It's Menino, again: Ayanna Pressley changes face of City Council

Associated Press | 11/4/2009, 5:46 a.m.
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 /Lisa Poole

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.