Holding his punches

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 21, 2009

Flaherty needs to change those allegiances — and believes he can.

“Menino’s support in the African-American community is overstated,” says Jim Spencer, a former consultant for Yoon who is now in the Flaherty camp. “Sam and Michael together have made substantial inroads there in the past few weeks.”

But skeptics note that, in the September preliminary election, some of Menino’s best results were in predominantly black neighborhoods. In Dorchester’s Ward 14, which includes Grove Hall and Franklin Field, Menino dominated with 72 percent of the vote; he took 65 percent in Roxbury’s Ward 12.

Not only were Menino’s numbers high, but Flaherty’s were embarrassingly low — just eight percent in each of those wards, and not much better in other minority heavy areas.

If past is prologue, Boston’s black voters will be much more of a presence on November 3 than they were in the preliminary. Several political observers predict that Menino will rack up huge numbers of votes among blacks, which will provide an unbeatable firewall against any Flaherty gains.

Flaherty strategically targeting that advantage. Among other efforts, last week, Flaherty announced the endorsements of former mayor Ray Flynn and former state representative Mel King, who opposed each other in Boston’s 1983 mayoral race.

That joint endorsement has received considerable attention, especially among older black residents, for whom the Irish-American Flynn and the African-American King have long represented Boston’s struggle to overcome its own racial divisiveness.

“The example we showed in 1983 could give an example of what can happen in Boston for the common good,” says Flynn, “when people come out and vote, and get engaged.”

That was followed by endorsements from a group of religious leaders in the city, including Pastor Bruce Wall.

“I believe the black community, coming out of the black churches, could be the swing vote” in November, says Wall. “Michael Flaherty represents one city, coming together. He is not going to play one community against another.”

The Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMLEO) — the association that represents Boston’s minority police officers — has also chimed in, with a vote of “no confidence” in Menino earlier this week.

But even with all that, most observers doubt that Flaherty can cut very far into Menino’s popularity among black Bostonians.

“I’m impressed by what Michael’s done,” says one City Hall insider, “but the mayor is still going to win the black community going away.”

One more hope
Another voting demographic is expected to take part in much greater numbers in the November general election than they did in the September preliminary. They are the well-educated, professional-class residents who have lived in Boston for less than a decade. Their numbers have been growing rapidly in recent years, and they have taken root throughout the city. Most of them pay relatively little attention to municipal politics, and don’t have strong opinions about Menino — so they are considered most likely to make up their minds in the last 10 days before the election.

Political observers believe they should be most amenable to the Flaherty-Yoon message, which emphasizes young leadership, forward-looking change, and the use of technology and academic expertise to improve city governance.

According to sources in Flaherty’s campaign, those are the very voters they intend to target most heavily in the final stretch. If those folks show up at the polls in large numbers, and if they opt for Flaherty, they could change the game in a hurry.

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