Saturday, November 12, 2011

Boston Elections: What the Heck Happened?

Conventional wisdom can be pretty cynical. This past Tuesday's election in Boston was a municipal election. Only city council candidates were on the ballot. There wasn't a Mayoral race, which helps create more buzz and turnout. Conventional wisdom says the only people who vote in Boston in these types of elections are older white voters who vote along polarizing lines. They vote with their families, their heritage or according to organizations they belong to. This generally means bad things for minority candidates, or women, or anyone who doesn't live in the historically politically potent neighborhoods of the city.

The results from this past Tuesday's election did not follow conventional wisdom. And the reason might be dramatic changes in the electorate and population of Boston that have been seen in census data for years, and are finally... just perhaps... being seen at the ballot box.

Ayanna Pressley, and African-American woman, won more votes than any other candidate. Another minority candidate, Felix Arroyo, came in second. Michael Flaherty, a white well-known former city councilor who lives in a politically potent neighborhood, was left on the outside looking in by the voters. (The top four vote getters win at-large seats; Flaherty came in fifth.)

As I said, conventional wisdom can be pretty cynical, and the people who write about conventional wisdom are cynics. The initial reaction to Tuesday's result from a few reporters focused on how Pressley had a lot of help near the end of the campaign. There were political motivations-- some in the city did not want to see Flaherty win. There were personal motivations-- Pressley is now, indeed, the only woman on the city council. And there were sentimental motivations-- Pressley has had a rough year, having lost her mother over the summer following a long bout with illness.

The conventional wisdom from these reporters emerged that Pressley won because of a lot of reasons somewhat outside of her control that converged Tuesday. Once thought to be the most vulnerable candidate, Pressley ended up topping the ticket.

I tend to be way more optimistic (sometimes in a naive way), so while I agree with some of the arguments of the cynics, I believe (and hope even more) that the reason for Pressley's win is a dramatic shift within the Boston electorate. When I wrote earlier of my support for Pressley on this blog, I noted how she (along with other candidates I voted for) represent the Boston of the future. I think a lot of voters who went to the polls Tuesday voted with the future in mind.

Boston is vibrant and diverse. It's impossible not to see that if you live here. And whatever your race or gender or background, we all want to see that vibrancy and diversity in our elected officials. Again, I might be naive, but I think that's why we saw the result we did on Tuesday.

It's worth noting that in my neighborhood of Beacon Hill, voters cast their ballots in a similar way to the city at large. This is surprising to some, since Michael Flaherty did well here when he ran for Mayor two years ago. It wasn't a surprise to me. As ethically homogeneous as my neighborhood might be, the voters here are quite progressive. Michael Flaherty just couldn't disconnect himself from his previous tenure on the city council in the minds of my neighbors. And, like I said before, everyone likes to look forward and think about the future when they enter the voting booth.

Congratulations to all of the candidates elected Tuesday. And a special congratulations to friend Jessica Taubner, Ayanna Pressley's campaign manager, on a wonderful victory! Get some rest, Jess!

No comments: