Ask Me Anything #6: Mayor’s Race, And Race

Let’s take a few about the mayor’s race. “John” asks:

Does the Moran-Michlewitz-Callahan endorsement that was in the Globe today help Charlotte Golar Richie’s credibility? Specifically in non-minority neighborhoods of the city?

Via email,”Richard” asks:

Boston hasn’t had a wide-open mayor’s race since 1983. The city’s demographics have changed radically since then.  How different will the electorate be this year? What will be the most important changes?

And also by email, “Kyle” asks:

Beside education, what issues/policies will define the Mayoral race?

I think these are all related questions because they tinker around the big issues of parochialism, tribalism, and race that have largely defined Boston politics for many years.

The issues, and endorsements/alignments, that define the race will depend largely on which voters are considered crucial to individual candidates’ chances, and that will depend on the city’s much-changed demographics. And the answers might be very different in the preliminary election and the general.

As Richard suggests, this is a very different city than it was in 1983, when Ray Flynn and Mel King got through to the final, or even in 1993 when the process ended with Tom Menino and Jim Brett.

But that’s not just a matter of simple mathematics of race and ethnicity. Today you have black Bostonians who love voting for Menino and white Bostonians thrilled to vote for Ayanna Pressley.

There has also been a significant increase in voter participation among black voters in particular, and to some extent Hispanic and other traditionally lower-turnout groups. To date, that’s been more evident in the state and national elections—buoyed by the presence of Deval Patrick and Barack Obama on the ballots—but there are signs that the organizations and interest levels may be reaching something of a tipping point, as we saw to some extent in Linda Dorcena Forry’s victory in the recent state senate special primary.

What I think we’re going to see a lot of is cross-demographic alliances, and cross-demographic issue positioning—to benefit all players.

We saw that in the Ayanna Pressley-John Connolly alliance in 2011. Connolly got Pressley introduced to a lot of audiences in West Roxbury and Charlestown; Pressley gave Connolly credibility with black and progressive voters that he hopes will redound upon him this year.

Mike Moran and Aaron Michlewitz are young, ambitious pols who will need credibility beyond their white, ethic appearances and enclaves as they move forward in their careers. Aligning with Charlotte Golar Richie is as good for them as it is for her (regardless of the purity of their motives).

This week we saw Marty Walsh trying, a bit ham-handedly, to champion a cause for minorities when he claimed he was challenging the nomination-process rules on their behalf.

But it’s worth noting that, to a very large degree, the racial and ethic voting behaviors still persist. In the 2009 final election for at-large city councilor, the top four finishers in South Boston precincts were Steve Murphy, John Connolly, Andrew Kenneally, and Doug Bennett—basically, anybody white ahead of Felix Arroyo, Ayanna Pressley, Tito Jackson, and Tomas Gonzalez. And over in racially reversed Ward 14, Jackson, Pressley, and Arroyo dominated, while the white candidates scraped for crumbs. We saw it starkly in that Forry victory, where she piled up votes in minority precincts to offset overwhelming victories for Nick Collins in white precincts.

That gets exacerbated when candidates have to target their time and resources, and policy positions wisely—which means aiming for their most “natural” voting constituents.

That’s very likely to happen in the preliminary round of this mayoral race. Candidates, no matter how well-intentioned, are going to look at how to put together the number of votes they need to get through to the final. Dan Conley, for example, might be thinking that way as he jettisons any possible East Boston support by championing a city-wide vote on the proposed Eastie casino—a stance that might win him plaudits in Hyde Park and Roslindale, and among anti-casino progressives.

I think this will become clearer and clearer in the coming months. As some candidates abandon hope of winning over labor, they will take stronger anti-union positions; others will do the opposite. Whereas now they’re mostly staying mute about, for instance, the union-member fire department district chiefs voting no confidence in their chief, and about Carol Johnson’s departure as school superintendent.

Education, neighborhood development, public safety, labor relations … these are all issues where positions, language, and even who you are seen with come across very differently with different constituencies. My guess is that increasingly over the summer they’ll start talking in ways that help them among a narrow band that they need to get to their magic number in the prelim—while trying not to box themselves in too much in case they get through and need to suddenly seek votes all over the city.

Read more from today’s Ask Me Anything or submit your question.