And his problems went beyond the ballot box. Four years ago, Candidate McCrea's blog — at electkevin.blogspot.com — was titled "The BIG Campaign" (emphasis his). He also referred to his South End home as "The BIG House" (ditto), and invited the press to his September wedding ("It is sure to be a memorable occasion, full of surprises!").
Collectively, such tics created a portrait of the candidate as an egotist/exhibitionist — an impression bolstered by a Globe profile that revealed, among other things, that a toilet seat in McCrea's home is illuminated by a Chinese character signifying "big."
Then there was the blog entry McCrea posted on November 30, 2005 — from New Orleans, where he'd gone to build homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — which made you wonder if his campaign had actually been a form of therapy. "A couple mornings ago in New Orleans I woke up and just decided to not let my anger and cynicism get to me," wrote McCrea. "I will be happy! I'm really so lucky. To go from suicidal childhood with abusive alcoholic father, to being happily married to a wonderful woman, having a killer stereo, a motorcycle and a place of my own who am I to ask for more [sic]."
McCrea 2.0 is different. You won't find the word "BIG" on his Web site or his campaign literature. He wears a suit and tie. There's more emphasis on his business background — he's co-founder and owner of Boston's Wabash Construction — and less on his idiosyncratic tastes. He's no longer driving a motorcycle to campaign events. And his overall self-presentation is muted, even guarded.
"I learned a lot," McCrea tells the Phoenix. "I made — I won't call them mistakes, because it was all honest stuff. You're trying to get a name across the city, so if the Globe calls you up and says they want to do a big picture of you with your motorcycle. . . .
"It's my fault," he continues. "I take full responsibility. But I was running a serious campaign with serious issues: I was talking about the BRA, talking about revenue, talking about transparency. And you want to talk about the interior of my house?"
McCrea's makeover has been substantive as well. In March 2006, in response to a suit filed by McCrea and two other plaintiffs — Shirley Kressel, the head of the Alliance of Boston Neighborhoods, and Kathleen Devine — a Suffolk Superior Court judge ruled that the City Council had violated the state's open-meeting law a whopping 11 times over two years. (Ten of the illegal meetings dealt with the pending re-approval of the Boston Redevelopment Authority's urban-renewal powers; another, in January 2005, involved the then-undisclosed outbreak of the animal-borne disease tularemia at a Boston University laboratory in 2004.)
On its own, McCrea's courtroom win would have been a nice addition to his thin political résumé, which also includes membership on the Ward 9 Democratic Committee. But with transparency poised to become the issue in the mayor's race, it makes him look prescient — and positions him to make life difficult for his rivals.