Starting with an interview on RTÉ’s (Ireland’s national broadcaster) flagship radio programme, Morning Ireland, followed by further media interviews and interactions of all sorts with family and friends back in Boston, it’s been a very long day in Ireland. In the end, Martin Walsh will be Boston’s next mayor. The margin of victory appears to be just about 4,500 votes.
While my definite sense heading into today (Tuesday) had been that Marty Walsh would win, and might even win by a larger than expected margin, his opponent, John Connolly, did a superb job of getting his voters to the polls. In particular, it seems that the Connolly campaign got many of the much heralded cadre of “new Bostonians” living in the downtown area out to the polls. They supported his candidacy strongly.
As such, the result was exceptionally close and the people I spoke to in the Walsh campaign were nervous as the turnout figures came in. Undaunted, the unparalleled and unprecedented Walsh get-out-the-vote operation worked flawlessly. It had identified his core supporters in his base of Dorchester and South Boston and throughout the city and got them out to vote.
There is no doubt that Walsh owes a great deal to the endorsements he received from candidates of color who were eliminated in the September preliminary election: Charlotte Golar Richie, Felix Arroyo and John Barros. They worked hard for Marty Walsh and their supporters broke decisively for him. They will clearly pressure him to use his mayoralty to improve the lives of Boston residents of colour and to ensure that he fulfils his campaign promises to unite the city.
It is also worth noting that John Connolly ran a good campaign and highlighted what is likely the most important issue Marty Walsh will face as mayor: education. How can he work with all of the stakeholders to ensure that Boston’s young people get the best possible education they can? Many of Connolly’s ideas are worth exploring. And indeed, Walsh must reach out to the many Boston public school parents who fervently supported Connolly because of his relentless focus on education as a city councillor and a mayoral candidate.
But the man of the hour is Marty Walsh. He and his extraordinary campaign team ran a fantastic race. From the outset, it was clear that he was a lot more than a typical, old school Boston Irish politician from Dorchester. His life story and his forward thinking vision set him apart. He is a son of immigrants, cancer survivor and recovering alcoholic who kept getting up when life knocked him down. He has been way out ahead on things like support for same sex marriage and he has championed initiatives to attract more racial minorities into the building trades.
Who he is, what he became and how he got there resonated very strongly with Boston voters of every hue. He connected with them at a very human level. Walsh’s ability to connect at a human level was a key factor in a year when Bostonians were shaken to their core by the horrific Boston Marathon bombings in April.
The Boston mayoral election and the challenges that Marty Walsh will face as mayor warrant far more forensic examination. Yet tonight, he and his supporters should enjoy a well-earned celebration. The Dropkick Murphys are leading a boisterous celebration in Boston right now. But the son of Connemara immigrants should know that there will be rejoicing throughout Ireland too as people back “home” rightly welcome the another triumph of one of their own in the US. As mayor of America’s most Irish city, he will be a great friend to this country.
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