Menino's 50-Percent Solution

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  September 11, 2009

If so, that erosion of support may have accelerated since the final leg of the preliminary campaign kicked off last week. The first televised debate took place last Wednesday (postponed from the previous week, due to Senator Ted Kennedy's death), and Bostonians have now returned from summer vacations.

So far, it's been tough going for the mayor. That is partly due to the amped-up criticism from his three rivals, who have honed their attacks on him — and have thus far kept the focus on him, rather than each other.

But Menino has not helped his own cause. For starters, he was somewhat rambling in his tribute to Kennedy at the televised "Irish wake" memorial. Then, he briefly lost his temper at an endorsement meeting of the LGBT advocacy group DotOut last Monday. A Flaherty supporter there accused Menino of hypocritically participating on the sidelines of the St. Patrick's Day parade, which Menino has long boycotted because it does not allow LGBT organizations to march. Menino's umbrage was understandable — he is rightly proud of his commitment to gay rights, and the parade boycott in particular — but some at the meeting were taken aback by his angry, perhaps even intimidating, response. Menino always publicly has kept his temper in check, so this incident, which was reported in several media outlets, was seen as a possible sign that his opponents' attacks are getting to him.

That outburst was followed by what, in the eyes of most analysts, was a subpar performance at the WBZ debate. Although Menino kept his cool, he was constantly on the defensive. He seemed ill at ease, often shuffling through and referring to note cards. His answers, particularly on the key issue of job creation, were unimpressive.

The next night, at the MassVote forum, was more of the same. Although he seemed more comfortable in the setting, Menino again was berated with criticism that had him frequently struggling to tell a positive story. Jobs, once more, tied him up. Again and again, the challengers accused him of failing to enforce rules for minority crew on city-backed construction projects — a charge that drew strong reaction from the predominantly minority audience.

Meanwhile, he has been taking hits from the media. The Globe ran a lengthy investigative article questioning Menino's heavy-handed control of city development, and another showing that the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) has repeatedly sold city land for well below its value. Earlier this week, the paper lambasted him for his record running the public schools, giving him a "gentleman's C" on this critical campaign issue.

Not to worry?
Menino campaign insiders insist they are not concerned about the mayor's preliminary performance. They say they are going all-out for the preliminary, not because they think he has lost momentum, but because they have always planned to do so to maximize his showing and to test-run for his get-out-the-vote operation.

There also has been little evidence of his campaign actively "working the refs," as politicos call it, by trying to lower expectations among the media and the public — a tactic one would expect if a candidate's own polling suggested a disappointing showing.

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