^ friends maybe : Marty Walsh and John Connolly at the Rozzie Parade

— — —

My friend Gerry Seely, who worked more Ward 20 campaigns than I care to count, used to say “politics is a contact sport.” How right he was, and is. He loved the contact. So did I. That’s how we proved ourselves.

I know that many of you reading this are now asking : what does this phrase mean ? What IS “contact sport politics” ? Answer : take a look around you right now.

The Connolly campaign has built and is still building a huge organization of door knockers, house party hosts, social media posters, fund-raisers, sign hangers, etc. Precinct captains have been chosen; precinct organizations are forming. Soon the campaign will have — if it is on a success path — at least a dozen workers per precinct, all of them out there taking the Connolly message to every voter in their precinct.

The Walsh campaign is doing the same thing. Its tone is different, and Walsh is deploying his people on different platforms than is Connolly : less social media, more face-to-face. But the basics are the same as for Connolly : door knocking, sign hanging,. hose parties, meet and greets. all of it done in the precinct (there are 255 in Boston now) by precinct organizations.

you can’t have 24 people, let’s say, going about one single precinct — each has from 1500 to 2000 voters only — without them encountering one another’s work or even face to face. Thus the “contact sport.”

Passions arise in campaign organizations, because it takes huge physical effort, day after day, with few breaks, to do what campaign organizations musty do. Constant strain begets constant intensity. It becomes easy to think of the rival candidate’s organization as people to be bested, beaten, defeated. Those of us who engaged in campaigns all the time learned to hold our passions in check, more or less. we saw the rival organization as soldiers in the same war, and while we delighted in defeating them, when it was all over they were our buddies : we had both gone through the same test. plus, we both knew that though one of us won this time and the other of us lost, in the next campaign — which might begin the next week — they might win and we lose.

The problem comes when contact sport occurs between organizations peopled largely by first-timers. This campaign is such a one. how could it not be, when there hasn’t been an open race for mayor since 1993 ? Almost everybody working a precinct in this campaign is new to the game. It’s a truism that in politics, most workers do their best work in their first campaign. They’re more enthusiastic, less jaded, and because they are “fresh,” voters who meet them trust their involvement more than they do the “political pro’s.” Thus, campaigns want as many first-timers as they can get. his the Connolly and Walsh campaigns have done.

It becomes a huge management problem to keep the first-timers cool on the street; to police the behavior of rookie precinct organizations bumping into one another. As I have written, one of the key tests, for me, in whom I want as Mayor is how well he manages the day to day of his campaign. So far it’s really been no contest. The Connolly campaign has kept its cool from word to street. I’ve seen no disparagement of Marty Walsh, indeed just the opposite. Nor have I heard, even once, of Connolly volunteers leaning on Walsh supporters. The opposite has not been true.

Reading that sentence, you may respond that because Here and Sphere has endorsed John Connolly, i have a bias. I do have one. But as a reporter, I never let that bias control my finger on the laptop keyboard. In the Connolly campaign I see a cool excitement, a readiness to do the task at hand without animus,a discipline extraordinary, really. In the Walsh campaign I see — have seen since I first began to cover this election nine weeks ago — a passion so intense that it bursts its bonds. It lies at the heart of the contradiction that is his campaign. How to be union but not too union ? How to be excited but not so excited that you alienate people ?

Walsh supporters can feel very intimidating. At a distance, that’s OK; it’s even fun to watch. But up close, in the precinct, block by block and house next to house, it leads to confrontation. At which point “contact sport” backfires.

This campaign has already reached that point. The agendas of the two candidates differ hugely. They live on opposite sides of the city, draw from bases that have little contact with each other.

The next two weeks will require a ton of leadership example from the top if we aren’t to end up cleaving the city in half for many years to come.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere