In this Oct. 27, 2009, file photo, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, left, stands with Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree Jr., debate moderator at center, and Michael Flaherty, right, before a mayoral debate between Menino and Flaherty in Boston. Menino, seeking an unprecedented fifth consecutive four-year term, is favored to win the Nov. 3 election. (AP file photo/Lisa Poole)
|Ayanna Pressley, a former aide to U.S. John Kerry, became the first African American woman to serve as a city councilor in Boston. (Yawu Miller photo)
|Mayor Thomas Menino appealed to African American voters during a recent stop at 106. 1 FM radio station in Grove Hall. (Tony Irving photo)
|Candidates vying for an at-large seat on Boston’s City Council participate in a forum at the Harriet Tubman House in the South End on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009. (From left): Felix G. Arroyo, Doug Bennett, John Connolly, Robert Fortes, Tomas Gonzalez, Tito Jackson, Andrew Kenneally, Stephen Murphy, Hiep Nguyen, Ayanna Pressley, Sean Ryan, Jean-Claude Sanon, Bill Trabucco, Scotland Willis. The 15th candidate, Ego Ezedi, appeared at the event earlier in the evening, but was not present for the forum. (Sandra Larson file photo)|
Boston voters for the first time elected a black woman to the City Council and sent Mayor Thomas Menino back to office for an unprecedented 5th term in Tuesday’s balloting.
Ayanna Pressley, political director for U.S. Sen. John Kerry, made history as the first black woman elected to the City Council, pulling in 41,847 votes, according to the Election Department’s unofficial results.
Nancy Rousseau, a career counselor who lives in Mattapn, said Pressley’s win signals a new day in Boston. “It definitely signifies real change,” Rousseau said. “It means that there is an opening and that people are starting to embrace real diversity in Boston. For me, it means a qualified woman is going to have a significant impact on the city.”
If voters wanted change on the City Council, they clearly wanted the same in the mayor’s race. Menino fought off the strongest challenge yet by earning 63,123 to City Councilor Michael Flaherty’s 46,768.
Black, Latino and Asian voters played a pivotal role in this year’s election, with two black and two Puerto Rican candidates among the eight at-large city council candidates. At-large and mayoral candidates campaigned heavily for voters of color, maintaining a heavy presence in predominantly black and Latino polling places.
Menino and Flaherty both spent time in Roxbury. Menino held a rally for supporters at Prince Hall in Grove Hall and Flaherty visited polling places in Ward 12. Supporters of the two vied for the steady stream of voters filing into the polling places.
“There’s been a lot of aggressive debating,” said Jumaada Smith, who covered the polls at Boston Latin Academy for Chuck Turner. “People are really standing up for their candidates. It’s was some old-school barbershop talk.”
State Rep. Gloria Fox and state Sen. Sonia Chang Diaz both worked the polls at Boston Latin Academy alongside Smith.
At English High School in Jamaica Plain, Carlos Martinez passed out literature for Flaherty.
“I’ve been in Boston since I was two years old,” said Martinez, who was born in Puerto Rico. “I’m working and I have a good job, but I look around and see a lot of Latinos without jobs. Menino’s had his opportunity for the last 16 years. Enough is enough. We need new ideas.”
And that was what Flaherty was counting on — the call for change.
But it’s been a long time since an incumbent mayor has been involuntarily removed. The last one was the roguish James Michael Curley, ousted by John Hynes in 1949 after a term that was interrupted by a five-month federal prison sentence for mail fraud.
Since then, Boston has known only five mayors: Hynes, John Collins, Kevin White, Raymond Flynn and Menino. All left office on their own volition: Flynn in March 1993 to become U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, a move that resulted in Menino becoming mayor by virtue of his position as city council president. He won the mayoral election that fall and three times after that, notwithstanding a famous lack of verbal eloquence that led detractors to nickname him “Mumbles Menino.”
“Nobody has more energy than I have,” insists Menino, 66, deflecting criticism that his administration has grown too complacent, too entrenched.
Flaherty, 40, received 24 percent of the vote in the Sept. 22 preliminary election, with Menino getting slightly over 50 percent.
The fact nearly half of voters cast ballots for someone other than Menino in the preliminary buoyed Flaherty, and led him to gamble on an unusual partnership with City Councilor Sam Yoon, who finished third with 21 percent. Flaherty has vowed to make Yoon, 39, his deputy mayor and the two have become inseparable on the campaign trail, running as a “ticket” though only Flaherty’s name will appear on Tuesday’s ballot.
Flaherty is a lifelong resident of South Boston, a neighborhood viewed during the city’s busing crisis of the 1970s as a reclusive Irish-American enclave intolerant of outside forces. Though born of political expediency, Flaherty’s teaming with Yoon, a community organizer of Korean descent, is a sign of how barriers in the city have fallen.
Menino’s tenure has been marked by relatively little scandal, but a recent flap over deleted City Hall e-mails provided his opponent with an opening. A top mayoral aide, Michael Kineavy, took a leave of absence and the state attorney general’s office announced it would investigate whether public records laws were violated.
Thousands of the e-mails were recovered and Menino had them posted on the city’s Web site to bolster his contention that the deletions were accidental, not an attempt to hide something.
“We gave 10,000 e-mails online and nothing came out of those 10,000. Does that tell you a little story?” he asks.
Lawrence DiCara, a Boston attorney and one-time city councilor said he was skeptical of Flaherty’s ability to overcome the power of incumbency.
“If you’re the incumbent mayor of Boston your visibility is approaching 100 percent,” DiCara said. “The mayor is in the news all the time, and it’s therefore very hard for someone to compete with that unless they have an awful lot of money.”
At the Holgate elderly apartments on Elm Hill Ave., Education Consultant Omar Abdul Malik said he was handing out literature for Menino because of the mayor’s track record.
“He’s made stable, consistent improvements for the city in terms of housing, education, public safety and other infrastructure,” he said.
At the Lewis School on Walnut Ave. in Roxbury, supporters of several council candidates and both mayoral candidates engaged in congenial banter.
Leah Randolph, who covered polls in Ward 12 for Pressley, Turner, Jackson and Arroyo, said she was glad to see increased political activity in the black community she said was spurred by the abundance of black and Latino candidates.
“The black vote is coming out strong right now,” she said “It’s a good thing we have so many great people running who are competent and passionate.”
Greeting voters in front of the Shelburne Recreational center, where precincts in Wards 11 and 12 vote, Carlos Henriquez said the turnout of young voters bodes well for the community in District 7.
“We’re building the critical voting mass so we can move forward,” he said. “Elected officials will no longer be able to ignore neighborhoods that have previously been underserved and overlooked.”
“And that’s democracy at its finest,” added political activist Tony Brewer.Associated Press contributed to this story.
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