Still, an obituary for Southie's political legacy would be premature. Observers suggest that a few one-time factors have steered potential candidates toward skipping the race. Some are working instead on behalf of others' mayoral campaigns; along with the Flaherty loyalists, Southie has plenty of Menino insiders, like Michael Kinneavy. Others believe that there is no room on the Council for a third white Irish man, along with incumbents Connolly and Stephen Murphy of Hyde Park. (Insiders say that Connolly and Murphy are the most likely beneficiaries of the absence of a South Boston candidate — one predicts that Murphy will "go through Southie like a vacuum, sucking up votes.")
There may be political talent yet in Southie, says Collins. "I'm sure you have not seen the last of South Boston in city politics."
Always bet on black?
Boston's black residents are experiencing the opposite phenomenon: after years without at-large representation, this year they have an abundance of candidates in the race.
It has been 16 years since the council had an African-American at-large rep — Bruce Bolling, who left the council to run for mayor. Although two of the nine district seats have been consistently held by black councilors, the at-large races, in recent election cycles, have not seen any significant black challengers at all.
This year, possible candidates on the September preliminary ballot include Natalie Carithers, Ego Ezedi, Robert Fortes, Tito Jackson, Ayanna Pressley, Jean-Claude Sanon, and Scotland Willis.
"One could view this as a kind of shifting in the city," says Bolling, who is now executive director of MassAlliance, which represents minority contractors. "There's a whole new cadre of elected leadership emerging."
The local enthusiasm over the campaigns of Governor Deval Patrick and President Barack Obama — and local winners like State Representative Linda Dorcena Forry and Sheriff Andrea Cabral — are credited by many for the sudden surge of African-Americans seeking office.
But the Patrick and Obama campaigns also had a deeper political effect here in Boston, in that they brought black Bostonians into the political process. That helped individuals gain invaluable experience in political organization and strategy, which they are now putting to use for City Council candidates.
There is also, some say, an eagerness in the city's African-American community for new, fresh faces to emerge in politics, in the wake of scandals engulfing former state senator Dianne Wilkerson and district councilor Chuck Turner.
|Really rocking the vote|
If Flaherty gets through the preliminary mayoral election to earn a place on the final ballot, South Boston voters would be expected to come to the polls in droves. In such a scenario, “turnout in Southie could easily top 100 percent,” jokes one political veteran, in reference to the old “vote early, vote often” legends of Boston Irish political shenanigans.
The potential flood of black candidates in the fall means that — even if not all end up running, or getting the necessary signatures — there will probably be at least four who are campaigning in November. That means voters could choose an all-black ticket with their four at-large votes.
This has some other candidates and their supporters wondering whether black Bostonians will opt to do that — an occurrence that could make it almost futile for non-black office seekers to seek votes in predominantly black neighborhoods.