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Even with Yoon, Flaherty faces uphill climb for black votes

Yawu Miller | 10/7/2009, 5:47 a.m.
City Councilor-at-Large Michael F. Flaherty (left) speaks while fellow at-large...
n listens during a press conference held Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, at City Hall Plaza in Boston. Flaherty and Yoon — rivals during the campaign that preceded the Sept. 22 preliminary election — announced last week that they would campaign together in the weeks before the Nov. 3 municipal election that pits Flaherty against incumbent Mayor Thomas M. Menino. Yawu Miller


City Councilor-at-Large Michael F. Flaherty (left) speaks while fellow at-large councilor Sam Yoo

Mayoral candidate Michael F. Flaherty’s surprise move last week to include former contender Sam Yoon on his ticket for the Nov. 3 municipal election provoked an angry response from Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who dismissed the decision as a publicity stunt.

If publicity was Flaherty’s aim, then the at-large city councilor hit the mark. The move has kept him in the news, and has many who supported Yoon’s unsuccessful bid in the Sept. 22 preliminary balloting thinking twice about backing Flaherty’s candidacy.

Under the arrangement, fellow councilor Yoon would serve as Flaherty’s deputy mayor and be in charge of implementing key elements of his reform platform, including dismantling the Boston Redevelopment Authority and implementing a 311 hotline to track constituent complaints.

Flaherty’s announcement that he would appoint a deputy mayor if elected is not without precedent. Mayor Kevin White appointed several deputies, including U.S. Rep. Barney Frank and Peter Meade, former executive vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, during his tenure.

Only Flaherty’s name will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Both former state Rep. Mel King, a one-time mayoral candidate, and former state Sen. Bill Owens hailed the move as a harbinger of a new era in politics in the Boston Globe, noting the novelty of a Southie scion sharing the ticket with a progressive Asian American candidate.

“I think it’s a stroke of genius politically,” said New Black Panther Party political activist Jamarhl Crawford. “I think it’s an outward sign of Flaherty saying he will use his competitors and their good ideas. In my opinion, it was kind of like what [President Barack] Obama did with [Hillary] Clinton” by tapping her to be his administration’s secretary of state.

In the preliminary election, Yoon had positioned himself as the reform candidate, pledging to bring Boston in line with other major U.S. cities by imposing term limits on the mayor’s seat, and banning the mayor from collecting campaign contributions from city employees and business owners who contract with the city.

It’s unclear how many of Yoon’s supporters will drift over to Flaherty, who has long been a more conservative presence on the City Council.

At the announcement held last week on City Hall Plaza, several key Yoon supporters were visible in the audience, holding signs bearing the names of both candidates stapled together.

Despite the support of Yoon, who was a member of the Team Unity faction of black and Latino councilors in City Hall, Flaherty faces a seemingly uphill battle in garnering black support.

While Flaherty did well in traditionally Irish Catholic city neighborhoods like South Boston, Charlestown and the white enclaves in Dorchester, according to unofficial results released by the city’s Elections Department, Menino polled strongly in majority black and Latino districts, winning 65 percent of the vote in the black community. He also picked up Chinatown.

Yoon polled strongest in majority white liberal areas, including Jamaica Plain and the Fenway.

According to City Councilor Chuck Turner, Menino has earned black support by maintaining a strong presence in the community.

“I just saw him this morning at a groundbreaking in Dudley Square,” Turner noted. “He spends a lot of time in the district. I think the Menino administration has made as great, if not greater, investment in the Greater Roxbury area than any previous administration.”

Turner, a frequent Menino critic who has said he is not supporting a candidate in this year’s mayoral race, pointed to the mayor’s prioritization of the redevelopment of Blue Hill Avenue and Dudley Square as factors in his strong support among black voters.

“There are a lot of tangible ways in which he’s impacted the thinking of the people in the city,” Turner said.

Flaherty, on the other hand, has in the past supported ending the busing of Boston Public Schools students and opposed Boston University’s Biosafety Level 4 laboratory, two stances that have not endeared him to some voters in the black and Latino community.

Flaherty no longer supports a move away from busing and toward neighborhood schools, stating on his Web site that such a plan cannot be implemented until students in all neighborhoods have equal access to well-performing schools.