Percent” and the upcoming “I Killed Breitbart.” He lives in Jamaica Plain.