Boston’s preliminary race for mayor in the homestretch

With Boston’s preliminary election for mayor only hours away, a lot remains up in the air. The one certainty: For the first time in the 199 years since its incorporation as a city, Boston is poised to elect a mayor who is not a white man. Five major candidates are vying in Tuesday’s preliminary election. Four of them are women. All identify as people of color. That’s a sea change for Boston. But has the race lived up to its promise of opening a new chapter for the city?

“I think it certainly has,” said Segun Idowu on a new episode of The Codcast. “For me, the great thing about having multiple people of color running in this race means that we’re focused on substance rather than the symbolic nature” of the field. “A lot of the race has been focused on the issues rather than just stopping at the fact that the person will be different.” 

Idowu, the 32-year-old president of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, is part of a younger generation of Boston leaders of color pushing for change in the city. He was joined by Larry DiCara, at age 72 from a very different generation of Boston leaders, but someone who was also pushing the city during his days in politics, including a 1983 run for mayor, to move beyond the parochialism and racial intolerance that had come to define it. 

They found plenty of reason to be hopeful as voters prepare to narrow the field on Tuesday to two finalists who will vie in the November final election. But there are also dynamics at play this year that may run at crosscurrents with all the attention being given to the historic nature of the race. 

DiCara, a former city councilor, was part of another historic contest, the 1983 race that saw fevered energy and grass-roots campaigning across the city, and ultimately sent Ray Flynn and Mel King into the final election. King became the first Black candidate in a Boston mayoral final. 

“I’ve been around for a lot of them and there doesn’t seem to be as much campaigning because of COVID,” said DiCara. “It’s very difficult to, for example, walk into a hall and speak to 500 people and have your three minutes and then go to another place. So the old-fashioned retail politics is more difficult in this environment.”

Though Idowu said there’s been plenty of substance in the race, he would like to have heard more “detailed plans” to help small businesses. For his part, DiCara said there should have been more attention to the fact that “a third of our schools are effectively in receivership,” a reference to the recent moves by the state to assert more oversight over a district with persistently low achievement in a big chunk of its schools.

Polls show City Councilor Michelle Wu with a solid lead, with the race in many ways a scramble for second place, with Acting Mayor Kim Janey and city councilors Andrea Campbell and Annissa Essaibi George bunched together, while former city economic development chief John Barros has lagged far behind.

“The real issue is who votes, and the turnout in a mayoral election is about half the turnout in the presidential election,” said DiCara. 

That lower turnout usually skews more towards older, white voters than the city’s overall voter rolls, a pattern that would help Essaibi George, the moderate in the race whose base is primarily in white strongholds in Dorchester, South Boston, and other neighborhoods. 

“Low turnout always worries me,” said Idowu. “I think about my community, in these preliminary elections our turnout is usually much lower than our turnout for the November elections. And I think for a community that wants to see an African-American in the seat and potentially keeping our current acting mayor in this position, it’s going to be important we do turn out.” 

With Janey and Campbell running neck-and-neck in polls, tensions have mounted between the two camps, and fears have been raised that the two Black women in the race could divide the Black vote enough so that no Black candidate makes the final election. Idowu said that’s been part of the talk in text threads and dinner table conversations he’s been part of in recent days. 

“I think we’ll see a lot of our folks come out for that reason — to try to make sure that an African-American does make it to the top two,” he said. “I think it would be unfortunate if in this historic moment for the city, we come just that close, but don’t actually make it that far.” 

MICHAEL JONAS

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Brayton Point: The Baker administration finally gets back to the town of Somerset on its request for help in shutting down a scrap metal operation at Brayton Point. Kathleen Theoharides, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs, confirms the state owns a key parcel of land at Brayton Point and wants to work with the town on legal options and “potential next steps for management and use of this site.” Brayton Point figures prominently in the state’s plans for offshore wind.  Read more.

Body camera dos and don’ts: The Supreme Judicial Court rules police cannot enter a home for one reason and use the body camera footage from that visit to pursue a separate investigation without first getting a warrant. Read more.

Let them out: Advocates for state prisoners push the Supreme Judicial Court to require the Department of Correction to reduce the prison population during COVID, but DOC officials say 81 percent of inmates are vaccinated and there are zero active cases right now. Read more.

OPINION

Police priorities: Jack McDevitt of Northeastern and Janice Iwama of American University provide a public safety agenda for the next mayor of Boston. Read more.

Lessons from 9/11: James Aloisi says 9/11 was a “pattern break” for US society. As we face a similar breakthrough moment with COVID, what have we learned? Read more.

Climate priorities: Cabell Eames of Better Future Project/350 Massachusetts says it’s now or never on addressing the climate crisis. Read more.

Repairs needed: John Pourbaix of Construction Industries of Massachusetts says a large chunk of the federal ARPA money should go for repairing the state’s crumbling roads and bridges. Read more.

Advice for next mayor: Darlene Lombos of the Greater Boston Labor Council urges the next mayor of Boston to create a cabinet-level department of labor. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

After scuttling years of planning by withdrawing the Boston Municipal Harbor Plan, Acting Mayor Kim Janey has declined to talk about the decision and it’s been “radio silence” from the Boston Planning and Development Agency, with insiders saying a power struggle is at play between Janey’s office and the agency that crafted the plan. (Boston Business Journal

The Nahant Board of Selectmen takes a vote that will allow the town to take by eminent domain 12.5 acres of land owned by Northeastern University. (Daily Item)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Retired Braintree flight attendant Paul Veneto pushes an airplane drink cart 220 miles from Logan Airport to the World Trade Center, arriving on 9/11, to honor his fellow flight attendants who died in the attacks. (Patriot Ledger)

Two Florida middle-schoolers are being held at a juvenile detention center after being accused of planning a mass shooting along the lines of Columbine at their school. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

The Boston mayoral contenders made a last weekend push for support across the city in advance of Tuesday’s preliminary election. (Boston Globe) The candidates offer their take on what to do about the worsening situation at Mass. Ave. and Melnea Cass Boulevard. (Boston Globe

The race is getting national attention, with the Washington Post and New York Times both teeing up the contest. 

Voters in nine other Massachusetts cities will also cast ballots on Tuesday in preliminary elections for mayor, and another six communities will do so a week later on September 21. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Somerville is electing a new mayor, and there are lots of questions about what that will mean for development projects in the city that has been booming for years. (Boston Globe

EDUCATION

Twenty years after 9/11, there is no nationwide curriculum on the topic, so many students lack context about the attacks. (Gloucester Daily Times

The Worcester school superintendent says a teen’s knife attack on a middle school principal there illustrates why school resource officers are needed. (Telegram & Gazette)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Plymouth County sheriff ends an information-sharing agreement with US immigration officials. (Patriot Ledger)

Massachusetts Trial Court employees tell MassLive that they have experienced discrimination and a glass ceiling at work due to their race. 

Federal prosecutors seek an 11-year prison term for former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia, who was convicted of corruption. (Associated Press)

MEDIA

New York Times reporter Ellen Barry considers the plight and press coverage of Virginia Buckingham, the young director of Massport at the time of the 9/11 attacks who was driven from that post and held responsible by some for the fact that the two planes that struck the World Trade Center took off from Logan Airport.