At a time when Americans are racked by anxiety about the uncertain future of a weak economy, Boston voters handily returned Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to an unprecedented fifth term. Menino defied the unexpected statewide trend that saw incumbent mayors in Brockton, Lynn, North Adams, Woburn, and Worcester lose office.
Although Menino’s challenger, City Councilor Michael Flaherty, lost by a 15 percent margin, Flaherty accomplished something that has eluded other Menino opponents: he established himself as a citywide force.
Flaherty’s creative embrace of his primary opponent, committed progressive City Councilor Sam Yoon (who Flaherty promised to make his deputy mayor), went a long way in widening Flaherty’s base of support. But in the end, it was not enough. Young and progressive voters did not turn out in sufficient numbers to make a difference. (This is not to suggest that all of Menino’s voters are older or conservative — though they trend that way.)
A key to Menino’s continued success is his solid support among gay and lesbian voters, who regularly provide him with a buffer to challenges from the left. Menino also enjoys grassroots support among African-Americans, even if black community leaders are divided about his tenure.
Reading election results hours after the polls close is a tricky business. But it seems safe to offer two reasons for Menino’s victory: the mayor has a gritty command of precinct-level details of city life, and many traditional voters feel that the incumbent they know is a safer bet than the challenger they don’t know as well.
In the four years to come, it will be interesting to see if Menino moderates his signature style: talk like a populist, govern like an autocrat.
Menino got off to a good start with a victory speech that was a model of grace. But the coming months hold challenges that will test the mettle of even the most mild-mannered politico. Schools need improving; development, especially in Allston and Downtown Crossing, needs to be jump-started; serious public-safety concerns remain; public employee unions are out of touch with reality; and city layoffs are likely due to deteriorating economic circumstances.
A word of advice to the mayor: be open and inclusive. Boston can meet the coming challenges most effectively by tapping into the city’s collective potential.
The election of political newcomer Ayanna Pressley to one of four at-large Boston City Council seats marks the first time in history that a woman of African-American descent joins the Council.
Continuing a tradition established by his father, Felix Arroyo becomes the second Latino to win an at-large Council seat.
Newfound Hispanic muscle also flexed itself in Lawrence, where William Lantigua won his, becoming the first Latino mayor in the state.
Newton, meanwhile, elected its first black mayor, Setti Warren.
The Kerry factor
Warren is a former aide to Massachusetts’s senior senator, John Kerry; Pressley served as his political director.
As Kerry steps into the shoes left by the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, the ascension of two former staffers to such visible positions can only strengthen the weave of Kerry’s local connections. Residents of Newton and Boston likewise will benefit as Kerry assumes his new role as the principal local referee of federal largess.