OUT WITH THE OLD: If Michael Flaherty hopes to parlay his preliminary success into a victory in November, he’ll need some help from “New Boston.”
Michael Flaherty, having earned a spot Tuesday on the November ballot, starts his six-week push to the Boston mayoral final with a big problem. He needs Sam Yoon's voters, and to get them he needs Sam Yoon.
That might be overstating the case, but not by much. Flaherty can't cobble together a majority of the vote without the so-called New Boston coalition of young progressives, immigrants, recent transplants to the city, and minorities. He might be able to win some of them over by himself — he has been courting them for quite a while — but cannot afford to devote the precious hours and resources to do it one voter at a time. As it stands, Flaherty's prospects don't look good.
Things might have been different had Flaherty accomplished what he needed to do to convince the skeptics that he had a legitimate shot at beating Mayor Thomas Menino: keep Menino under 50 percent of the vote, while putting up a solid enough personal number to give the impression he is steadily adding voters to his bandwagon.
For a while on Tuesday, it looked like it might happen. As late as 9:35 pm, when Flaherty entered the packed Venezia Waterfront Restaurant in Dorchester to the blare of Dropkick Murphys, the incomplete vote tally had it Menino 47 percent, Flaherty 29 percent.
When it was all over, though, the Menino machine had proven its worth. The mayor not only squeaked over 50 percent, but more than doubled Flaherty's total ? while Flaherty ended up barely edging Yoon.
Flaherty would surely be helped, then, by an enthusiastic endorsement from Yoon. But Yoon seems to be in no hurry to make that decision. Instead, Yoon's agenda is perhaps topped by whatever best serves Yoon's 2013 mayoral hopes.
If Menino bests Flaherty in November, but chooses to retire four years from now, Yoon has to be considered an early front-runner to take one of the top two spots in the inevitably fragmented 2013 mayoral preliminary. (His opponent may well be At-Large City Councilor John Connolly, whose impressive, almost dominating first-place finish Tuesday makes him an instant mayoral contender.) Walking away quietly from the Menino-Flaherty showdown might be better for those prospects than getting caught up in it.
Flaherty graciously commended Yoon and fourth-place finisher Kevin McCrea, but did not explicitly ask for their supporters' votes during his brief election-night speech in the Venezia ballroom.
Make no mistake, however: Flaherty sent clear signals that he now wishes to bring Yoon's New Bostonian voters into his tent. He was introduced by an African-American, a retired police officer named Steve Johnson, who proclaimed that "Michael Flaherty represents the New Boston."
And Flaherty appropriated Yoon's most effective rhetorical trope. In Yoon's big close on the stump, he has given a rousing list of the city's ills as evidence that "we can't wait four more years." Flaherty, in his speech at Venezia, included a similar litany punctuated with the line "I say, we can't wait." His audience vigorously picked up the "we can't wait" chant.
Flaherty also made references to New Boston, and to his desire for City Hall leadership to match the city's diversity.
But he was delivering this speech to an almost entirely white crowd of supporters, who looked nothing like New Boston. The truth is that Flaherty made a strategic decision to win the preliminary with his share of old Boston, who could be counted on to vote in a municipal preliminary.
It is hard to imagine, given Tuesday night's results, that Flaherty will be able to draw out the contributions, volunteers, endorsements, and media attention he needs in the six-week sprint to November 3. He will need to make a very persuasive case, very quickly — which means that he needs Yoon more than Yoon needs him.
To read the "Talking Politics" blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.