The Mayoral Race Has Been Anticlimactic So Far

Why that's not very surprising.

As the returns came in last night at John Connolly’s election party, there was not much reaction. The crowd in Dudley Square’s Hibernian Hall milled around, sipped beers, and chattered, but even as the early numbers showed their guy cruising into the final election—this thing seemed over with even just 35 percent of precincts reporting—fists stayed un-pumped and cheers stayed un-cheered. Around 9 p.m., I checked my phone and saw that WBZ’s Jon Keller was tweeting that the race was all but decided, with Connolly and Marty Walsh advancing. Twenty minutes later came a tweet from the Globe that District Attorney Dan Conley was conceding to Walsh and Connolly. And yet, Hibernian Hall remained subdued. With word spreading that Connolly would speak in 10 minutes, if there was any buzz in the room, it was thanks solely to the cash bar.

Of course, the main reason for the curbed enthusiasm was that Connolly, the presumed frontrunner for much of the race, ended up finishing with 19,420 votes, some 1,400 behind Walsh. And, as my colleague David Bernstein notes, it also had something to do with his decision to hold the event in Roxbury, not his base homeland in the southwest of the city. When he finally came out on stage to tell his assembled supporters, “I have never been so glad to be in second place,” the place did get loud, but even in that there was a hint of disappointment. Not surprisingly, by the looks of it, the Walsh event over at Venezia in Dorchester was a much more raucous affair.

But there was something appropriate about the anticlimactic mood of the Connolly party. This race had been a six-month sprint from the moment Tom Menino announced that he would not run again, with the field of candidates immediately swelling to two dozen before the signature-gathering process whittled it down to 12. This was our first real, competitive mayor’s election in 20 years, and it was supposed to be a wide open race that would capture the city, bring all sorts of new citizens to the polls, and mark the firm transition to a New Boston, whatever that means. If nothing else, it was going to be close, and it was going to be exciting.

In the end, it wasn’t close, and it wasn’t exciting. With 18.5 and 17.2 percent, Walsh and Connolly finished well ahead of the third finisher, Charlotte Golar Richie, who grabbed 13.8 percent of the vote. For several weeks, the polls showed Walsh and Connolly in the catbird seats—the only mild surprise was that Walsh came in first and Connolly second, not the other way around. And, most disappointingly, the city was not captured. Total turnout was considered low at 112,804. Compare that to 113,338 in the 1993 preliminary election and 169,039 in the 1983 prelim, the last two times there were competitive mayoral elections (those numbers are even more notable, since the city has a much larger population today than it did in the early ’80s and ’90s). At the beginning of the summer, candidates were telling me that they thought it would take 25,000-30,000 votes to advance to the final. Walsh garnered not quite 21,000.

All of that being said, while the race may have been anticlimactic, it was far from a dud. John Barros, the city’s first Cape Verdean candidate for mayor, proved himself a rising star, rocketing up from obscurity to capture the Globe’s endorsement and finish with a very respectable 8.1 percent of the vote. The race also featured the type of respectful discourse and exchange of ideas that civics teachers drool over. And it would be a mistake to pin Walsh and Connolly as traditional old Irish pols. Certainly, for Walsh, the roots are there and he has strong union ties, but he also claims as the proudest moment of his career when he defied his Dorchester base to cast a crucial vote to protect gay marriage. And Connolly, despite being the product of an old Boston political family, has vowed to take on the teachers union. All told, he’s made the clearest argument out of all the candidates for a break from the last 20 years of Menino rule.

With six weeks to go before the final election, there’s plenty of time for Walsh and Connolly to argue out their differences and engage the city. After all, asking residents to study up on 12 candidates, so many of them legitimately qualified to be mayor, was a tall order. A one-on-one showdown ought to capture more attention. So, as we head down the final stretch, here’s hoping the fun is only just starting.