The election of a new mayor of Boston has shaped up into a battle royal. Before Menino was mayor, there was Mayor Raymond Flynn. Menino’s predecessor won a hard-fought campaign against black candidate U.S. Rep. Melvin H. King in 1983. No stranger to politics, King’s near win came in a time of racial division and tension. An academic and a pioneer for the black community in Boston, King lacked a sufficient percentage of white voters to overcome the racial barrier. Turmoil has lessened since the early ‘80s, but non-white political hopefuls still face difficulties winning campaigns.
There are twenty-four candidates that have filed their nomination papers—yet it seems most are candles in the wind. Strong competitors include Representative Martin “Marty” Walsh (D-MA), councilors Rob Consalvo, Mike Ross, Felix Arroyo, and John R. Connolly, and former state representative Charlotte Golar Richie.
Race and heritage can be a cornerstone or small push for some political candidates.
For Charlotte Golar Richie, being the only black woman in a field of men can give her a strong shot at making it past the preliminary. Having worked closely with Governor Patrick and Mayor Menino, Richie may be able to utilize her political savvy to distinguish herself as a contender. Richie told the Boston Globe that she is more focused on promoting economic development, quality education, and public safety. As national vice president of YouthBuild USA, a nonprofit helping 18- to 24-year-olds seeking to attain their high school diplomas and learn valuable job skills, it seems Richie will also look to give young Bostonians the attention they need. Richie went to Rutgers (B.A.), Columbia (M.A.), and Suffolk (M.B.A.).
In an interview on NECN, about her long break from elective politics, Richie said, “I actually don’t think I’ve been taking a break. You know, I live in the same neighborhood where I was as a state rep.” Along with her work with YouthBuild USA, she is also involved with the Roxbury- based nonprofit Higher Ground, which helps connect services and programs to community residents. Richie might be the woman with the reach needed to be the political mind to replace Menino. “I’m back and forth in D.C., and so while I’m not working at the city level or at the state level,” she said, “I’m now working at the federal level as an advocate for these young people, working with members of Congress and their staff.”
Will Dorcena, a social activist and former City Council hopeful, and Charles Clemons, a local radio mogul and former Boston police officer, are two black males running. While both have made a buzz in the media, they lack the war chest to battle out long-time politicians and councilors vying for mayor.
In the Boston Globe, a photo of Councilor Michael Ross is captioned if elected City Councilor Mike Ross would become the first [mayor] of Jewish heritage. According to categorical ranking website BostonMayor2013.com, Councilor Ross has the greatest social media footprint and ranks second in print, TV, and radio outlets. Ranked first is Charlotte Golar Richie.
Councilor Felix Arroyo’s supporters chanted “Si se puede!” – yes we can – at his kick-off event. A Puerto Rican, Arroyo has gained a status of the homegrown candidate (his father, Felix D. Arroyo, served as a councilman from 2003 to 2008 and as the education advisor to Mayor Ray Flynn). Arroyo has fundraised over $100,000, giving him enough money to be considered a competitor. Boston is 18 percent Hispanic, which can help him accrue the votes needed to get him past the preliminary.
Few candidates have a race card to play; almost all are male.
Political power in Boston remains in the hands of white men, whereas Massachusetts as a whole has been more welcoming of diversity. The Massachusetts senators are a white woman and a black man—Elizabeth Warren and William “Mo” Cowan, respectively. Only three Boston City Councilors are black—veteran District 4 Rep. Charles Yancey, District 7 Rep. Tito Jackson, and At-Large Councilor Ayanna Pressley—the first black woman to serve in the history of the Council.
Councilor At-Large Ayanna Pressley was speculated to make a bid for mayor, yet she has issued a statement citing she will seek reelection. For BET.com, she spoke on the difficulty of any election bid. “It’s always more difficult for a woman to raise money than it is for a man,” she said. “People thought I didn’t fit the model of what a candidate in Boston should be.” Breaking the mold might define this coming election.
WBUR stated in 2011, prior to Pressley’s landside reelection campaign for City Council, that “her backers see her going far, running for mayor, even a U.S. Senate seat.”
Elected to Boston City Council in 2009, Pressley earned one of the four At-Large seats, despite being the only woman of the 15 candidates. She formed and chairs the standing Committee on Women & Healthy Communities; is chair of the Arts, Film, Humanities & Tourism Committee and vice chair of the Public Safety Committee; and sits on the City, Neighborhood Services & Veterans Affairs Committee, Economic Development and Planning Committee, Education Committee, Government Operations Committee, Ways and Means Committee and Special Committee on Census and Redistricting.
May 13th marked the deadline for candidates to end speculation and solidify bids for mayor. After announcing a run, a candidate must gather 3,000 signatures from registered voters to be placed on the preliminary ballot. With strong campaigns from nearly a dozen potentials, the final two candidates can be sure to debate issues that include improvement in education, stimulation of the economy, and public safety.
The next mayor must transcend racial lines and give weight to communities that historically have lacked a political voice. According to the Boston Globe, in his first week as mayor, Menino promised to increase funding for the police to reduce violence and increase summer jobs. Increasing police force funding garnered support from conservatives. Increasing summer job opportunities helped him gain favor with liberals, minorities and the youth.
Boston can only try to elect a mayor, regardless of race or gender, attuned to what this city wants and needs. We need a candidate who’s willing to help the children, improve education, and, according to Forbes, boost the slowest-growing metropolitan city in the U.S. of the past 10 years.
– Jonathan Igne-Bianchi