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Battle for City Hall

2/10/2009, 5:35 a.m.

Battle for City Hall

A major inconvenience of democracy is that citizens must tolerate the frequent disturbance of political campaigns. Within months of the election of Barack Obama as president, the campaign to elect the mayor of Boston is underway. Voters can expect a robust nine-month battle until the final election in November.

The big question is whether the 66-year-old incumbent, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, will seek re-election to another term. He is already the longest-serving mayor in the history of Boston. He first came to office as acting mayor in 1993 to serve the unexpired term of Raymond L. Flynn, who was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican by President Bill Clinton. Menino was elected that November and has held the office ever since, for more than 15 years.

There has been some question as to whether Menino intends to extend his tenure. The “term limits” movement is still alive and there has been some question about Menino’s health. However, the mayor made it clear in his State of the City speech on Jan. 13 that he is still interested in the job. He said, “Boston’s best days are ahead of us. I pledge to you that I will continue to work tirelessly to move our city forward this year and in the years ahead.”

Menino enjoys high approval ratings in the polls, and he has been an energetic and extraordinarily successful campaigner. In 1993, he defeated state Rep. Jim Brett. He ran unopposed in 1997, then defeated City Councilor Peggy Davis-Mullen in 2001 and City Councilor Maura Hennigan in 2005.

Time is running out for an opponent capable of beating Menino to enter the race. So far, the only credible candidates to announce are city councilors Michael F. Flaherty and Sam Yoon. Flaherty, a native of Boston, was first elected to the City Council in 1999 and was the council’s president for five straight years from 2002 to 2006. Most important, he topped the at-large ticket in 2003, 2005 and 2007. Flaherty clearly has citywide visibility and pockets of support.

Yoon is more of a long shot. A relative newcomer to Boston, he was elected to the City Council in 2005 and won re-election in 2007. However, Yoon will discover that the mindset of voters is quite different when they have to focus on selecting one person to be mayor rather than four to be at-large city councilors.

Menino has been an effective and imaginative mayor. His problem is that it is impossible not to create enemies after 15 years in office. The theme of “change” is reverberating across the country. Menino’s 39-year-old opponents bring a youthful and sensitive approach to government. Menino must realize that the campaign will not be a cakewalk.

Now that Flaherty and Yoon are mayoral candidates, voters can expect a slew of stories designed to attack their credibility. Readers probably concluded that a recent newspaper article about agitation over a phone call that Flaherty made to the Boston Police Department on behalf of several recruits who failed a physical test, including his wife, falls into that category. Undoubtedly, negative stories about Yoon will follow.

Menino has another problem. Many blacks remember that when Flaherty was a student, he was the campaign coordinator in South Boston for Ralph Martin’s successful bid to become the first black Suffolk County District Attorney in 1992. When he became a lawyer, Flaherty was named an assistant district attorney for Roxbury District Court from 1996-1998, where he made many friends.

This will be a vigorous campaign worthy of one of America’s most historically significant cities. Boston established the first public school, the first public library and the first public health commission. The city has become a global center of education and medical research. It is time for the voters to consider a number of plans and policies designed to move Boston forward.