Politics as Unusual: On election eve, a robust refresher on the race thus far

September 17, 2013
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As a master rhetorical chef at the baloney buffet that is our 2013 mayoral race, I’m officially lost in the kitchen. After writing two-dozen columns on the contest and attending more than that many forums—and in the process waxing on everything from real estate and transportation to petty ward minutiae—it seems ridiculous to forge ahead with another arcane screed, as I’ve been especially unnerved by recent polls revealing just how little most folks even care.

If you haven’t paid attention until now, it’s doubtful that any recent headlines alone will sway you. State Rep. Marty Walsh and District Councilor Rob Consalvo think some parts of Boston need more parking—big deal. Someone went around Charlestown defacing signs for Councilor-At-Large John Connolly—no surprise there. So instead of conjuring some fresh angle to seize on, with the preliminary looming, I thought the most valuable service I could offer is to trace back through the sweat and beers I’ve poured into this race.

The first “Politics as Unusual” ran on March 29, the day after Mayor Tom Menino announced that he would not seek reelection. I took that opportunity to alert Bostonians to the prospect of some corporate titan or another trying to become king; while I’m happy that the plutocrats stayed on the sidelines, it’s nevertheless true that some candidates have feasted on their poisonous fruit. So after watching the pack pander and panhandle for a few months, in June I took a hard look at the benefactors filling up their war chests.

Writing in the Gazette and primarily for the proudly progressive people of Jamaica Plain, early on I tried to help push the far-left into action. Following the marathon bombing, I warned that Boston should beware of grandstanding authoritarians would might be quick to call for a police state. In another installment, I recommended that advocates for honorable causes like public housing team up to exert maximum muscle, while as early as April I predicted what we’d all find out for sure months later—that there would be little consensus or rallying around a single candidate of color.

In search of deep insights, I spent hours walking neighborhoods and poring over old election returns. We’ll see what happens next Tuesday, but my analysis essentially led to three main conclusions: you’d be crazy to count out Hyde Park and its resident Councilor Consalvo; Dorchester has a unique race of its own underway among Walsh, former state Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie, and community advocates Bill Walczak and John Barros; Boston may be a blue mecca, but conservative voters still have influence, which sucks for anyone who fears the rise of District Attorney Dan Conley.

Long before the Herald threw its back out endorsing the DA, I teed off on him several times, most virally in a piece titled “Conley’s troubling record of clearing cops who kill minorities,” which is all true, like it or not. I’ve also paid close attention to a handful of others, including Mike Ross, who is the standout visionary of the bunch; Barros, whose vast potential I acknowledged prior to his candidacy catching fire and a Globe endorsement; and Felix G. Arroyo, who I believe would serve the poor and working classes better than most if not all of his rivals.

There were issues I addressed because other writers dropped the ball. Though some candidates like underdog radio yapper Charles Clemons began touching on our city’s insufficient payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program in the final stretch, I begged them all back in July to consider how much colleges and nonprofits ought to pay in spite of their exemptions. Anomalously, I also educated readers on the surprisingly impressive breadth of Mayor Tom Menino’s tech legacy, and explained how dangerous it is to deride Hizzoner as a Luddite for cheap laughs.

Somewhat regrettably, I wasted too much time hounding residents to pay more attention, prodding campaigns to imagine new and unconventional strategies, and lambasting the television media for being more negligent than usual. In retrospect, I should have realized that only so-called super-voters really care, that strategists would stick to sweet simplicity, and that TV news producers mostly reside in the suburbs, and don’t give much of a damn about metropolitan progress.

What I don’t regret so much are all the kicks and jabs I gave the candidates, mostly in good humor. With few exceptions, this is a lovable lineup, which is why I broke down what it might be like to cheers beers with them, and gave the group a heads-up for how they might prepare for important upcoming forums. On the other hand, I wasn’t really joking when I mocked their stump speeches and insulted their nonstop dissemination of media and literature; though I’ve tried to ignore such collateral annoyances, both remain incredibly irksome.

All of which brings me to my main bone of contention, and the reason I’m so bitter. It’s not merely that so few people are attending to the race, but rather that a significant number of those who are watching believe Connolly is the savior that our public schools need. I’m not so arrogant to think that more than a fraction of the people who read the Globe editorial page—which endorsed Connolly, along with Barros, this morning—have seen my arguments against the councilor’s troubling embrace of corporate ed reformers linked to the depraved likes of Walmart and Bain Capital. But after the overdue hubbub around Stand For Children backing Connolly, it would have been nice if people generally stopped referring to the one-time charter school teacher as the future “education mayor.”

Personal crusades and criticisms aside, my favorite moments on the trail have involved appreciating the wide range of promising hopefuls that Boston voters have to choose from. Forget a phenomenal credit rating—these men and woman are the finest testament we have to how strong this city is. In sharing those sentiments, I’m proud of two pieces in particular: one in which I dreamt up possible mayoral tag teams, and another stressing how every one of the candidates might contribute to the next administration, regardless of who wins.

Of course, neither of those columns will be much help to voters who have yet to choose their horse. In order to make that kind of decision, it’s probably best to go back and read from the beginning.

A former Boston Phoenix staff writer, Chris Faraone is now contributing editor at DigBoston.

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