Political campaigns today are supposed to be super-high-tech, and ideologically divisive. They're about social networking, and micro-targeted messaging; riling voters up over wedge issues, and using outlandish material for "money bomb" fundraising. And, in a place like Boston, political campaigns are supposed to tap into the "New Bostonians" rather than the old tribal divisions.
You can throw all of that out the door when it comes to the race for the Hub's one open city council seat. The Dorchester district that Maureen Feeney has represented since 1993 is now perhaps the most diverse in the city — and of all the council districts, its percentages of white, black, Asian, and Hispanic residents most closely reflects Boston as a whole.
But choosing her replacement will be a matter of who shook the most hands, who knocked on the most doors — and, to be perfectly honest, who has the biggest neighborhood network of family and friends.
The preliminary election on September 27 will narrow the field of candidates from seven to two. So far, political issues have barely even been raised as campaign topics, according to close observers of the race. The one mildly hot topic has been school busing, which many residents want to see curtailed, but the candidates are not far apart on the issue. The candidates' respective followings on Twitter and Facebook are negligible. There have been no online money bombs.
The fact is, none of that would likely matter in this race. A small number of voters — probably between 5000 and 8000 of more than 36,000 registered voters — will take part in the preliminary, and most of them will hail from a few specific neighborhoods. Many will have some direct connection to one of the candidates, and will be voting because they were reminded that the person they know is on the ballot.
It's almost, one campaign insider says, more like a school election than a political race.
THREE FOR TWO?
Three candidates are expected to win the bulk of the votes. Two live in the southern, Neponset/Cedar Grove portion of the district — the West Roxbury of Dorchester, you might say. John O'Toole has connections earned from 14 years heading the Cedar Grove Civic Association, while Craig Galvin has been a real-estate agent and neighborhood activist.
The third in the top tier is Frank Baker, of Savin Hill, where he has been vice-president of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association. All three have been active, covering everything from coaching youth sports to union membership.
So, it's almost this simple: O'Toole and Galvin will split the Neponset side of the district, allowing Baker to move to the final with his Savin Hill votes. But in the general election, Neponset trumps Savin Hill. End of story, many think.
There's more to it, of course. For one thing, there's an establishment/anti-establishment dynamic shaping up. O'Toole has Feeney's endorsement, and although Mayor Tom Menino is officially neutral in the race, his choice is pretty clear — his 2009 campaign manager is running O'Toole's campaign.