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ON A SHOESTRING The at-large race promises "fireworks," but candidates such as Ayanna Pressley, Michael Flaherty, and Felix G. Arroyo have raised less than previous at-large candidates.

The past few years, Boston has been almost continuously wrapped up in big, attention-getting elections. Last November's statewide election was topped by the hotly contested governor's race. That year had started with the blockbuster special election for US Senate, while 2009 featured Mayor Tom Menino's toughest re-election challenge. And before that, there was the 2008 presidential cycle.


This year, we're getting a breather. We get a municipal election for City Council positions, but not for mayor.

Inevitably, this was going to be a low-key affair. But now it appears that a dearth of candidates and money, and the lack of a citywide preliminary election, will make this election nearly invisible.

Maybe the city is just election-weary, after all those recent campaigns — and special elections to replace councilors John Tobin and Chuck Turner. Certainly the suspense is minimal when 12 of the 13 incumbent city councilors — all but Maureen Feeney of Dorchester — are running for re-election. And raising the money for a campaign is tough in these recessionary times.

Whatever the cause, it appears that only three candidates will take on the four at-large incumbents. Four district races will be contested, including Feeney's open seat, while five district councilors can coast unopposed to re-election.

That hardly means there will be nothing worth watching, though. With former councilor Michael Flaherty running for his old seat, the at-large race is expected to be full of fireworks (or, in one City Hall staffer's words, "a bloodbath").

And the open race to succeed Feeney has drawn seven interesting candidates, from all around the city's most diverse district.

But those candidates, and other interesting challengers like Chinese-American progressive leader Suzanne Lee in District 2, or African-American teacher and Fenway-area community organizer Sheneal Parker in District 7, will have trouble getting any attention in this sleepy election year.

SUPERVOTERS ONLY

A similar situation played out in 2007, for the last non-mayoral city election, when there were also not enough candidates for a citywide preliminary. The result was turnout in November of less than 14 percent of registered voters — half the rate of previous non-mayoral elections.

And that time, candidates at least had the funds to make their own splash. The at-large candidates combined to spend close to $1.5 million. This year, with the economy squeezing potential donors' wallets, the at-large field is unlikely to spend half of that. At the end of May, after significant fundraising events for Flaherty, Felix G. Arroyo, and Ayanna Pressley, the at-large field had a little over $350,000, all together, in their campaign committees.

With little to spend, and a struggle for media coverage, candidates will have to focus their efforts on the rare 30,000 or so "supervoters" who rarely miss elections — finding out which ones support them, and then reminding them as the election nears. "I truly believe that the folks who will win this race are the ones with the best get-out-the-vote operation," Arroyo says.

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