Council contortions

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  December 6, 2006

A key committee assignment might, in fact, be a more valuable mayoral launching pad than the presidency — unless Menino steps down mid-term, making the council president acting mayor. But almost nobody at this point is counting on Menino to leave before 2009 — if then. At least, not without a fight. Interestingly, most city-council insiders now expect a large field of mayoral candidates to come forward in 2009 — from both the city council and elsewhere — whether Menino is running or not.

Bully pulpits
Councilors publicly downplay internal rivalries. “There’s a real interest in seeing each other succeed,” says Ross. “But obviously this is a political environment, and the media wants to play up rifts.”

“I’ve never seen this big competition,” Consalvo says. “I wish my colleagues well.”

But if you’re one of the white, vaguely liberal city councilors hoping for a shot at being mayor, you’ve got to think not just about being more popular than the other councilors, but about actually crushing their hopes of running in the first place. Preliminary election politics demand it.

The top two vote-getters in the preliminary go to the general-election ballot. That should require perhaps 25,000 votes, which is what earned state representative James Brett the second slot against Menino in the last multi-candidate race, in 1993. (That race also featured city councilors Rosaria Salerno and Bruce Bolling.)

Two candidates with strong, distinct constituencies could easily reach that bar while Tobin, Consalvo, Ross, and Flaherty split the rest of the vote and fall short. “You could have Jimmy Kelly against a gay guy in the final,” says one close City Hall observer. “So, the person most similar to you is your enemy.”

Almost certainly, say insiders, one of the two top spots will go to a minority candidate — most likely a relatively novice pol with leadership ability who can introduce a breath of fresh air into stale city politics. Sound familiar?

The councilors themselves are keenly aware of how Deval Patrick’s stunning victory has changed the field. They’ve heard the talk of Sam Yoon — an unknown a year ago — as a mayoral possibility, as well as state representative Linda Dorcina Forry, another newcomer. There’s even talk of Sonia Chang-Diaz for mayor in ’09.

Some are trying to position themselves accordingly: Michael Ross, for example, recently moved to Mission Hill and is emphasizing his outsider life story as the son of a Holocaust survivor. Others, like Tobin, are hoping the city will elect one more old-style mayor before changing for good.

As these councilors desperately seek to avoid obsolescence, they may be on the verge of making the council more relevant — and even improving the city. In their ambition to stand out and get attention, councilors may find new ways to get things done.

“Nobody’s standing around,” says one council insider. “I’m seeing more hearings, more ideas being vetted. You can see it.”

Mike Ross’s hearings and reports on youth violence, for example, have been much more honest and interesting than anything coming from the mayor’s office or the police department this year. Sam Yoon might very well succeed with his proposals on tenant bargaining rights, despite the mayor’s opposition. Tobin has come up with a meals-tax bill, which would add more than $10 million to the city’s annual budget, that might succeed where Menino’s has repeatedly failed. And Flaherty is battling to keep Menino’s chief of policy and planning, Michael Keneavy, from replacing ailing Jimmy Kelly as the gatekeeper for South Boston projects, say those who have had business dealings with the city.

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Related: Can Sam Yoon win?, Yoon or Flaherty, For Mayor: Vote Flaherty + Yoon, More more >
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