The Sesame Street guide to the Boston mayor’s race
Candidates all look for ways to be 'not like the others'
RUNNING FOR MAYOR of Boston is not child’s play, but a familiar jingle from a long-running children’s television show provides a useful template for considering how the candidates are positioning themselves to gain traction with the preliminary election less than two weeks away.
A recurring feature on “Sesame Street,” used to help children understand how to distinguish among a set of items, is the song “One of These Things.” It has appeared through the years accompanied by a variety of images — from dogs of different breeds to shoes, colored balloons, and cereal bowls of different sizes. The lyrics put the test to children: “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things doesn’t belong. Can you tell which thing is not like the others before I finish this song?”
How does a Big Bird-led ditty relate to the five-way race for mayor?
While the song challenges kids to identify the thing that doesn’t belong with the others, earning that distinction by standing out from the pack in a multi-candidate field is exactly what the mayoral hopefuls want to do. That’s especially true — and challenging — in a race in which all five candidates represent a break with the city’s 199-year run of white male mayors and all are embracing, to one degree or another, a focus on racial justice and equity issues.
If Wu is looking left, Annissa Essaibi George is clearly appealing to more moderate voters. That was on full display earlier this week when she toured the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood of Dorchester and touted her call to add 200 to 300 police officers, a stance that cuts against the grain of talk of defunding police. As GBH’s Saraya Wintersmith noted, Essaibi George’s position carries a strong echo of the moderate message that recently helped carry Eric Adams to victory in a big Democratic field in the New York City mayoral primary and saw Bruce Harrell advance in the Seattle mayor’s race.
For Acting Mayor Kim Janey, there’s little doubt about the strategy for standing out in the race. It started with a ceremonial swearing-in that isn’t actually called for in the city charter when the city council president assumes the duties of acting mayor. From there, she has done her best to convey the idea that for voters eager to break historic barriers with the election of the city’s first woman mayor and first Black mayor, she’s already on the job and ready to continue the work.
For Andrea Campbell, one of two Black women in the race, standing out from the pack has been a trickier challenge. She has been the most forceful advocate of sweeping police reforms, and has been outspoken on the need for a comprehensive solution to the problems centered around Mass. Ave. and Melnea Cass Boulevard. But she launched her campaign last September, expecting to be running against incumbent mayor Marty Walsh and Wu, a fellow city councilor. Her insurgent profile, formed from her 2015 election when she ousted a 32-year incumbent, now has her taking the most aggressive stance in the field toward Janey.John Barros can claim the most executive experience in the field, with a background running the nonprofit Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and seven years as the city’s chief of economic development under Walsh. But with polls showing him trailing far behind the four women in the race, the card he can play to stand out from the field doesn’t seem to be resonating with voters.
There is much more to the candidacies of all the mayoral wannabes, but in a race where the top two finishers in the September 14 preliminary advance to the November final election, the goal right now is to carve out enough votes to be one of the two who move on. No one will get anywhere near 50 percent of the vote in what’s likely to be a low turnout contest, so figuring out how to stand out enough in the five-way field is the path forward.