Politics as Unusual: Hyde Park is an unpredictable election powerhouse

I relocated to Boston almost a decade ago, before most non-military civilians had GPS devices. Though I eventually came to love some perks of the Hyde Park neighborhood I moved to—the delicious and elusive BC Bakery, for one—looking back, it was an ill fit for a social acrobat without a car. I spent countless hours giving lost friends directions to my house, which was just a few blocks from the Dedham line, and something like 10,000 miles from downtown. Public transportation also stinks out there; from what I remember, there was a bus route down River Street that only ran once a day. Complaints aside, though, while the neighborhood was hardly ideal, I did learn a whole lot about what makes the city tick while I was living there.

Stereotypically speaking, Hyde Park folks are hardly different from their peers in other parts of Boston. They adore the Red Sox, worship their sub shops and dive bars, and are increasingly diverse in their races and ethnicities. But while the natives are familiar, there are certain slices of life that seem somewhat sweeter for the Hub’s southernmost residents. In addition to minimal traffic and the convenient accoutrements of nearby suburbia, in my experience, people who live in Hyde Park clearly benefit from being Mayor Tom Menino’s neighbors. That’s especially the case in Readville, where Hizzoner was born and still lives today; there, the roads always seem a little more plowed, the grass a bit greener, the streets safer than virtually anywhere else in the city.

Living in Hyde Park, I learned that there’s a lot more behind the area’s influence and muscle than just Menino. This is something that all politically conscious Bostonians should note. BPD Commissioner Ed Davis hangs his gat there, as do a slew of cops and state troopers alike. Thanks in large part to those officers and an army of other municipal employees, the area has extraordinary voter turnout in Wards 18 through 20. These forces, plus complementary factors, have famously helped Hizzoner win big; Ward 18, for example, packs the fattest purse in all of Boston, with more than double the number of ballots cast there than in any other ward last election. Menino won nearly 10,000 votes there in 2009; but while the science behind his reign is no secret, it will take more than just a knowledge of electoral history for any one candidate to harness Hyde Park hysteria in 2013.

On my way to visit friends in Readville last weekend, I expected to see an average of at least 15 mayoral placards per household, banners stuck everywhere from rickety old porches to the tailgates of parked pick-up trucks proudly propping locals in the race. Instead, I found a mere spattering of signs for random candidates. Contrarily, by this time last cycle, it felt like Hyde Park had more banners for its homeboy Menino than for all of his opponents combined. I guess this change is understandable, since two notable candidates—District Attorney Dan Conley, who sold out for neighboring West Roxbury but hails from Hyde Park, and District 5 City Councilor Rob Consalvo—are both everyday faces around here, and presumably friendly with many of the same families who don’t want to openly choose sides. Their impact on each other notwithstanding, Consalvo and Conley aren’t the only determinants in how Hyde Park will tilt.

Though a long shot by all means, businessman candidate John Laing Jr. lives in Hyde Park as well. Laing is also black; while that doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily attract voters of color, the multicultural makeup of the neighborhood is worth noting. For the first time ever, the 2010 Census reported that more than half of Hyde Park residents are African-American, while more than 35 percent speak languages other than English at home. This demographic shuffle could play well for Councilor-at-Large Felix G. Arroyo, who was raised in Hyde Park, and campaigned heavily there with positive results in both of his council races. Rivals shouldn’t be scared off, though; hopefuls who avoid the outer throws will do so at their own peril. The only thing about the area that should concern candidates is the prospect of Menino leaving office early. In that event, Hyde Park son and City Council President Steve Murphy will finally score the parking spot he’s always coveted at City Hall, plus an opportunity to bust the new mayor’s shoes for four years, then emerge as a contender with Ward 18 riding behind him. Sounds crazy, but it wouldn’t be the first time that Hyde Park rose to power through unconventional means.

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.

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