A civil war for votes

Two big takeaways from the final days of the Boston mayor’s race are that a lot of voters have yet to make up their mind, and the race has remained remarkably congenial. That may be no coincidence.

Except for those Boston residents who’ve been holed up in their basements for the last few months, the mayoral candidates have been unavoidable. They are at T stations, they are outside supermarkets, they are in every neighborhood parade. They’ve been in someone’s backyard in your neighborhood at one of the zillions of “meet and greets” that have probably made the candidates who are hoping to showcase their big ideas for city policy unwitting experts in patio design and urban landscaping. There have been lots of opportunities for voters to quiz candidates directly on their positions and ideas.

More formal candidate forums featuring the candidates have been too numerous to keep track of. At least once forums were scheduled for the same time slot, leading to some sharp elbows being thrown. That jostling, however, was not among the candidates but between competing event sponsors. Among the field of 12 contenders themselves, the endless string of 18-hour days and block-by-block competition for the same voters has prompted remarkably little sustained acrimony or mudslinging.

In yesterday’s Globe, Tom Keane called the race a “refreshing tonic: thoughtful, issues-focused, and uplifting.” Today’s Globe features a feel-good feature on the camaraderie among the field.

Meanwhile, the final polls taken before tomorrow’s vote showed a significant chunk of voters were still undecided only a week or so before the preliminary election. In the MassINC Polling Group survey done for WBUR, one in five likely voters was undecided, and that was after taking into account those who said they were at least leaning toward one of the candidates.

As elections enter the homestretch, campaigns are often battling over a small sliver of undecided voters who have not paid particularly close attention to the race and who are not, to put it charitably, always the most informed, issue-oriented citizens to begin with. “Low-information voters” is what they have been dubbed in recent years, and the fight over them often becomes a question of how low do you go?

The undecideds made up more than just a tiny sliver in the last mayor’s race polls. Moreover, in talking to some of those who are still mulling their mayoral favorite, in contrast to the unflattering picture of the “low-information” voter, one is struck by the degree to which these are people who have paid close attention to the race, yet remain vexed over the choice they must make. That’s probably a function of the significant overlap between many candidates on issues, and the general high quality of the mayoral field.

At an issues panel discussion last night in West Roxbury, where the vast majority of the 50 or so attendees said they had yet to decide who they were voting for, residents earnestly prodded me and Globe columnist and editorial board member Larry Harmon for information that might help them sort out their choice.

Some may have gone home a little disappointed. There are differences among the candidates on issues that may influence how voters break. Differing views on how to improve public education have probably made for the sharpest division in the race. But narrowing the choice down to one candidate can be hard. A couple of candidates have backgrounds managing public agencies and budgets. How much does that matter, asked one attendee at the forum at Temple Hillel B’nai Torah?  Hard to say was my answer, pointing out that none of Boston’s recent mayors had run much of anything before taking office. Who is really talking about the issues affecting the minority community and those living in poverty, asked another voter. Nearly all the candidates have shown a genuine concern for those constituencies and articulated plans to address the challenges they face, said Harmon.

The fact that so many undecided voters seem to be taking their decision seriously and still studying the candidates carefully may be contributing to the positive tone of the race in its final days. There are a lot of thoughtful voters still making up their minds who would be quickly turned off by a candidate who veered toward the gutter. The mudslinging and nasty attack ads that so many races devolve to are really a fight over the small slice of “low-information” voters who might be swayed by such tactics. It’s a race to the bottom.

So far, the race for mayor of Boston has remained a pretty high-minded affair. If you run into a still undecided voter, thank them for that.

                                                                                                                                                 –MICHAEL JONAS

BEACON HILL

A federal appeals court denies former House Speaker Sal DiMasi’s bid for a new trial.  

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis is resigning after seven years on the job.

Ashland’s Board of Health raises the age to purchase cigarettes to 21, and The MetroWest Daily News says boards of health generally overstep their authority in deciding what is in the best interests of the public.

The Weymouth Town Council tonight is expected to take up a proposed ordinance that would levy a $300 fine on top of a $100 state fine for anyone smoking marijuana in public. “Do you want someone standing in the middle of Jackson Square smoking a bong?” Weymouth Police Capt. Richard Fuller said in explaining the rationale behind the measure.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

New York magazine profiles post-State Department, pre-campaign Hillary Clinton, while New York’s Frank Rich finds one of Clinton’s potential 2016 rivals, Sen. Rand Paul, surprisingly hard to dislike.

The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis explores whether there is there something sketchy about the way Bill Clinton’s former body man is now cashing in.

ELECTIONS

The Globe gives an overview of the field of candidates vying for at-large city council seats as well as district seats in Dorchester, Hyde Park, and Back Bay-Beacon Hill. The New York Times rounds up Boston’s mayoral race. WBUR profiles John Connolly.

Why My Guy: Powerful testimonials atop BlueMassGroup this morning from devoted backers of mayoral hopefuls Mike Ross, John Barros, and Marty Walsh.

The New York Times dives deep into New York mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio’s youthful left-wing activism.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Phone carriers say Apple delivered far fewer new iPhones for sale in stores than they expected and customers who order online have to wait at least 10 days for the newest must-have.

TRANSPORTATION

Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to announce the results of the Army Corps of Engineers environmental impact report this morning for the proposed South Coast commuter rail and state officials tell the Taunton Gazette the report points to running the route through Stoughton for the least impact.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

In a move described as a win for consumers and the environment, the state’s largest utilities have signed long-term contracts to buy wind power at prices below that of some conventional sources, such as coal and nuclear power, and well below the price being paid for Cape Wind, the Globe reports.

The Tennessee Valley Authority begins making improvements at one of its coal-fired power plants that will reduce emissions by as much as 96 percent, the Tennessean reports.

Braintree officials have ordered four property owners, including two apartment building landlords, to remove debris including mattresses, couches, and other junk that has been dumped in the Monatiquot River behind their properties.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

New software helps parole boards decide which inmates are most likely to commit another crime, the Denver Post reports.

MEDIA

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Laura Amico partners with WBUR to launch Learning Lab, the outgrowth of Homicide Watch.

Dan Kennedy dusts off a piece he wrote 28 years ago for Editor & Publisher focusing on the need for a shield law for journalists, an issue Congress is still struggling with today.