Event puts the 'dates' in 'candidates'

Kiss and Sell Dept.
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  October 28, 2009

In their quest to land one of Boston’s four at-large City Council seats, the eight remaining candidates have shaken more hands and kissed more behinds than anyone probably should in swine-flu season. When they first embarked on the campaign trail, however, they surely didn’t imagine they’d have to get this intimate.

Earlier this week, six of the eight paired up with local residents in very close encounters in an event in Roxbury called “Speed Candidating.” Organized by local nonpartisan groups including Civic Engagement Initiative — the mission of which is to increase voter participation in disadvantaged parts of Boston and Chelsea — the event attracted nearly 100 would-be voters to Hibernian Hall on Dudley Street for the opportunity to spend 10 minutes with each at-large candidate on five preordained topics.

The crowd was split into discussion groups, one each for schools, nightlife, green space, job development, and civic engagement. Unlike similar events and debates where inquiries tend to be abstract and easygoing, the mostly twentysomething participants brought specific concerns and expected candidates to be equally forthcoming.

“It allowed people to get up close and personal with the names and faces that they’ve seen mostly in literature,” says organizer George “Chip” Greenidge Jr. of Greatest Minds and the National Black College Alliance. “The candidates said they loved it, too — even though they couldn’t give their stump speeches.”

Felix G. Arroyo, Tomás Gonzalez, and incumbent Councilor-at-Large John Connolly were the first to arrive for their blind-date issue orgies. Then Andrew Kenneally and Ayanna Pressley showed up and dove right in. (Due to other commitments, including an earlier Boston University forum, neither Doug Bennett nor the other incumbent, Councilor-at-Large Stephen Murphy, made the party. Tito Jackson showed for just the last two rounds, but, considering his signage around Dudley and how many folks in the room grew up with him, he should have no worries with this demographic.)

Well aware that people were uninterested in generics, candidates got real enough to let innocent profanities fly. Connolly criticized the Boston Licensing Board (on which his father serves), and expressed concern that the clientele at downtown restaurants often does not reflect Boston’s diversity. Gonzalez was even more frank: “Boston’s Web site sucks,” he told the group addressing civic life, while Pressley touted her opponent Jackson’s idea to host “Welcome to Boston” parties for new residents.

There were issues raised at Hibernian that voters won’t likely hear elsewhere this election season. What can city councilors do about the alarming rates of asthma, obesity, cancer, and diabetes in the black community? Why is the Haley House Bakery Café — which provided pizza for the event — the only place in Dudley to eat, drink, and catch some entertainment?

Like people on actual dates, candidates said whatever they thought necessary for voters to jump into bed with them. The question is whether those elected will remember to fulfill promises they made in their flirtiest moment.

Related: Final four?, For city council, Green school. Red light?, More more >
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