Menino’s hit list

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  November 28, 2007

Of course, Menino might choose not to run for re-election. He could leave to take a position offered by, say, President Hillary Clinton. He could even be beaten at the ballot box, depending on conditions of the city, his health, or perhaps scandal in his administration. “Two years is an eternity in politics,” says one local official, noting how even a popular, powerful politician’s fortunes can eventually change.

But as of this moment, the nearly 20 city political observers and insiders who spoke recently to the Phoenix all agree that Menino intends to run for re-election. The evidence can be found in his recent aggressive fundraising, which, sources say, includes unusual personal calls from the mayor.

Sources also say that Menino’s people — particularly former chief of staff David Passafaro — are warning off anyone who provides aid and comfort to a potential rival. Those who contribute to a rumored mayoral candidate’s campaign committee, or who make introductions at ward committee meetings for a rumored candidate, these sources say, receive a reproachful call from Passafaro.

Fear of angering the city’s boss prevents many potential candidates from running. “You can forget about getting any city services for your constituents for the next 18 months,” says one veteran political insider.

But Menino is not merely a bully. He’s also a shrewd politician who just as often heads off potential rivals by co-opting them — by placing Peter Meade on important boards, or finding partners for Chris Gabrieli’s after-school foundation, for instance — as by scaring them, one former City Hall insider says.

He also runs the city well enough, as even his detractors concede, that no major problem rises to the level at which it causes broad dissatisfaction. Plus, nobody keeps up with Menino’s incredible pace of personal appearances, at events and meetings in every neighborhood in the city.

One big question, then, is: if a serious candidate does dare to take on Menino, will all those who cower and yet grouse about the need for change likewise be daring enough to support that challenger? Given that almost all of the sources for this article would not let their names be used even discussing possible candidates, courage might be in short supply in the city.

Who can do it?
Different observers have quite different ideas about the type of candidate who could emerge as the next mayor of Boston. In part, that’s because a clear picture of today’s Boston has not developed — the city’s demographics, in age, race, class, and ethnicity, have changed significantly since the last truly competitive mayoral race, in 1993.

Nevertheless, political veterans suggest that, to run a successful campaign for mayor, a candidate must have a few things going for him or herself: access to funds, a geographic base of support, a demographic or ideological base of support, and personal charisma.

To pose a credible threat, some say, a candidate probably needs to have at least $750,000 banked by the time the campaign heats up in mid 2009. Menino will have much more than that — he spent close to $1.7 million in a relatively easy re-election campaign in 2005, and sources speculate that he intends to raise more than $2 million this time around.

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