^ the young will be heard : Andrea Campbell, winner of Boston’s District 4 Council seat (photo by Chris Lovett)
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When elections bring change, they often do it brutally. Voting out an incumbent in favor of a challenger leaves no room for tears, no place to hide. Harsh especially when the victory goes to the younger candidate — suddenly the loser, older than his opponent, exits to the past. So it was yesterday, in Boston and in Revere as well.
There, young city Councillor Brian Arrigo defeated incumbent Mayor Dan Rizzo. So in Boston as well, where 33 year old Andrea Campbell defeated District Four Councillor Charles Yancey, age 66; and in the at-Large Council race, where 41 year old Annissa Essaibi George overcame longtime Councillor Stephen J. Murphy, who may well be 60.
No rule requires that the challenger be younger than the incumbent office holder, but there is good reason why it is often so. Younger people still retain much contact with their school age contemporaries and can more readily recruit a circle of volunteers. They’ve more physical power to door knock, to climb third-floor walk ups, to campaign 17 hours a day, at bus stops, Forums, and meet and greets, every day. Technological change, ever more rapid, also favors the young; they have grown up with cutting edge communications, where older politicians have to learn it in real time.
Here’s the actual numbers (aggregate only; ward and precinct results are not available on line as yet) :
Boston City Councillor at-Large (4 elected):
Ayanna Pressley, 31,768; Michelle Wu, 28,891; Michael Flaherty, 26,463; Annissa Essaibi George, 23,439; Stephen J. Murphy, 19,538.
Boston District 4 Councillor : Andrea Joy Campbell, 4309; Charles Yancey, 2699
Boston District 5 Councillor : Tim McCarthy, 4835; Jean Claude Sanon, 2634
Revere Mayor : Brian Arrigo, 5208; Dan Rizzo 5091.
The District Four race in Boston aroused the fiercest passions. By the time election weekend approached, the two camps were at sixes and sevens, the candidates themselves barely speaking. Yancey’s key supporters, at his concession party, spoke without grace,saying that the election of Campbell was “a mistake” and denigrating her achievements.
They ought to have looked to their own candidate. Yancey did not campaign much before the primary; thereafter, he played catch up, and almost every move he made represented the past. His support came from the old guard of black Community politicians and from the Boston Teachers Union — not exactly a force highly regarded in his minority-majority district, considering that Boston Public School.s teachers have yet to comply with a Federal Court Order to increase its staffing diversity. Nor did Yancey do himself any favors with District Four voters by opposing a charter school cap lift : Boston’s communities of color overwhelmingly support cap lift, and for good reason, given the thousands of students of color on charter school waiting lists.
Meanwhile, Campbell embraced the policy of school option.
But that’s not the whole story of Yancey’s defeat by almost two to one. Seen from now, his amateurish 2013 campaign for Mayor, for which he raised scant money and finished a dismal eighth, revealed an unexpected political weakness in a man smart, and knowledgeable, and on occasion diligent. If there’s one thing voters of District 4 cannot tolerate, it is to see their Councillor act unseriously. District 4 gets very little attention; its voter turnout is usually low, its residents mostly earn below average incomes. The one thing they do expect to have is some political clout. Yancey in 2013 blew away whatever clout his voters may have thought he had.
Meanwhile, Campbell, with a dramatic life story of up from poverty to Princeton and an attorney career — a rise hardly less impressive than that of Dr. Ben Carson — campaigned doggedly, door to door every day, and draw into her orbit major political names of today, not yesterday (Sheriff Steven Tompkins and Attorney General Maura Healey above all) as well as big money and an enormous cohort of young and younger volunteers of all races and lifestyles. To visit Campbell’s headquarters and see dreadlocked guys, gals with henna hair, grunge folks, nerdy types, stocky unionists, older activists, and even a few suits, was to see the Boston of today, so different from the well coiffed, 1970s dignity that surrounded Yancey. The cultural gap was as wide as Campbell’s victory margin
^ Campbell’s election day leader Sean Gauthier with lieutenants : cultural newness won the day
^ at Large winner Annissa Esssaibi George greets a visitor to her victory gathering : District 9 Councillor Mark Ciommo
.Much the same was true of Essaibi George’s support group — and her own, personal appeal. Essaibi George has a tomboyish way (and dresses the part) about her, a park league sports fan demeanor, and speaks the accent of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods. Yet, like her generation from the old neighborhoods, and unlike Murphy’s generation, she is at home with all manner of people : Blacks, gays, suits, union guys, Beacon Hill, developers and tenants, the Governor’s circle and city Democrats. She has that rare political gift, the ability to represent one side of an issue but be liked, even supported, by people on the other side. At ease being casual, sports minded and sports bar in manner, she’s a lot like Governor Baker; and the appeal that works so well for him works equally for her, because it is the language and demeanor of Boston — Tom Brady’s Boston — now.
Like Baker, Essaibi George could wear a “Free Tom Brady” T shirt and not look out of hat.
And so another Boston (and Revere) election has passed, a message been sent, and a new phase in Boston discourse and governance begins. I am excited to see it unfold.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere