Observations on Unexciting Massachusetts Elections, Redistricting

I woke up this morning excited to make my way to the voting booth and vote for — oh, forget it. The only practical difference between an off-year election in Cuba and in Boston is the turnout. This year, if you wanted to voice anything other than Dear Leader-esque adulation of city government, your choices were to vote for Michael Flaherty, who plays a role that at times feels like the approved “opposition” candidate in elections in Iran, or to simply enjoy the glorious day and hope that turnout falls into the single digits and prompts the President to call for a bombing campaign. At best, this was your chance to vote for anyone who wasn’t a white dude with an Irish name, and if you wanted to use all four votes, you had to pick at least one.

Meanwhile, in five out of nine districts, you got to choose between the incumbent or your favorite Disney character. Not that I personally have anything against my councilor, Sal LaMattina, who has by all measures acquitted himself honorably and capably. Nor do I blame anyone for failing to decide to run against him. Given the structure of our government, winning a seat on the city council is like winning a beauty pageant whose prize is a lifetime supply of Gold Bond medicated powder. It’s hardly the best-paying job in City Hall, and one of the few there’s a real risk of getting fired from. Most of the job consists mostly of attending interminable meetings full of blowhards signifying nothing and answering phone calls from crank constituents. So the only people you’re likely to get running for this are narcissists who live to see their name in print, or naive do-gooders who actually believe in the whole enterprise. Figuring out who is who on this year’s ballot is an exercise left to the reader.

All of this comes, appropriately perhaps, on the day following the announcement of our downsized congressional map. While it will take another year to know whether the radically redrawn map has any practical effect besides shoving Amherst Rep. John Olver out on an ice floe, it’s telling that the most powerful force for political change in Massachusetts over the past 20 years has been none other than Texas, which since 1990 has gained six seats while Massachusetts has lost two.