A bicycle election ??
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Boston voters will go to the polls this September and November with a very different slate, compared to what we’re used to, of candidates to choose from.
In the Mayor contest, there is, for the first time since the 1860s, not one candidate of Irish or Italian heritage. Family and generations of connection determined much of what happened in Mayor elections as far back as i can remember. This year those factors aren’t there.
Even neighborhood isn’t crucial. There is a candidate from Dorchester, but Annissa Essaibi George, who that is, isn’t primarily a Dorchester candidate, as in 2013 Marty Walsh was. George’s following is ideological : she is the candidate — the sole candidate — of the City’s “traditional” voters and of those for whom public safety (i.e., policing) is a prime concern.
The other candidates — City Councillor Michelle Wu, acting mayor Kim Janey, State Representative John Santiago, City Councillor Andrea Campbell, City business development director John Barros — all draw their support from voter groups which either did not exist 20 years ago or hadn’t yet fully embraced campaigns to victory.
20 years ago, the City’s Black neighborhoods were voters to be campaigned to but not places whence major campaigns arose. Today they are. Not only has Black Boston given us major candidates for Mayor, it is also now a major source of large campaign donations. As money is the fuel of important campaigns, so Black Boston is now ponying up major campaign money. This is new.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad to see major Bkack candidates raising major campaign dough from within the community. I just wish it had happened 40 years ago.
In the Council races, the big fight in District Six tells us a lot. When created forty years ago, District Six was one of the City’s then two bastions of Irish-heritage voters and was drafted as such. Consequently, Maura Hennigan., John Tobin, and Matt O’Malley represented the District. This year, with O’Malley deciding not to seek re-election, there are four candidates : not one is of Irish heritage, this despite the area’s continuing large contingent of Irish-name voters.
In District Six, and in several other Council Districts, the old (“traditional”) Catholic and ethnic working class voters — policemen, firefighters, BPS teachers, building trades workers — who comprised as much as 90 percent of voters in many neighborhoods, has been largely succeeded by high-earners, who in 1990 would have lived in Brookline, Newton, or Lexington but now live in the City : doctors, attorneys, high-tech executives, bankers, educators. This isn’t to say that the old working-class voters have disappeared. far from it. Yet they dominate in far fewer precincts than was the case in 1990.
In 1990 Black upper class and upper middle class families moved to Milton, Brookline, Newton, and Weston. These days, many such families have stayed in the City, in West Roxbury, Moss Hill, Roslindale. Why not ? West Roxbury, Moss Hill, and Roslindale feel much more suburban than they did in 1990. The suburbs were far from racism-free, but they were less turf crazy than the City, in which neighborhoods vied with one another even without, factoring in race differences. Toady, West Roxbury, Moss Hill, and Roslindale express local pride quite differently from the customs of 1990.
Gone, too, are the taverns where working-class guys met and often rousted. (Taverns then often didn’t admit women, and even if they did, few women entered.) Today, in West Roxbury and Roslindale social life, you find fine dining of many ethnicities, craft beer bistros, and women.
And bicycles, today’s statement transportation.
Ah yes, the politics of dangerous, flimsy two-wheelers ridden with helmet on and open to the weather. What the (you know what word, right) ? Geezus.
I’m not sure that today’s politics of ideology, often expressed with condescension and preachy in tone, are any wiser than the family versus family, faction fights of 40 and 50 years ago, but whether they’re better or not,. they sure are different. Today, who wins and who doesn’t portends major differences in City policy. Forty years ago, the big difference was who got a city job and who didn’t. Forty years ago, you worked a campaign, you got a City job if you wanted one. today, work a campaign is almost a liability for City employment, lest some wise-ass reporter (probably not a Boston native either) for a goody-goody newspaper accuse the hirer of “being a patronage hack.”
Myself, I prefer “patronage hacks” to ideologues every single day. But there aren’t many “hacks” left. Today, city government is mostly staffed by “nationwide searches,’ merit resumes, and “diversity and inclusion.” (the term meaning “people you don’t know and never would meet, definitely not family.”) Is it a better-managed City ? Not that I can see.
But it Is new and lived by people brand-shiny new, with pronouns and bicycles, red hair and instagram accounts.. And “new” is all good, in a nation (and City) that now counts its once-cherished history as very evil indeed.
I’m just hoping that whichever “he/him” or “she/her” person is elected Mayor doesn’t arrive at the Swearing-in by bicycle and sporting red or green hair.
— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere