^ Felix G. Arroyo at the Dominican Parade. (photo by Eroc Arroyo-montano)
With only 35 days remaining before the September primary, Boston’s candidates for mayor had better be presenting — or mirroring — a really Big Story or they have no chance of finishing in the top two. John Connolly’s Big story is being the “education Mayor.” Marty Walsh’s big theme is “Boston’s construction boom, its businesses and laborers.”
Only one other candidate seems to have a really big Story in hand: Felix G. Arroyo. His story appears a social-issue, left-leaning one. He is pushing to be THE candidate of Hispanics, of committed left-leaning labor, and of the lesbian, gay, and transgender communities. Given Boston’s overwhelmingly left-leaning, socially progressive voting record, Arroyo’s big story makes election sense. Of course it’s the only story available to him, given Connolly’s and Walsh’s dominance of the other two big Boston stories. Yet Arroyo has surely not chosen this path because there was no other for him. His life bio almost dictates it. His father, Felix D. Arroyo, achieved major political success in Boston by winning to his side almost all of the Left and building upon it. Arroyo junior would have been ill-advised not to have followed his Father’s successful — and well remembered — course.
That said, Arroyo junior’s story line confronts obstacles that Walsh’s and Connolly’s don’t. First, the election for mayor is not a national election in which Presidential and Congressional issues command the voter. Boston’s Mayor ballot doesn’t even list political parties — and in fact eleven of the 12 candidates are Democrats, including all of Arroyo’s major rivals.
Second, because social issues do not divide Boston as they do the nation — almost all Boston voters are socially progressive and look favorably upon organized labor — it is NOT Arroyo versus everybody else. Connolly has significant support from the constituencies that Arroyo needs, and even Marty Walsh, supported by openly gay State Representative Liz Malia, has a flag planted in the socially liberal camp too.
Third, the issues in a Mayor election don’t fall neatly into progressive against conservative. Trash collection, casino development, the BRA, school improvement, snow removal, traffic issues, and zoning have their own dynamic. The Mayor administers the city; he does not legislate wages, labor union rights, abortion, or pay equity. He is a bureaucrat, not a preacher to the nations.
There is no progressive or conservative way run a Boston city budget. The voters demand services, and that is that. These have to be paid for, and they are. And though yes, the Mayor can set a socially progressive tone, or not, and establish strong outreach to LGBT people, or not, no one is going to be elected Mayor this year who isn’t completely committed to social progressivism.
Lastly, few voters in a city election want to vote for a candidate who looks unable to win. The perception that Arroyo is not likely has already cost him a union endorsement and is likely to move voters favorably disposed to him to give him more kudos than votes.
I am not saying that Arroyo can’t get past the Primary; there is a large enough “new Boston” vote that indeed he can. Yet even as a “new Boston,” he is cornered. Its vote is by no means mostly his. Charlotte Golar Richie and, it appears, both Mike Ross and John Barros will have significant support therefrom — support that for the most part could be Arroyo’s were Ross, Golar-Richie, and Barros not in the race. But they are.
I make one final observation : Arroyo’s campaign story reminds us of Mel King’s themes in 1983. King, too, was a candidate of the Left — the very far Left. in 1983, being far Left got King into the final. But King was the only far Left candidate — and the only candidate of color — running in 1983. This time there are three significant candidates of color on the ballot. Moreover, King’s far left views guaranteed his overwhelming defeat in 1983. Today, Boston has moved left; such views would not automatically spell November doom. They would, however, still generate strong opposition from a Boston business community enjoying a huge building boom — and the popularity that comes with it. Furthermore, downtown Boston is heavy with technology people, finance executives, and education and medical people who, thirty years ago, either didn’t exist or mostly lived in the suburbs. These voters are surely socially progressive, but far Left views on labor and the economy don’t speak their language of prosperity and enterprise.
Arroyo may yet gather to him, in a 12-candidate primary, enough voters to threaten the current two leaders. I like his enthusiasm and also sense a pragmatism in him (as in his Dad) that belies his image as a left-leaning ideologue. (Mel King he isn’t.) Arroyo would, I think, make an exciting Mayor, one who could bring the current Boston prosperity to many who have yet had the opportunity to participate. The excitement that i feel for Arroyo as Mayor surely excites his followers. If he does not make it past the Primary, as looks highly likely, he will have a significant say ion which of the two finalists does win the prize.
—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere