A TRIBAL ELECTION

Ayanna

^ the new Boston politics of blood votes : this campaign was where it took over

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After Boston’s primary election I wrote an article in which I cited lessons to be drawn from the results. I saw that a new movement, of business-office morality, in team with most voters of color, was outvoting the old labor and big government partnership that had dominated the City since at least Depression times.

This result prevailed on November 5th as well, as candidates of the old labor-and-government type were outvoted, even defeated, by their business-office opponents. Yet there was another factor in play in the “final,” a movement quite more radical in policy and more explicitly tribal than the preachy business-office voices heard in the primary.

If I am correct in my assessment of Tuesday’s winners — one race remains much too close to call, between Julia Mejia and Alejandra St. Guillen for fourth place in the Councillor at-large field — we now may have a Council majority dedicated to extreme measures relative to housing, transportation, and voting, policies which, if adopted, would set City administration into serious confusion, not to mention conflict with state law. Mayor Walsh will certainly veto any such proposals, and there aren’t enough radicals to override his veto; yet that’s small comfort for voters who expect the Council to propose reforms that improve the City, not disrupt it.

More ominous than the radicalism of November 5th is its tribalism. Candidates who won, and the two candidates involved in the recount, were extolled not only because of their policies but because they are Latino. Facebook was  flush with posts heralding “all three” — Mejia, St. Guillen, and District Five winner Ric Arroyo as a team : not a team on policy grounds but on ancestry.

Other facebook comments seen during the election’s  final days and after trek a similar path :

“Black people have been voting against their interests for years,” said one commenter on the Hyde Park neighbors facebook page — a wild generalization and a purely speculative assumption. Who gave her authority to speak for all Black people ? My 50 years of conversing with voters has shown me that voters know their interests very well and don’t need to be preached to by others about it.

On my own facebook page, a very serious activist baldly asserted that, as women number more than 50 percent of voters they should hold more than 50 percent of elected offices — so, in other words, we’re not to elect people freely but to apportion them ?

A columnist for the Dorchester Reporter dismissed Maria Esdale Farrell, candidate in District Five, as racist because she said she would address all people equally. Are some people, then, to be favored ? Really ?

A City-wide candidate said that her campaign was about lifting up the City’s immigrants — as if immigrants, who are rising faster than fast, needed her help to get to success, a thing that immigrants — legal or not — are much better at than the native-born.

These examples of “Tuesday wisdom” are, of course, precisely the M/O of Mr. Trump, although in reverse. As he loudly proclaims white people this, white people that, so his most triggered opponents proclaim every sort of other identity, all the identities that Trump’s racial message casts aside.

There has to be a better way; but at present I don’t see a better way coming.

The “blood and votes” message that drives much of Mr. Trump’s opponents was not restricted to November 5th’s radicals. It was very much a part — though stated in moral terms — of the business-office “diversity” voters who won more votes than the radicals. In the contest that I worked in, the District Five race, after an edited 12 seconds of old video of Tim McCarthy calling candidate Ric Arroyo’s endorsees “nonsense people” was posted on the Roslindale and Hyde Park facebook pages eleven days before election, an avalanche of condemnation and outright bigotry was thrown at Councillor McCarthy along with all manner of instruction — not to mention some condescension — as to how no white person (well, maybe one or two) can likely understand what it’s like to be a person of color and therefore a white candidate shouldn’t be elected in a District that has a majority population of color. (Obviously the late attack on McCarthy was made in order to ping back upon Farrell, who as the Roslindale post asserted, was “McCarthy’s hand picked candidate”).

Most voters who I talked to expressed an entirely different view of the campaign.

As Farrell’s Roslindale co ordinator, I knocked on about 3500 doors — six entire precincts, two of them  twice — and conversed with over 1000 people. The lesson that I learned ? That all voters want the same things : better schools, more responsive basic City services, and trees planted. And many voters said that they had no issues at all with City government, that things were OK as they saw it. I heard no difference about these matters between voters of whatever origin, gender or skin color.

Yet some factions of activists were willing to gin up every sort of identity grievance, and the voters were thereby not allowed to make a nuts and bolts assessment of the candidates.  Organized “progressives” in the District had a tested, long-time progressive candidate to support — Mimi Turchinetz — but from the outset she was bypassed by most such activists in favor of Ric Arroyo, who is much younger and new to politics. Why ? Turchinetz had, and maintained, substantial Roslindale support. What was there about her that “progressive” organizations did not like ?

This is not to say that the successful campaign of Ric Arroyo was illegitimate. He would likely have won had the entire apparatus of identity tribalism stayed silent. He is brother to a well-regarded former city Councillor Felix G. Arroyo and son of Felix D. Arroyo, who was a City Councillor as well and is now Suffolk Register of Probate. He was first into the field, two months before Turchinetz (and before Maria Esdale Farrell). He held a large money advantage right up to September. He had widespread name recognition, where Turchinetz and Farrell had much less of it. And he was campaigning a District that voted overwhelmingly for Ayanna Pressley’s identity campaign (“the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power”) against Congressman Mike Capuano. (Pressley eventually endorsed Ric and held a huge rally with him two days before November 5th.) All of that would have happened had the identity warriors said nothing. Ric Arroyo deserved better than to win an election dented by tactics that spawned a great deal of entirely unnecessary division.

That said, the identity message DID happen; and not only in District Five; and it has now cast Caucasian voters, other than the business-moralistic, as racists.

Candidates endorsed by craft unions and many other labor groups were also outvoted, as in the primary.

I can also examine the District Five result on other grounds :

In 2018 Governor Baker won 46 percent of the District’s vote, Jay Gonzalez 54 percent. The Farrell – Arroyo contest finished almost identically : Farrell about 45, Arroyo about 55. Farrell won every precinct that Baker won, plus two more. Arroyo won every precinct that Gonzalez won except two. It isn’t too far wrong to say that Baker’s voters were Farrell’ s voters, and Arroyo’s voters were Gonzlaez’s. (There were some differences. Farrell did less well than Baker in the Haitian-majority precincts, better than Baker in the Hyde Park ones, and about the same as Baker in Roslindale.) And why should the two results not have been like ? In both cases, a centrist (Farrell and Baker) lost to a “progressive” (Gonzalez and Arroyo). Voters know their minds very well. In the two elections they appear to have responded quite rationally.

Still, it’s not the result that I focus on but the manner in which the results were accomplished. The majority message on Tuesday, as last year in the Pressley and Capuano contest, is that all people are NOT equal, that some are to be accorded extra advantage because of their ancestry, or skin color, and others, less.

A sitting City Councillor yesterday opined, on facebook, that candidates of color should win, and candidates who are white should not,because people of color are “oppressed.” Really, in Boston? Our Police Commissioner and his deputy are both Black. So are our District Attorney, one of our Congress people, three of our City Councillors, our Sheriff, three of our State Representatives; and an additional three legislators are Latino as well as the Councillor-elect, the BPS Superintendant, and several high City officials. Add to this number several former legislators who now hold influential positions in business and lobbying.

There are also numerous potential candidates of color, of very worthy quality, who may well run for office and will have significant support if they do. Here I should mention Leon David, Ruth Georges, Sean Gauthier, Michel Denis, and Crystal Davis. (Add Stephanie Everett, Rufus Faulk, and Mary-dith Tuitt, who have run and might run again.)

Is there any difference in principle between these favoritism messages and Mr. Trump’s assertion that he is above the law and is treated unfairly by it ? If in fact to be white is to be a racist — as the morality message argues — then all bets American are off .

Which is what is happening in America.

Other writers than me have long noted that Americans have lost faith in public institutions. Now they’re losing faith in American ideal, in equality, in the Constitution, in the rule of law itself. Is it any wonder that blood and votes politics is replacing these lost ideals ?

But perhaps I overreact.

Most Americans, and most voters in Massachusetts and in Boston, still hold American ideals of equality dear. All over Massachusetts, outside of Boston, traditionally idealistic candidates backed by Governor Baker won their elections. In Framingham, Taunton, Chelsea, Revere, Brockton, Easthampton, and Randolph, candidates of the equality type won; and other candidates supported by Baker made strong showings elsewhere. If, in Boston, the world of Mr. Trump has set off a nasty politics of blood and ancestry, elsewhere there is much to be hopeful about.

The only worry is that almost all the successful candidates of classic idealism are white. They and the identity politicians of Boston and its surroundings live in two different Americas.

For the time being.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere