Taking stock: Election ’13
Politics is a world of debating points and policy papers and voter turnout machines, but it’s also a world where personal relationships matter greatly. Marty Walsh stormed into Boston City Hall Tuesday night because he was far better at working personal relationships than his opponent, John Connolly.
Walsh wasn’t the most polished candidate in Boston’s mayoral race. He couldn’t go toe to toe on policy like Connolly, or like his campaign surrogate (and onetime opponent) John Barros. But he shared a broad personal connection with voters, and that connection carried him through election night.
When Walsh began solidifying his hold over the race last week, his campaign advisers didn’t explain the development in terms of wards and precincts, or endorsements, or campaign organization. They said simply that Walsh connected with voters in a way that Connolly couldn’t. Walsh said last week he felt his background and personal story were resonating. People were supporting him, he argued, because he’s a regular guy. He’d forged personal connections with voters that Connolly hadn’t. He won over skeptical business leaders because he convinced them to trust him.
Walsh’s personal touch goes a long way toward explaining how he locked up the endorsement of virtually every female politician and politician of color who endorsed in the race: He worked relationships with legislators and with his former mayoral rivals the same way that he has on Beacon Hill, where he’s a member of Speaker Bob DeLeo‘s leadership circle, and a beloved member of the House progressive caucus, and one of House Democrats’ go-to guys for smoothing over things with Republicans. Endorsements helped turn the race for Walsh. Signing up Barros and Felix Arroyo and Charlotte Golar Richie opened doors for Walsh in key neighborhoods where he struggled in September’s preliminary election; those endorsements turned as much on personal loyalty to Walsh, and the perception of Connolly as a political lone wolf, as they did on policy matters.
A bridge builder’s challenge
As grueling as it was to make his way through weeks of endless 18-hour campaign days, Marty Walsh now faces the greater challenge of governing and addressing the hopes of a broad coalition of Bostonians that made him the city’s first new mayor in 20 years. Walsh won over a diverse array of voters and local leaders — ranging from leftist black icon Mel King to centrist South Boston congressman Steve Lynch. They rallied around the affable Dorchester state rep, who has a winning way with people that proved a bigger asset than any elaborate policy pronouncements.
Walsh, a union leader who pledged to work on behalf of the whole city, convinced voters he would be a bridge builder between competing constituencies and interests. Perhaps nowhere will that be tested more than on the plight of public education in Boston, the issue his vanquished opponent, John Connolly, sought to put front and center in the campaign. The Boston Teachers Union offered Walsh an 11th-hour endorsement, while the state’s charter school association released a statement last night saying it was excited about working with a pro-charter school mayor of Boston on his “aggressive educational goals.”
Walsh straddled the school reform divide, trumpeting his support for lifting the cap on charter schools and for change within the district system, while also saying he would work more collaboratively than Connolly with the teachers union and others to reach agreement on changes.
The first signals as to how Walsh will proceed may come in the selection of a new school superintendent. How much of a change agent will Walsh mayor tap to oversee the next era of school reform in Boston? Pushing bold change without stepping on any toes will be a tall order. It will put all of the new mayor’s bridge building skills to the test.
As Lawrence turns
In the latest installment of the telenovela that is Lawrence, City Council Vice President Dan Rivera claimed an upset victory over incumbent Mayor William Lantigua by a razor-thin 60-vote margin. Turnout was high, with 15,190 people going to the polls, roughly 40 percent of the city’s nearly 37,000 registered voters. Lantigua added to the drama by refusing to concede late Tuesday night and tossing out reporters from his campaign headquarters except for Univision Boston.
The Eagle-Tribune reports that it is unclear whether an automatic recount is mandatory. The ballots have been sealed for their own protection at City Hall and are being guarded by local police. Both sides are lawyered up.
Despite his roster of political woes, Lantigua has always run an impressive get out the vote effort in the city and remains popular, especially among older immigrants who have seen him rise through the political ranks and empower Latino residents along the way.
Rivera reeled in notable endorsements from US Rep. Niki Tsongas and US Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and made a play for young adults and other voters who craved a respite from the seemingly never-ending parade of corruption allegations, campaign finance issues, and bizarre personal incidents that have marked Lantigua’s four years at City Hall.
East Boston, Palmer say no dice
Quality of life trumped jobs and economic development as voters in East Boston and Palmer rejected two of the state’s five major casino proposals.
The East Boston rejection upended conventional political wisdom. Suffolk Downs, the struggling horse track that looked to a casino as its savior, had money and loads of political power on its side. Suffolk promised to spend $1 billion building the casino and to give $32 million a year to the city of Boston. Suffolk was also promising 4,000 permanent jobs and 2,500 construction jobs.
Mayor Tom Menino was behind the Suffolk Downs casino and his two would-be successors weren’t fighting it. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, the lead proponent of gambling on Beacon Hill, had sentimental feelings for Suffolks Downs (his father once worked there as a maitre d’) and at one point refused to pass casino legislation unless Suffolk and the state’s other tracks were guaranteed slot machines. His compromise on that point made a casino deal with Gov. Deval Patrick possible.
But East Boston voters appeared to be skeptical of all the money and political power (particularly after Caesars, the Suffolk casino operator, was forced out because of debt and ethical concerns) and more worried about traffic, congestion, and disruption to their way of life. “No thanks,” 24-year-old East Boston resident Krysten Hunt told the Globe. “It’s fine the way it is.”
The same message emerged from the tiny western Massachusetts town of Palmer, where residents voted 2,657 to 2,564, a margin of just 93 votes, against a gambling proposal put forward by Connecticut casino behemoth Mohegan Sun. Turnout was a whopping 66 percent. Mohegan Sun, which has asked for a vote recount, promised to spend $1 billion on the casino and give the town more than $15 million a year.
Yet a majority of voters weren’t swayed. “It’s not every day you get to save a small New England town,” said Michael Eagan, a spokesman for a group calling itself Quaboag Valley Against Casinos.
The Palmer rejection leaves the MGM casino proposal in Springfield as the last casino proposal standing in western Massachusetts. In eastern Massachusetts, two casino operators remain in the running: the proposed Wynn resort in Everett won approval from voters in July and the Foxwoods proposal for Milford is scheduled for a vote on November 19.
Revere voters backed the Suffolk casino proposal yesterday by a 61-39 margin, which prompted Suffolk officials to float the idea that they might reconfigure their plans so their proposed casino would be located entirely in Revere. The Suffolk track straddles Revere and East Boston.
The state’s third casino region in southeastern Massachusetts is up in the air as an Indian tribe seeks to gain the necessary approvals to move forward with a casino there.
Cha-, cha-, cha- changes
Change was the code word in communities outside of Boston. Holyoke voters, apparently, were okay with Mayor Alex Morse’s change of mind on casinos, electing him to a second term by a 55-45 margin over late-arriving newcomer Jeffrey Stanek. Morse, then 21, ran for his first term two years ago as a staunch opponent of siting a casino in the rusting industrial city, writing a piece for CommonWealth last year saying why a casino would hurt the former mill city. Then, shocking his strongest supporters, he flip-flopped and said he’d consider a casino in Holyoke. When the blowback came hard and fast, he flop-flipped, reverting to his first stance of anti-casino. Despite his being against it before he was for it before he was against it again, voters didn’t hold it against him as Morse carried 12 of 14 precincts. And for good measure, they rejected a non-binding ballot question about whether they want a casino, changing their minds from two previous elections where voters said yes to the idea of a Holyoke casino.
In Brockton, voters decided, what the heck, let’s change everything. So two-term Mayor Linda Balzotti is out by the slimmest of margins – 55 votes out of more than 14,000 cast – and School Committee member Bill Carpenter, who declared himself an agent of change, is in. Balzotti says she’ll ask for a recount but her heart didn’t sound in it. But change was the order of the day all over Brockton’s ballot as voters elected the first black woman and the first Cape Verdean to the City Council.
Quincy voters didn’t have much of a choice for change with Mayor Thomas Koch running unopposed for his fourth term so they changed the terms. By a margin of more than 2-1 voters approved a ballot question to change the length of term for the mayor from two years to four beginning with the next election. Quincy becomes the latest city to extend mayoral terms, a trend CommonWealth highlighted earlier this year.Chicopee voters opted for changing one mayor for another, ousting incumbent Mayor Michael Bissonnette in favor of former mayor Richard Kos. In Beverly, there will be a complete change as former state rep. Michael Cahill won the race to replace longtime Mayor William Scanlon, who decided not to run after nine terms. The change theme, though , only goes so far as Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan, and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll all sailed to easy victories.
While change was inevitable for the 2nd Hampden-Hampshire state Senate district after the abrupt resignation of former Republican senator Michael Knapik, voters in the special election decided not to change parties and tapped Republican state Rep. Donald Humason for the seat. He bested Holyoke City Councilor David Bartley, son of the former House speaker David Bartley.