Q&A #4 -- District Races

"Ben" asks in an email:

You've been talking a lot about the at-large Boston City Council races... what about the district seats?  Do any of them seem particularly contested this year?  Does anyone seem vulnerable, or should we expect another lackluster set of races?

Whether they are vulnerable or not, almost all will be re-elected because they are apparently running uncontested.

While there is still time for people to jump in, the only incumbents facing declared challengers thus far are Marc Ciommo, Sal LaMattina, Chuck Turner, and Charles Yancey. 

Ciommo's challenger is Benjamin Ian Narodick, about whom I know nothing. I know almost nothing about LaMattina's challenger, Christian Kulikoski. Yancey's challenger is a street minister, Shaun O. Harrison.

Turner, who is under federal indictment, has several challengers. Three have run before, either in the district or at-large, with no discernable effect on the electorate: Althea Garrison, Roy Owens, and David James Wyatt. The other challenger, Carlos Henriquez, ran against Turner two years ago and got creamed. He may have better luck this time around.

The challengers may all be terrific people, but -- with the possible exception of Henriquez -- none are likely to make the incumbents break a sweat. Meanwhile, five district councilors don't even have that to worry about: Rob Consalvo, Maureen Feeney, Bill Linehan, Michael Ross, and John Tobin.

There are legitimate reasons why so few significant challengers are running. It's very, very difficult to beat an incumbent. Raising money to run -- always tough for a challenger -- figures to be even harder in this economic climate. Running against an incumbent creates a powerful enemy in your home district. The open at-large seats make that race look more tempting.

On the other hand, there are reasons to think that this would be a good year to run. Voters may be in an anti-incumbent mood, due to political scandals and tough budget cuts. And if the mayoral race brings out huge numbers of voters who don't normally vote in city elections, incumbency might not mean as much as it normally does.

That turnout potential should be awfully tempting. Councilors like Ciommo and LaMattina have never run in a large-turnout election, so who knows how they would fare? And what if Sam Yoon catches fire, and brings out a huge surge of voters in november? Maybe a strong South End candidate beats Linehan; maybe a strong Jamaica Plain candidate beats Tobin; maybe a minority candidate beats Feeney. Who knows?

I think it's a shame. Not because I think any of the incumbents particularly deserves to be booted, but because challenged elections are good for the democratic health of a community -- and, more importantly, for political reporters who want stories to cover.

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