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Boston City Council At-Large: A report from the front lines


Photo from the Boston Globe

I’ll paraphrase an Adam Sandler line to summarize the important lesson to be learned from today’s councilor-at-large election results: If you’ve been running for office for months, you can’t just up and quit on preliminary day. You get out there and you greet those fucking voters.  

I began my survey at Trinity Academy in Hyde Park, where, of all the at-large candidates, only Andrew Kenneally and Felix G. Arroyo had field operatives. From there I drove through Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, the South End, and downtown – surprised at every turn by the noticeable lack of sign holders.

Speaking with people in the outer Boston neighborhoods, I heard two things over and over: most folks had met and liked Arroyo and outsider candidate Doug Bennett, and had received multiple phone solicitations from the latter in recent weeks. At the end of the day those two placed third and seventh, respectively (for the record – I predicted seven of the top eight finishers).

Though I eventually encountered at least one worker for every candidate but Scotland Willis and Bill Trabucco, the overall blacktop effort was pathetic. Kenneally seemed to have guys on the block, but even Pressley – who placed fourth – had little visibility (I didn’t go to South Boston, though, where I hear the lone female candidate deployed substantial forces).

Of course I’m being tough, but it’s no secret that at-large races require a palpable presence – not only on primary and election day, but at every moment leading up to and between them. It’s unlikely that young candidates can feasibly station workers at all 254 precincts, but if you can’t rally enough support to rotate through at least half of them then it’s not worth gathering signatures in the first place.     

“People have four votes,” said Arroyo’s Campaign Manager Patrick Keaney at his post-primary celebration in Jamaica Plain. “I believe that they’ll throw one of them to a candidate if there’s a friendly face at the polling place asking for support.” Arroyo had approximately 90 volunteers manning polls from West Roxbury to Charlestown.

In the next six weeks we can expect to see the eight remaining at-large candidates and their foot soldiers working every Pop Warner game, open studio, and funeral in Boston. But while it’s important to remain in public view, nothing will prove more critical than face time on November 3. From what I saw today, Bennett and Arroyo are especially aware of this.

Incumbents John Connolly and Steve Murphy will likely prevail regardless, but for the other six contenders victory will come from maximizing live resources across the city (note: there was not a single at-large campaigner at Park Street, Kenmore, Back Bay, Copley Square, or Government Center giving rush hour commuters lit for the T ride home).

Lastly -- as the most viewed Bostonian since Larry Bird, Mayor Menino is an exception to this lesson. I’m sure his campaign will dispute this baseless observation, but in my morning and afternoon travels I saw few of his people outside polling stations. Other than some loud gangs of union workers strategically stationed in key areas – the night crew in Roslindale Village was particularly convincing – Hizzoner seemingly arranged for less poll positioning than Flaherty, who got fewer than half as many votes.

As for the results of the mayoral primary – I think my five-year-old niece summarized the race best when she got home from first grade at the Roosevelt in Hyde Park this afternoon. “I’m for Menino,” she declared. “He owns my school.”

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