Charlotte Golar Richie Still Doesn’t Have a Message

Her campaign is sorely missing a sharply honed message, and it could mean trouble for the mayoral candidate.

Before unleashing my assault on her feckless fizzle of a speech, let me say that I thought Charlotte Golar Richie’s campaign rally Wednesday night was quite good. She filled Hibernian Hall with some 300 people by my estimate, with a good mix of supporters and interested uncommitteds as best as I could tell. The energy and vibe were quite good. The speakers were mostly a good mix with more or less the right message. I suspect the event accomplished its goals, which I assume were the injection of energy and conversion of volunteers for the next phase of the campaign.

But I was mostly there in hopes of hearing a sharply honed message of the type that has been sorely missing from her campaign. That, I didn’t get. There were a few good bits, but they seemed lost within long stretches of useless, impersonal, immediately forgettable pablum, chunked into predictable sections (biography, economy, education, public safety), and 90 percent of which could come out of the mouth of any other candidate. She read it gamely but unconvincingly off a printout from the podium.

And then afterward, when I asked her what one takeaway message she wanted voters to get from the speech, she said this: “That Charlotte is in this campaign, and that she’s in this race to win it.” That’s not a takeaway message; that’s a plea from a dying candidate.

Here’s my personal suggestion of the message she should be trying to get across every time she opens her mouth during this campaign:

As a long-time resident, mother, and active leader in this city, I understand the ways our city is coming up short of its potential. In my decades-long career I have tackled those exact issues and achieved progress. And so, if you make me mayor, I will get the job done.

Bits and pieces of that message were scattered in her speech, just as they occasionally drop from her mouth with great effect in forums and interviews. The pieces are there, but weakly, sporadically, and disconnected. She doesn’t need soaring rhetoric or laundry lists of proposals; she needs one of those professional résumé editors to show her that she’s failing to effectively convey her qualifications.

First, on the I understand part. She needs a little lesson in “show, don’t tell.” She says things like “I’ve learned that … we need to provide people with a first chance and sometimes a second chance”; “I experienced the difficulty in navigating through the [school] bureaucracy”; “I’ve seen the talents and resilience of people from all backgrounds, working to overcome the challenges they face”; “Sadly, I’ve heard too many gunshots”‘; “These young people identified the challenges that they faced”; and so on—without an actual, specific story that lets an audience know that she actually does understand them. For crying out loud, John Connolly’s kid is only like five years old, and he’s got a killer stump story about trying to get her into a good BPS school.

Second, the I have tackled part. When she does this, it’s great. She just doesn’t do enough of it, and doesn’t hammer away at the critical message that this is what uniquely connects her from the “I understand” to the “I’ll get it done.” Here’s the best part of her speech, by far:

I am the only candidate who has run a city agency, who has balanced a $100 million budget, managed 200 employees, while delivering programs and services citywide, many of which my team and I initiated. I am in this race for mayor because I love this city, have a long history in this city, have raised my children in this city, have helped to build this city—and I am uniquely qualified and absolutely ready to lead this city.

Richie delivered that italicized (by me) phrase with sharp emphasis, and got big applause. Personally, since I’m kind of an ass, I would have added somewhere in there a line to the effect of “When we talk about housing, job creation, economic development, and neighborhood improvement, I haven’t just listened to people talk about it in a city council hearing, or cast a vote on it along with 199 other legislators, I was put in charge, and I did it.

She doesn’t focus sharply enough on that message (which is a far better takeaway than “I’m actually running, and given my preference would like to win” don’t you think?), and she has the weak resume-writer’s problem of tempering her accomplishments. Too much “I championed … I worked to … we brought attention …” instead of “I did.”

Which brings us to part three, I will get the job done. It’s declarative. This is an executive position, the executive position. To quote Yoda: mayors “do or do not. There is no try.” City councilors try. State reps try. Mayors do. (And if it’s something that the mayor will need other people to do, like a police commissioner or whoever, the mayor says that they will do it, “or they will be on the next train out of Boston with the imprint of my shoe on their backside.”)

Here are some examples from Wednesday night’s speech of Richie failing the Yoda maxim: “My administration will use all of the tools at its disposal to …”;  “I will use the office as a bully pulpit to …”;  “I will seek to …”; “I will work to…”; “I will work with ___ to …”; “I will push for …”;  “I want to make sure that …”; “I want us to …”; “I will seek an …”; “to hopefully avoid …”; “These strategies and others will help improve …”.

Again, the problem isn’t that Richie lacks moving rhetoric or magnetic charisma. (Lord knows Tom Menino doesn’t have either at his disposal.)

What she lacks is a message. A coherent, well-expressed message that gives people confidence that she knows what the the next mayor needs to do and is capable of doing it. I still believe that if she finds that message, she is quite likely to be the next mayor of Boston. But she hasn’t found it yet.