Bill Walczak is back down to his high school weight. Marty Walsh and John Barros need to have their suits taken in. Dan Conley lost 10 pounds in a single month — and that’s without putting in time on the elliptical. Charles Yancey has shed enough that people are telling him he looks younger. John Connolly has lost so much that even though he’s regained about 5 pounds, he’s still down 30 pounds since last summer. Charlotte Golar Richie, 5 pounds thinner than just a few months ago, is fighting to keep the pounds on.
Is this Boston’s mayoral race — or a local version of “The Biggest Loser?”
Contrary to public perception that running for office is a ticket to an all-you-can-eat city-wide buffet, several months into Boston’s first open mayoral race in 20 years, most of the 12 candidates running to succeed Mayor Thomas Menino say they have either lost weight or kept off pounds they dropped in anticipation of running.
Never mind that most of the electorate barely seems to care about the race at this point, the contenders are running themselves ragged. Up early, out late, aware that junk food slows them down, and too busy talking about public safety and education to take time out for cannoli. They’re like the bride who has no time to eat at her own wedding.
As Walsh, a state representative from Dorchester, put it: “When I go to an event I don’t want to sit there stuffing my face.” Currently weighing in at 195 pounds, Walsh has lost 10 pounds off his 6-foot frame since announcing his candidacy in April.
“Last weekend I went to four cookouts and I didn’t have anything to eat,” he said, not unhappily.
With so many candidates in the race — two with almost identical-sounding names, and many unknown except to political junkies — every vote and every second counts, said Marc Landy, a professor of political science at Boston College.
“You don’t want to waste time on chicken a la king when there might be a shop steward with a union there, or someone with a big family, who can have some influence [on other voters],” he said. “Who knows how thin the margins are going to be?”
Although some mayoral candidates are buzzing about each others’ weight loss, so far no one has been branded as finicky and abstemious as President Obama has been, particularly during his first race for the office. As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote of Obama in 2008: “At the Wilbur chocolate shop . . . he spent most of his time skittering away from chocolate goodies, as though he were a starlet obsessing on a svelte waistline.”
Nor have any of Boston’s mayoral candidates gained a reputation for gluttony, like former President Clinton, who was skewered in a 1992 Saturday Night Live skit that showed the president-elect stopping at a McDonald’s and finishing patrons’ fries and sandwiches.
But wait: Isn’t turning down homemade baklava or a Fourth of July hot dog a political no-no? Robert Allison, chairman of Suffolk University’s history department, says it can be. “But this particular group of candidates is rooted in the neighborhoods,” he said. “They don’t need to prove they are regular people. They are regular people.”
Gastronomic messages aside, politicians are only human. Sometimes consumption isn’t completely under their control.
“Every stop is an eating hazard for someone like me,” said City Councilor Connolly. Having gained weight during previous campaigns, this time around he set himself a “one-cookie rule” at events. Otherwise, he noted, “there’s the potential to eat your way across Boston.”
Connolly placed first in a Suffolk University-Boston Herald poll in mid-July, but voters may not need polls to see how the 6-foot-1-inch — and currently 215-pound — candidate is doing.
‘Last weekend I went to four cookouts and I didn’t have anything to eat.’
“I’m a stress eater,” he said. “You’ll be able to judge the success of my campaign by my weight.”
Similarly, City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo has set himself a “one-bite rule” at events. Like his rivals, he’s well aware that caloric dangers lurk not just at diners and block parties and senior citizen coffees, but in the car, between events, and late at night, when a candidate sits alone with his or her exhaustion and the refrigerator.
“When you find yourself with five minutes to eat, suddenly a couple of slices of pizza makes all the sense in the world,” said Arroyo, who dropped 20 pounds before the race started, both for his own health and constituents.
As the mayoral race grinds on, a number of candidates aren’t thinking about eating less, but rather more.
“Before the race my wife said, ‘You’ve got to watch yourself, there’s a lot of junk food out there,’ ” said Walczak, cofounder of the Codman Square Health Center. But now that he’s lost 15 pounds, bringing him down to 154 pounds (at 5 feet 8 inches), “she’s making sure that I eat.”
It’s the same story for Barros, a former member of Boston’s School Committee. He has lost 15 pounds since late March, when Menino announced he wasn’t running for a sixth term. At 5 feet 10½ inches tall, Barros is down to 195, and says he has to “remember” to eat.
His — and the other candidates’ — diet regimen is one more Bostonians should probably follow: “You’re walking, you’re moving, you’re not sitting still,” he says.
David James Wyatt, the only Republican in the race, is focused on campaigning. “I stopped weighing myself about five or 10 years ago,” he said.
Golar Richie, a former state representative from Dorchester, would have a healthy meal, but the race keeps her too busy. “I believe in three square meals a day,” she said, noting that she’s down to 145 pounds. “But how much time do I have to sit down and eat?”
Not much, apparently. “I’m up around 5 a.m.,” she said, delineating all the tasks, large and small, that fill up a candidate’s day: returning phone calls, answering e-mail, prepping for interviews, ironing a jacket, filling out questionnaires. Amid all that, “maybe I can grab an Ensure.”
City Councilor Yancey, who’s running for his own Council seat and the Mayor’s job, says he’s down to “my fighting weight,” although he declined to say what that is.
Conley, the Suffolk County District Attorney, and the race’s top fund-raiser, is down 20 pounds. Ten he lost as part of a New Year’s resolution, and the campaign has taken off another 10. “I like the 165,” he said.
And yet, as City Councilor Michael Ross knows, there are times when politics must trump even pescatarian leanings. Ross gave up eating red meat and chicken three years ago, but in June, at the Mattapan home of a supporter, he was faced with a meatball that had been lovingly made for the meet-the-neighbors event.
With so much at stake, and appreciative of his host’s efforts, Ross cheerfully accepted the meatball — while inwardly admonishing himself. “It’s not going to kill you,” he recalls thinking. “Suck it up and eat the meatball.”
Alas, as the Sept. 24 primary date nears — a time when the field will be slimmed to two candidates — a couple of contenders have not enjoyed the benefits of the Southie Beach diet.
Charles Clemons, cofounder of Touch 106.1 FM, and a former Boston beat cop, has gained and lost the same 20 pounds since announcing his candidacy two years ago. At 5 feet 8 inches and now about 213 pounds, he says voters were starting to comment on his reemerging belly. He promptly called in a personal trainer and a nutritionist, and at least preaches healthy eating.
“Fast food, slow death,” he told a reporter.
City Councilor Rob Consalvo at first found it difficult to resist the savory treats offered by constituents.
“There is something about everyone wanting to feed me when I go around the city,” he said by way of explaining a 10-pound gain. He put himself on a low-carb diet and shed about 9 of those pounds. “But,” he said, “I could go off [the diet] tomorrow.”
He paused, noted that his rivals don’t even need to lose weight, and lamented life’s unfairness. “The skinny just get skinnier.”Beth Teitell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.