THREAT OR MENACE: Will John Connolly of West Roxbury have the juice to retire an incumbent?
The energy in this year’s at-large race for Boston City Council is not to be found on the campaign trail. Most of what passes for action and excitement is taking place in the proverbial backrooms, where insiders are trying to gauge whether downtown lawyer John Connolly — a West Roxbury resident who is the son of a former secretary of state and a sitting Superior Court judge — has the juice to knock off one of the four at-large incumbents: Felix Arroyo, Michael Flaherty, Stephen Murphy, and Sam Yoon.
Connolly received an impressive 31,000 votes in his first run for one of those four citywide seats two years ago, but still came up 4000 votes short of toppling fourth-place Murphy. Flaherty easily topped the ticket, with Arroyo second, and Yoon, another first-timer in 2005, finishing third to take the seat vacated by Maura Hennigan.
Yoon’s victory was seen as a measure of change in city politics, showing that a candidate who appeals to the city’s racial minorities and its progressive white voters can put together a powerful electoral bloc. More powerful, it seems, than what a candidate can get from traditional bloodlines and connections — which Connolly had in abundance, as did Patricia White and Ed Flynn, both of whom also ran and lost in 2005.
Connolly depicted himself as a progressive that year, and, based on a current read of the city, could go further in that direction this time out.
On the other hand, some think that Arroyo and Yoon have overplayed their tight “Team Unity” alliance with Chuck Turner and Charles Yancey, and have thus alienated the city’s moderate voters, who care more about constituent services than ideological stands. Observers taking this view suggest that Connolly might have an opening to the right of Arroyo and Yoon.
City Hall insiders can’t agree on which incumbent is most at risk to Connolly’s challenge, but they are more than willing to make suggestions — particularly at the expense of another councilor.
For example, other councilors’ staffers are all too happy to talk about how Arroyo has been missing hearings, has barely raised any money, and seems generally disinterested in council business. They’re also gossiping about Arroyo’s fiancée, and whether the couple might be planning to move out of Boston.
But Arroyo has had no trouble in the past getting re-elected, despite low funds and occasional criticisms. He would be a tough target for Connolly.
Yoon is also the subject of some disrespectful whispering, from staffers who have long rolled their eyes at the freshman councilor’s skyrocketing public political profile. Hence the gossip about Yoon’s alleged backdoor negotiation with the Boston Redevelopment Authority over a Winthrop Square deal, his championing of a doomed-to-fail tenants-rights bill, and his absence at hearings.
“Inside [City Hall], [Yoon]’s seen as a nincompoop,” says one councilor’s staffer. Another agrees: “Yeah, that’s how people see him around here.”
But the general public seems more impressed with Yoon, and not just his base among progressives and minorities. Yoon recently got great press for helping to save security guards at housing complexes for seniors and the disabled, jobs that had been slated for elimination by the Boston Housing Authority. He has been active on hot-button youth-violence issues, even getting directly involved in disputes between Vietnamese gangs.
As a result, many think that Connolly’s best target is still Murphy, another subject of much discussion.
Most recently, rumors flew that Murphy had come this close to taking a job offer from the Patrick administration. The story — “wishful thinking” by other at-large candidates, says one Murphy aide — revived the perception that Murphy, a strong and early supporter of Governor Deval Patrick’s candidacy, is now a short-timer on the council, just waiting for the right opening at the State House.
That rumor may not be true, but it does offer a reminder: Murphy has Patrick in his corner. That could make him much tougher to beat this year, and is already helping Murphy in his stronger-than-usual fundraising.
Connolly himself may be uncertain about whom he should be targeting. He insists that he is running for votes, and not against any incumbent — but he has not yet released any platform of issues, which suggests to some that he is still deciding where his opening lies.
Michael’s big decision
After topping the ticket again in 2005, the fourth at-large incumbent, Michael Flaherty, is considered safe for re-election. Nevertheless, he’s the candidate being talked about the most.
Flaherty clearly wants to run for mayor in 2009 — even his staff talks about it openly — and many assume he’s definitely in that race, even though his fellow councilors stripped him of the council presidency this year.
But some wonder whether Flaherty has gotten cold feet about directly challenging Tom Menino for his office.
“Does he have the balls to go the route of Peggy Davis-Mullen and Maura Hennigan?” asks one long-time City Hall observer, referring to the last two challengers clobbered by Menino.