Difference of opinion

By ADAM REILLY  |  November 9, 2009

They’ve got issues
As expected, Boston Mayor Tom Menino was re-elected Tuesday, beating his challenger, at-large Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty, by a comfortable margin. Menino’s cause was boosted by endorsements from the Globe and the Boston Herald, among others. (The Phoenix endorsed Flaherty and his running mate, fellow at-large City Councilor Sam Yoon.) But two unorthodox media developments may also have helped him.

The first was the Bay State Banner’s decision, in its October 29 issue, to break with precedent and take a pass on endorsing anyone for mayor. Not too long ago, it seemed certain that the African-American-focused Banner would urge voters to cast out Menino after four terms. After all, back in April — when Menino still hadn’t announced that he’d seek re-election — the Banner accused the mayor of “demeaning the black perspective,” and bluntly stated: “no self-respecting African-American can vote for Menino if he chooses to run again.”

Those were odd statements, given Menino’s popularity in the black community — which is considerable, despite abiding problems in Boston’s minority-dominated schools. The immediate explanation, judging from the editorial: Melvin B. Miller, the Banner’s irascible publisher and editor, was angered that the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) had de-designated a local group, Elma Lewis Partners LLC, as developers of a choice parcel of land in Roxbury. But the editorial’s other beefs (Menino doesn’t appoint enough black males to his administration; when questioning gets tough at community events, Menino sends surrogates instead of going himself) suggested an irrevocable break.

What changed? Shortly after the Banner’s editorial, Menino reversed the aforementioned development decision. Then, in July, the Banner suspended publication due to economic duress. Menino promptly rode to the rescue, arranging a $200,000 loan from the city-affiliated Boston Local Development Corp. And Next Street Financial, LLC — a Roxbury-based bank that counts several Menino donors among its staff — devised a new Banner business plan.

Fast forward to last week, when the Banner sized up Menino v. Flaherty thusly: “Voters should be interested enough in the outcome of the election to study the record of both candidates.”

Short of actually endorsing Menino — which would have pushed the Banner into a blatant bit of self-contradiction — this tepid non-endorsement was actually the biggest boost the paper could have given the mayor. It’s also potent evidence that government-sponsored assistance for newspapers is a bad idea. Yes, Menino’s intervention kept the Banner alive, which is a good thing. But in the process, it deeply compromised the paper’s independence.

The second twist, meanwhile, was the Herald’s decision to obsess, in the stretch drive of the most compelling Boston mayor’s race in recent memory, over an enterprise story on — wait for it — the Facebook habits of some City Hall staffers. The emphasis, notably, was on employees of the Boston City Council, a body Menino likes to deride — and where Flaherty and Yoon just happen to work.

That’s right. On October 28, the Herald’s cover screamed: “Farcebook: We Catch City Hall Hacks Doing lots of Social Not-Working on the Job.” Inside, readers got the lurid (ahem) details — including the shocking revelation that Amy Derjue, the communications director for City Council President Mike Ross, posts on Facebook and Twitter during the work day.

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