All changed in Boston as first open mayoral race in 30 years takes place - Irish and Italian candidates under pressure from new ethnic groups


Boston’s long-time Mayor, Tom Menino
Boston’s long-time Mayor, Tom Menino


The decision of Boston’s long-time Mayor, Tom Menino, not to seek re-election to a sixth term in office has set off an extraordinary flurry in political activity in the city of my birth.

While Mayor Menino was elected in his own right in 1993, he was Acting Mayor upon the appointment of then-Mayor Ray Flynn to be US Ambassador to the Vatican some months earlier. 

As such, this is the first wide open mayor’s race since 1983, when the late Mayor Kevin White chose not to seek re-election and Mayor Flynn prevailed in what many observers regarded as the last, “old school” Boston political fight.

With some 15 candidates having qualified for September’s preliminary election ballot, there will clearly be a political fight in 2013 though.

These observers are right, however, in that there will be little “old school” about this year’s campaign. Boston is a city that has changed beyond almost all recognition since 1983; it is even a very different city than it was in 1993, when Mayor Menino was first elected.

Countless large, ethnic Catholic (especially Irish and Italian) families, whose votes often helped determine the outcome of city elections, have moved out – in many cases, gentrification has pushed them out – of the city. In their stead, people with little or no familial connections to the city have moved both into city neighborhoods and into the downtown area, which once had very few residents. Some calculate that there may be 100,000 votes in this putative voting bloc alone.

So, who are the candidates and what are their chances? A number of Boston City Councillors have jumped in. Councillors Felix Arroyo, John Connolly, Rob Consalvo, Mike Ross and Charles Yancey are in.

Also, Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley is in, as are State Representative Marty Walsh and former state representative and Menino administration official Charlotte Golar Richie.  These eight are widely regarded as the first tier candidates. Two community activists, John Barros and Bill Walczak, probably constitute the second tier. The remaining candidates aren’t serious competitors.

Barros, who resigned a seat on the appointed Boston School Committee to run for mayor, is an accomplished and articulate lifelong Bostonian of Cape Verdean descent. A graduate of Boston College High School (he was a classmate of mine there) and Dartmouth College, he succeeded in the business world before returning home, becoming actively involved in his community and establishing a restaurant with family members.

While he will undoubtedly run well in his neighborhood and gain some support from minority voters across the city, running for mayor in his first political outing is most likely too big a reach.  Similarly, Walczak has an admirable track record of activism.  Yet it’s difficult to see him becoming a factor in the race.

In the first tier, it’s virtually inconceivable that Charles Yancey, a long-time city councillor who has pledged to simultaneously seek re-election to the seat he has held for decades, could win sufficient support across the city to be in the running.  Mike Ross, a very capable and attractive political candidate, is hurt by not having an electoral base in one of the city’s politically powerful neighborhoods.  The areas of the city he represents are home to voters less likely to turn out in municipal elections and are home to many new Bostonians.

By my early reckonings then, that leaves six candidates with a realistic chance of becoming the next Mayor of Boston.  They will fight it out over a long, hot summer to be the two finalists the electorate will choose in September’s preliminary election before the final in November.

I’d make three groups of these six candidates.  Into one, I’d put Conley, Connolly and Consalvo.  Into the second, I’d put Arroyo and Golar Richie.  And into the third, I’d put Walsh on his own.  The analysis that led me to create these groups takes into account a number of factors.  I believe that the two finalists will emerge from the three groups, but that there will not be more than one finalist from any of the three groups.