The Connolly-Arroyo election myth

May 10, 2013
By

With City Councilors John Connolly and Felix G. Arroyo both in the mayoral race, voters likely will once again hear a minor but enduring political myth: that Connolly ousted Arroyo’s father, Felix D., from the City Council in 2007 in a blow to minority voting power.

The Gazette debunked the myth at the time of its birth. But it is frequently repeated by political analysts, including in a major Boston Phoenix article on the mayoral race three months ago.

“That gets under my skin when people talk about that,” Connolly told the Gazette in a March interview. “I was hoping to serve with Felix Senior [on the council].”

Felix D. Arroyo, who lived in Jamaica Plain at the time, already was a well-known progressive activist when he became the first Latino city councilor in 2003. Analysts frequently hailed him as part of a “New Boston” of diverse political leadership.

But in 2007, Arroyo was voted out of his council seat. And winning a seat was Connolly, a white Irish candidate from an old political family in West Roxbury.

Major political reporters and analysts, including in the Boston Globe, described that as Connolly “ousting” or “replacing” Arroyo in a rising of the “Old Boston.” But the facts said something different.

Connolly and Arroyo were running for “at-large” council seats. There are four at-large seats, and the four top vote-getters win them. There is no head-to-head competition between any two candidates for an at-large seat. It is just about getting as many votes as possible. So no at-large candidate ever directly ousts or replaces any other one.

The supposed voting shift to “Old Boston” in the very low-turnout election was exaggerated. In the same election, “New Boston” minority council incumbent Sam Yoon was comfortably reelected. Arroyo’s real problem was with his own voting base, as he did virtually no campaigning and raised only $1,000.

Despite that, Arroyo came in fifth and had a vote total only 6 points behind that of the first-place finisher—hardly a show of “New Boston” voting weakness.

As for Connolly, he did target another candidate with bruising negative campaign ads—not Arroyo, but rather fellow white Irish incumbent Steve Murphy.

In the recent interview, Connolly noted that his own father and the elder Arroyo were “political allies” in the 1970s and ’80s.

“I deeply respected Felix as a progressive civil rights leader in the city,” he said. “This was a guy who was held in high esteem in my household.”