Media need to do heavy lifting in Boston mayoral race

When the Boston marathon was bombed, we all shared the grief and noted that “We are Boston.”  So, too, when the capital city selects a new mayor, the people of Greater Boston, not just its voting residents, have a stake in who succeeds 20-year incumbent Tom Menino. As John Nucci observed in the Boston Herald, what the mayor does with transportation, tax policy, development, housing, tourism, public works and more, all have implications for those living outside Boston.  So, as the field begins to winnow – this week from 24 who took out papers to 16 who filed them – we should keep a sharp eye on who is best capable of leading the Hub and get involved.

The field will shrink still further with the certification of signatures on nominating papers, but, in the end, we could still see a field of twelve, which may mean it wouldn’t take that many votes in the September preliminary to secure a final berth in November.  But it will take organization, voter identification, and a machine to get those folks to the polls.  Media analysis can be expected to focus simplistically on the horse race mechanics, comparing fundraising results, polls (which at this point may only measure name recognition) and how many endorsements and volunteers they line up. But they need to do much more.

Already we see commentary trying to handicap the candidates according to limited  race/ethnic metrics: the white Irish males,  state Representative Martin J. Walsh, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, and Councilor at Large John R. Connolly. The other white males, Rob Consalvo, Mike Ross, Bill Walczak.  The minority candidates: Felix Arroyo, John Barros, Charlotte Golar-Richie plus William Dorcena and others.

I’d much prefer they do a better job of reporting on issues, and not just superficially. What are candidates’ different policy priorities, their managerial and communication skills,  and especially their demonstrated and potential capacities for leadership.

Menino has described himself as “just Tom Menino from Hyde Park,” an urban mechanic: getting the potholes fixed, doing the nuts and bolts of the job. He called himself the education mayor, with notable successes and also some failures, especially when it came to the teachers union and lengthening the school day.  While he has been faulted for his thin skin, he has had the courage to stand up for what he believed in, whether it was gay rights, a better police or firefighters contract, getting Downtown Crossing rebuilt, became a national advocate on gun safety, creating the Innovation District, and so much more.  When he strode in to give his last State of the City address,  or leaving his hospital room to take the helm of the city in the wake of the Marathon bombings, he exuded confidence, backbone and, no doubt about it,  leadership.

Which of the candidates are leaders?  Menino wasn’t as assured when he became the city’s chief executive 20 years ago. So, which candidate has the potential to grow into that all-important head of the Hub city, the mayor who affects lives well beyond the city’s boundaries?  Let’s hope that those covering the race will do some heavier lifting this time and provide us with real insights into who these characters are, whom they rely on for advice, how they respond to crises, and to what extent they have significant potential for growth. The stakes are high, and we all have skin in the game.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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