Politics as Unusual: For voters of color, an endgame or just photo ops?

October 22, 2013
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It’s hard to know what to make of our two Irish mayoral candidates and their heroic, if not clumsy, attempts to captivate voters of color. I’ve asked black, Latino and Cape Verdean friends about this, and, as expected, they offered nothing close to a uniform answer. Some are in the tank for Connolly, convinced he’s the right choice for the nightlife scene; those who work in the trades and at City Hall ride for Walsh, or have yet to recover from a primary in which they invested much time and heart into a losing John Barros or Felix G. Arroyo.

As a whole, though, the residents I asked were stunned at the attention their communities have gotten since the preliminary. As one old acquaintance noted at a Walsh rally on Washington Street two weeks ago, this many white people haven’t visited the Dudley Square area at one time since the Ferdinand building was a furniture store.

It’s easy to mock Walsh and Connolly for their seemingly sudden interest in Roxbury and Mattapan. Though both have prior experience on the city’s rougher edges—Walsh as a state rep for a diverse swath of Dorchester, Connolly as an at-large councilor for all corners of Boston—it’s hard to deny that the race before us has jumped the cultural shark. It’s not every day you get to see a pasty state legislator rap on an unlicensed Caribbean radio station, meet with minority business owners, and greet voters at the Chez Vous skating rink—all of which Walsh did in the span of two days this past week. The same goes for Connolly’s vying for Caucasian of the Year honors; the West Roxbury candidate has recently been bouncing between house parties in Roxbury, and on Sunday tweeted a pic of himself hanging with local activist Reinalda “Chickie” Rivera in Jamaica Plain. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them entered a rap battle at Hibernian Hall in an attempt to shore up some of the younger voters in the Dudley area. Wouldn’t that be a treat?

Then there’s the endless queue of endorsements from recognizable, and in many cases honorable, Bostonians of color. Connolly has a few, from a group of megalomaniacal reverends like William Dickerson and Miniard Culpepper, to the Bay State Banner, one of the region’s few black-owned publications. Walsh apparently has an even wider base, including the three top non-white vote-getters in the mayoral preliminary—Arroyo, Barros and former state Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie—and an overwhelming number of elected officials from Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury. If this really were a contest strictly to determine which mayoral hopeful has more African-American friends, then Walsh would be a shoo-in. Those communities were reluctant to coalesce around a single candidate of color in the prelim, but they’ve been quick to flank the representative in numbers.

Of course, the troubled neighborhoods where Walsh and Connolly have been creeping around every corner need more than just political attention. They need serious and prolonged consideration, not just the kind that comes around for photo ops once every four years. The systems, solutions and government services required to continue fostering sociocultural improvements from Maverick Square to Grove Hall are endless, and they’re sure as heck not limited to school issues.

Both candidates know this—each is skilled in his own way of convincing that his plans for curbing crime trump those of the current administration, that he’ll better integrate City departments, and so forth. In measuring the weight of this or that endorsement thus far, it’s important to consider which group of marquee supporters of color are better suited to carry out those ideas, and on the flip side, to discount the grandstanding of ministers whose primary concerns in elections have historically been to pick candidates who will prove friendly to their narrow parish interests.

It’s good news that Walsh and Connolly have been posing with black children and leaders every chance they get, but unless there is an actual endgame to follow the election, then posing is just about all they’re doing.

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

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