Politics as Unusual: This race needs a lightning rod—or nametags

July 2, 2013
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I think that I finally understand what’s wrong with this mayoral race—or at least why so few people know there is a heated contest underway. It’s not a lack of good or even great candidates; as I’ve noted endlessly, the stable of contenders is a fine one, with any number of hopefuls who I’d happily hail as the next Hizzoner. Rather, we’re lacking a lightning rod who might turn television cameras toward the whole pack. The race for New York City’s top spot has former U.S. Congressman and skivvies model Anthony Weiner; before that, they had Jimmy McMillan, who famously founded the Rent Is Too Damn High Party. In Boston, not so much. Especially now that Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy is out of the running.

This all hit me last week, shortly after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. Though I was heartened to see tweets from would-be Boston mayors praising the decision, I wondered where the outliers were. Commendably progressive as it is that homophobia is unwelcome in Hub politics, it dawned on me that an utterly offensive and ignorant candidate could draw some real attention to the big race. For example, if Massachusetts Family Institute founder Kris Mineau had thrown his hate into the ring, the anti-gay crusader would have surely made some major post-DOMA headlines, while giving his opponents someone hideous to pounce on.

There may be hope, though. Mayoral candidates in Boston run with no party affiliation, but there is one Republican contestant. Roxbury resident David James Wyatt says he’s “100 percent” pro-life, and, according to the Dorchester Reporter, gave a “rambling” speech to the Greater Boston Labor Council Friday night. Wyatt, who lost in a 2007 bid for city councilor-at-large, could be a reliable kook. As court documents show, he’s been carrying on for years. Back in the ’90s, Wyatt was fired from his job as a Boston public school teacher for “inefficiency, incapacity, incompetency, and other just cause.” He fought the decision for years, but was denied at every turn, with one U.S. Court of Appeals judge writing that his complaints contained “a rambling, detailed, and often confusing account of the events which led up to [his] dismissal.”

It would be uncharacteristically captivating of this race if Wyatt were to spice things up. Short of that, it’s up to the other 11 relatively normal pols to throw a wrench in this monotony. They’ll all have a chance to pitch legitimate proposals on everything from schools to transit. But for now, to separate themselves from the pack, what’s needed are eye-catching aberrations. Perhaps one candidate can take a page out of the Cosmo Kramer playbook and recommend for everyone in Boston to wear nametags. Or how about putting a bar car on the Red and Orange lines to pay for late-night train service? Ideas like this, ridiculous as they might be, would attract popular interest. I’m also waiting for somebody to come up with a frugal solution for how they might change the innumerable plaques that list “Thomas M. Menino” as mayor. The first person to untangle that mystery will probably get my vote.

On Monday, Boston Globe political ace Andrew Ryan restarted the election with a feature titled, “Next mayor may usher in new era for Boston.” It was a nice way of reminding people that, now that the Senate race they didn’t pay attention to is over, there’s another incredibly important contest to ignore. It’s an ambitious piece, with Ryan going so far as to note coming opportunities to discuss things like “the growing gap between rich and poor,” plus to “debate methods for inoculating Boston against rising seas and climate change, and argue about how to fix the intractable woes of the urban schools.” That sounds like a terrific plan; but with a dozen wannabes still kicking, even residents who are paying attention will continue having trouble distinguishing between candidates, who, in the case of financial frontrunners Dan Conley and John Connolly, even have similar surnames. Of course, that wouldn’t be a problem if we all had to wear nametags.

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.