Murphy’s big tent

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 17, 2007

Then in 2004, the bizarre happened: conservative, white, Irish Murphy lost an election for a law-and-order office — Suffolk County Sheriff — to a black woman. That would be enough to teach him that the city’s political dynamics had changed. But Murphy lost specifically because virtually every prominent African-American, gay-rights, Latino, and liberal leader in the city actively backed then–acting sheriff Andrea Cabral — even though she had become a Republican to get the appointment from then-governor Jane Swift, while Murphy had been passed over for refusing to leave the Democratic Party.

Rather than spiting the new Bostonians who had rejected him, Murphy seems to have learned that he needs them, and began the shift that will culminate with Patrick’s blessing later this month.

Shifting gears
Murphy will never be the first choice of as many voters as his rivals Felix Arroyo, Sam Yoon, or Michael Flaherty. But at-large voters get to choose up to four candidates. And for the past decade, Murphy — often perceived as a second- or third-choice candidate — has managed to win enough ballots to finish in the top four, which is good enough to win re-election.

“Murphy is the master of the third vote,” says one person active in the at-large campaign.

Those third votes are increasingly to be found on the ballots of the city’s growing minority and progressive voters, and boarding the Patrick train early was a perfect maneuver to secure them. Not only did Murphy pile up valuable chits with the eventual governor, he got to build relationships with others working for the Patrick campaign, including many in Boston’s African-American community. “People who didn’t know me personally,” notes Murphy, “had an opportunity to work with me toward a common goal.”

Murphy also took on the fight for reform of the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system, through which the state collects and distributes criminal histories. CORI reform, which aims to make it easier for ex-convicts to get jobs and housing, is not a favorite goal of the conservative law-and-order crowd, but remains important to many in Boston’s minority community. Murphy has also gotten credit for fighting to save the state Shannon Grants for community policing.

He got a small political payoff as early as 2005 — just a year after the Cabral showdown — when he outpolled fifth-place finisher John Connolly throughout the city’s minority precincts on his way to re-election. With Patrick in his corner, Murphy should do even better this year.

But he is not the only one who realizes the importance of those minority votes. Flaherty and Connolly are also actively seeking them. Connolly has been endorsed by state senator Dianne Wilkerson, while Flaherty has received an endorsement from ¿Oiste?, the Latin American advocacy group. 

The willingness of some minority leaders to endorse Murphy, Flaherty, or Connolly instead of, or in addition to, Arroyo and Yoon, has surprised some local observers. But Boston is, at heart, a nuts-and-bolts town, and pragmatism has a certain realistic appeal that, in the long run, may wear better than ideology.

(In addition to minorities, Boston’s liberals are also not limiting themselves to Arroyo and Yoon — progressive stalwart Marty Walz, representative of the Back Bay, for instance, tells the Phoenix she is endorsing only Murphy, and several of the city’s lefty officeholders are expected to attend Patrick’s Murphy fundraiser.)

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