Wanted: Kamikaze Candidates

Of course, to feel despair at the prospect of another non-election doesn’t necessarily require you to dislike the mayor, or even think he’s doing a bad job.

The real cause for grief is simply that we haven’t had an actual mayor’s race in two decades. After inheriting the office from the departing Ray Flynn (and winning a subsequent special election), Menino ran for a second term unopposed. Since then he’s faced two somewhat dotty opponents, Peggy Davis-Mullen and Maura Hennigan, agreeing to just one televised debate against each before mercilessly dismantling both and selling the parts for scrap. And that much time spent unchallenged is good for no one.

However well liked the mayor is (and with a pornographic 72 percent approval rating, it’s safe to say he’s fairly well liked), he’s beginning to look like a man who wants to be mayor chiefly because he can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s clearly time for him to stand at a podium and field some adversarial questions about where he intends to take this city. He’ll be maladroit and defensive, perhaps entertainingly so. But while he’ll likely hate it, it’ll have a salubrious effect on the sort of ongoing conversation Boston, like all great cities, needs to keep having with itself, lest it descend into torpor. Such a dialogue helps form an idea of what the city’s capable of, the potential of the mayor’s office, the worth of it, the stakes. It’s the antidote to the notion that the gig is a killing slog that only Tom Menino, the living embodiment of the job as we’ve come to understand it, is able, or even willing, to endure.

Everyone pretty much takes for granted that the undauntable Michael Flaherty will still run, and that the at-large councilor from Southie will probably fare better than Menino’s previous challengers—and all to the good. But without Martin or someone similarly heavy jumping in, the chances of a competition that will attract some real attention are badly diminished. Under the present conditions, having two respectable candidates challenging the mayor is bearbaiting. With one, it’s just a bear eating a dog.

That’s why what’s needed is what I’ll call the Kamikaze Method. Namely, you as a concerned Bostonian take it as your civic responsibility to throw your weight, at least temporarily, behind any reasonably intelligent, articulate candidate in the hopes of ginning up interest and inciting something approximating a debate in this town. Could be Flaherty, could be the guy down the street who pulled papers because he’s outraged about the teachers union’s impeding pilot schools. Doesn’t really matter. Get a bumper sticker. Send out a couple of e-mails. These hopefuls have slim chance of dislodging Menino—but that’s not the point. If the mayor’s compelled even to shield himself from their glancing blows, all the better for the city.

As part of this effort, on behalf of the magazine I’m breaking from past practice and formally endorsing a candidate, Anyone Else, for mayor. It may be my irrational exuberance making a comeback, but I pledge to give play in this column to anyone who has formally entered the race, no matter how much of a longshot. If you’re a candidate (or prospective candidate) looking to mix it up, send an e-mail to jkeohane@bostonmagazine.com. You may ultimately find yourself cut to offal for having the audacity to run, but I’ll go down with you. It’ll be good to see the mayor sweat a bit, and the city will benefit in the bargain. Here’s to a more exciting 2009.