King, as in mayor

By TOM SHEEHAN  |  July 13, 2009

Or, perhaps, a mayoral campaign. But if King has entered the current race to bring some points home, he has also taken a considerable risk, both personally and as a representative of the city's black community (which, it should be noted, has historically been one of incumbent Kevin White's most supportive voting blocs). For in addition to raising the general level of debate in the campaign, King clearly wants to teach the importance of a unified black vote in city politics. "I think he wants to change the way the black community sees itself in terms of political power," said Kay Gibbs. "The black community has a lot of power, if not the balance of it. If he can mobilize that . . . ."

It's a very big if: at present, from rival camps as well as from his own, there are indications he isn't spending enough time tending to that vote in areas outside his South End base. "I think he's spending too much time in other parts of the city, dealing with marginal elements there," said a long-time supporter not involved in the campaign. "I'm worried that his current people aren't sophisticated enough to sort that out. In the long run, what matters is a strong showing in the black community, and that only comes from knocking on doors."

A strong showing matters for several reasons: King could translate it to a stronger position of advocacy for the community, and he and the newly created Black Political Task Force (in which his long-time friend School Committeeman John O'Bryant is a major actor) might even be able to wring concessions from one of the finalists in exchange for his support. King has declared endorsement by this task force to be critical to his candidacy, even saying that he will drop out if he doesn't get it. Some observers in rival camps feel, however, that he may be banking too much on it, assuming it will translate to real votes, and has not been instead seeking those votes as hard as he should. Asked about King's campaign in Wards 12 and 14, the heart of the black community, an organizer for School Committee President David Finnegan replied bluntly, "There is no campaign, and I don't expect there will be." Asked about King's chances citywide, the Finnegan aide said, "He has the potential to get five or six percent of the vote around the city, a percentage that probably will come totally out of Kevin's column." Assuming this to be true, the Finnegan people are pleased, but not so the supporters of State Senator Timilty, who have reduced their efforts in the black community until after the primary. Timilty, an old ally of King's, tried to dissuade him from running, to no avail. But if King does get that five to six percent, it is also not good news for him: in the 1971 preliminary, Thomas Atkins, a black, drew 12 percent citywide, and bested the mayor by 54 to 40 percent in the black areas.

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