Politics as Unusual: The old school, not New Boston, will decide this race

October 11, 2013
By

For Bostonians who have been monitoring our race for mayor, the grind and bustle couldn’t possibly pump at a faster pace. One minute, everyone from columnists to online commenters are hammering the candidates about union pay raises and arbitration dilemmas. A day later, the same horde seemingly forgets there’s an election underway, gets wildly distracted, and piles on a proselytizing political reverend for not voting himself—as if it’s a revelation that a preacher needs an enema.

But for ordinary people in this city—ones who keep up on a modicum of news, maybe occasionally tune into NPR and pull for big-name politicians in marquee national elections—it’s impossible to keep tabs on all facets of the current clash, superficial or critical as they may be. Rather, the majority of Hub voters will likely latch onto a single real or perceived notion—John Connolly is the new Horace Mann, Marty Walsh is a modern Eugene Debs—and psych themselves into a reluctant supporting stance.

Neither of those factions—not the newspaper pundits and radio wonks who attempt to guide the largely apathetic masses, nor the fair-weather voters—will have much sway over the fate of City Hall. As demonstrated by the lack of minority voting activity ironically cited by the aforementioned reverend, and by the enduring hyperactivity at polls in historically reliable turnout oases like West Roxbury and Dorchester, Boston remains a provincial stronghold for those who can best wrangle the select diehards who will make it to the polls in a blizzard. Nouveau Bostonians in Back Bay and the North End can throw their cutesy potluck dinners and persuade Globe reporters to gush over their mom-posse’s get-out-the-vote efforts, but the real power remains with older, working-class white people and Hub natives in general. At least for the time being.

In the decade I’ve been living here, I have secretly abhorred Boston’s stereotypical super-voters. They’re the shamelessly selfish jackasses I meet at block parties and bars outside of downtown—friendly enough, but when it comes to local politics, overly concerned about what favors particular candidates can or have done for their close friends and family members. If I earned a nickel for every one of my Hyde Park acquaintances who gauges pols based solely on their own city employment prospects, I’d bank more than Mayor Tom Menino’s son did working for Suffolk Construction.

Ideally, in choosing their next councilor or mayor, folks would consider what’s best for the entire Boston community—not just their blocks, themselves and their loved ones. In some cases, I know that it’s impossible to think objectively—for example, if you have a child in BPS and have rationalized his or her charter experience despite the clear strain that such programs exert on the larger public school infrastructure. Still, it’s disparaging to think that our electorate is so greedy, so deeply unconcerned about what happens outside of their immediate enclaves.

Nevertheless, in the past few months—and especially since fewer than one out of every six residents participated in the preliminary election—I’ve come to accept the fact that Boston still belongs to those steeped in the outer throws. More so, I’ve learned to admire hardcore voters nearly as much as I deplore those who skirt their civic duties altogether. So long as they’re the ones propping viable candidates, holding signs at rotaries and prodding people at the polls, then said municipal boosters deserve to pick our next king. That may be Walsh, as his blue-collar battalion has already proved its street team credentials. Or it could be Connolly, who has an army of his own ready to ride on Election Day. Whoever it is, they’ll prevail not on the strength of some newfangled demographic mathematics, but thanks to the same unrepresentative forces that have rigged races around here for decades. Amen!

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