Campaign cash key as at-large race heats up

Yawu Miller | 8/5/2009, 5:24 a.m.

The hot days of July and August are just the calm before the storm. Come September, Boston voters will be deluged with political activity, mailings, visibilities and direct appeals from candidates for office.

But behind the appearance of political inactivity is a fierce competition for the one thing no campaign can run without: contributions.

Leading the pack of the 13 newcomers vying for the four at-large seats on Boston’s City Council is organizer Felix G. Arroyo, who has collected $73,472 since last October, according to a Banner analysis of reports filed with the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Arroyo and Ayanna Pressley — a former aide to U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry who has raised $67,882 since April of this year — are both more than $10,000 ahead of third runner-up Andrew Kenneally, former chief of staff to City Councilor-at-Large and mayoral candidate Michael F. Flaherty, who has raised $49,909.70.

But even the highest-grossing challengers come nowhere near to the two incumbents, John Connolly and Stephen J. Murphy. Connolly, a Harvard Law School graduate who won a council seat in 2007, has raised $134,030.12 so far this year. In June alone, he raised $50,573.15.

Murphy, who has been on the council since 1997, raised $74,871.55 last year and has raised $48,674.17 so far this year.

While there is no direct correlation between funds raised and votes received, many of those interviewed by the Banner said fundraising is particularly important in the at-large race.

“With an at-large election, raising money is very significant because candidates have to extend their visibility from neighborhoods where they’re active to parts of the city where they’re not well-known,” said District 7 City Councilor Chuck Turner.

Of course, the most important factor is how the candidate relates to voters, as state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry points out.

“You have to connect with the voters and get your message out,” said Forry, who bested a field of five candidates for the Twelfth Suffolk District seat in 2005.

With 15 candidates in this year’s at-large race and four candidates for mayor, getting one’s message out may be more difficult and more important than ever.

Each will have to craft a message to appeal to voters who range from white progressives in Jamaica Plain to conservatives in the Neponset section of Dorchester.

Candidates typically express support for education and public safety while promising to work for the improved delivery of basic city services. The biggest wedge issues in municipal government — busing, rent control, police abuse of black teens — rarely, if ever, surface during campaign season.

Because campaign messaging is often uniform, there is little room for any one candidate to lay claim to any large constituency. And this year there are five African American candidates, two Puerto Ricans and six white men. Pressley — the sole woman in the race — may be the biggest winner when it comes to identity politics.

The competition among the 15 candidates for funding could be compounded this year by the weak economy, which has some donors scaling back their contributions.