The good news is that there are more than a few candidates running for mayor of Boston who are at least as credible as Hizzonah Mayor Menino 20 years ago. The bad news is that sorting them out is so difficult. For me, the differentiating factors in these late summer days are still impressionistic. A series of fragments.
News comes today that John Connolly will turn down an enticing $500,000 donation from Stand for Children, an Oregon-based education advocacy group committed to expanding charter schools. Connolly gets points for rejecting that large intrusion into the race of special interest money. (I recognize my hypocrisy here: I was pleased when candidate Charlotte Golar Richie received significantly smaller support from the national women’s group Emily’s List.) Whether Connolly made that decision on principle or because announcement of the pledge backfired, he made the right decision. He also gets points for bravely having announced he’d run before Mayor Tom Menino announced his intention not to. Connolly is smart and seems a good communicator. Regrettably, he opposes a citywide vote on casinos, along with Mike Ross and Dan Conley.
Another fragment: Bill Walczak’s opposition to casinos. For most of the candidates, the controversy around casinos is whether East Boston should have the sole voice on siting a casino there, or whether the whole city, which would be affected in myriad ways, can weigh in. Walczak said no. Period. Casinos are a sick form of economic development, and Walczak would support a referendum to overturn the law permitting them. That takes courage (critics call it hypocrisy on his part), especially in light of the fact that his employer (Shawmut Construction) builds casinos. On the other hand, Walczak (according to Globie Scot Lehigh) is guilty of “magical thinking” with respect to his wish list of improvements and his “promise-now, figure-out-how-to-pay-later plan.”
Another defining issue for me is preserving the appointed school committee, vesting accountability for education with the mayor, rather than returning to the bad old, political patronage days of an elected committee. Anyone who wants to go in that direction wouldn’t make my first cut. Charles Yancey and Felix Arroyo are in that group.
As for lifting the cap on charter schools, which would broaden educational opportunity, John Barros, Dan Conley, John Connolly, and Bill Walczak are in favor. Felix Arroyo , Mike Ross and Rob Consalvo are opposed. Declining to answer a Globe poll on that issue was Golar Richie, a credible enough candidate but unwilling to take bold stands. She dodged more than half the questions in a Globe poll. (And, on one of her answers, she got it wrong, opposing a citywide casino vote.)
Then there’s the matter of the unions. State Rep. Marty Walsh is widely viewed as labor’s choice. The biggest controversies in Boston over Menino’s tenure have been labor-related: standing up to the firefighters when the city couldn’t afford their contract demands; seeking longer school days from a teachers union wanting more than the city can afford for extending school hours from what are presently among the shortest in the country. Would Walsh be a similar stand-up guy? I don’t know. He does favor lifting the cap on charter schools, opposed by the teachers union. Walsh also broke from his natural constituency when he favored marriage equality as long as a decade ago.
By the way, I’d also like to know the candidates’ positions on BRA dealings with the Red Sox over revised fees for using Fenway’s neighboring streets, a sweetheart deal I wrote about this spring.
These observations don’t encompass all the candidates’ positions on all the issues. They simplify signify the difficulty of sorting out the race at this point. I’d like to see more analysis of the candidates’ decision-making and leadership styles, from those who’ve observed them.
In the end, the preliminary may be determined by which candidate’s friends and neighbors turn out to vote for favorite sons (and one daughter). What it all means may have to wait for the general election in November unless September produces gaffes, surprises or other defining moments.
Lack of time, public attention, and thoughtful reporting could winnow the preliminary to the two who spend their campaign funds most strategically and out-organize the others. That isn’t a high bar. But in a more competitive field than Boston has had in decades, it would be nice if the choice were shaped by more than that.
I welcome your comments in the section below.