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Candidates of color fade at Boston mayoral polls

Yawu Miller | 10/2/2013, 11:52 a.m.
The six candidates of color in Boston’s mayoral preliminary garnered three-quarters of the vote in the black community, but the ...
Political activist Kevin Wilkerson canvassing for votes outside of the Lewis School on Walnut Ave. in Roxbury. Photo by Yawu Miller

For political activists who were hoping to see a candidate of color make it to the final election, last week’s mayoral preliminary was a worst-case scenario.

While the six candidates of color together garnered three-quarters of the vote in the black community, the top black vote getter — Charlotte Golar Richie — finished with 15,536 votes, more than 4,000 shy of what she needed to make it past the preliminary.

That left two Irish American men the sole contenders for mayor’s office. State Rep. Marty Walsh topped the mayoral ticket with 20,838 votes, followed by City Councilor John Connolly, with 19,420.

In the black community, there’s been little debate about what went wrong. The multitude of candidates split the vote among black, Latino and Asian voters, who in most elections constitute a formidable bloc. Progressive votes were split between former Dudley St. Neighborhood Initiative head John Barros and City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo.

With City Councilor Charles Yancey and radio station owner Charles Clemmons in the mix, Richie garnered little more than a third of the vote in the city’s predominantly black and Latino precincts.

In all, the six candidates of color netted a third of the votes cast in the preliminary election, according to an analysis conducted by Neighborhood Network News Director Chris Lovett.

Turnout in black and Latino precincts was low. While the citywide average turnout was 31 percent of registered voters, in the predominantly black Ward 14, which includes Dorchester and Mattapan, just 26 percent of those eligible to vote cast ballots. In contrast, 50 percent of eligible voters came out in the predominantly white Ward 20, which is in West Roxbury.

Despite Boston’s status as a majority-minority city, the voting patterns reveal what political activist Ty DePass describes as a “powdered donut,” where predominantly white precincts in South Boston, Dorchester, Hyde Park and West Roxbury encircle the city’s lower-voting urban core.

“There’s a difference between being majority-minority city and having a majority of the voting population,” DePass said.

In the days following the preliminary election, many in the black community expressed frustration.

“I’m angry,” said political activist Sarah Ann Shaw. “This was an opportunity for the community to set some terms, to really look at the city’s structure and voice our concerns about jobs, schools and the structure of city government. It would have given us more say if a person of color had come in first or second.”

Taking a more optimistic view, Horace Small, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, said black, Latino and Asian activists still have an opportunity to influence the city’s future direction.

“We had communities coming together to work hard for their candidates,” Small said. “There was an incredible amount of passion for their candidates’ vision. We have to channel that passion and push a political vision we can agree [on]. Our communities already have a high level of political organization.”

While candidates of color did not fare well in the mayor’s race, City Councilor Ayanna Pressley topped the ticket in the 19-way race for the four at-large seats with 42,875 votes.

Former at-large Councilor Michael Flaherty trailed Pressley with 39,871 votes, followed by incumbent Councilor Steve Murphy, who garnered 31,701 votes. Rounding out the top of the ticket is political newcomer Michelle Wu, who netted 29,359 votes.

If Wu is able to hold her position into the final, she has a shot at becoming the first Asian American woman elected to the City Council. Another candidate with a shot at becoming the first Asian American woman on the council is Suzanne Lee, who is running for the District 2 seat currently held by incumbent Bill Linehan. In 2011, Lee came within 97 votes of unseating Linehan.

In the Hyde Park/Mattapan district being vacated by former mayoral candidate Rob Consalvo, Timothy McCarthy topped the ticket in an eight-way race with 3,727 votes. Community activist Jean-Claude Sanon came in second with 3,049 votes.

Finally, in the District 4 Dorchester/Mattapan seat, incumbent Charles Yancey, who opted to run for both mayor and District 4, won handily with 6,139 votes. His nearest rival for the seat, Terrance Williams, netted only 1,545 votes.