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Yvonne Abraham

Is Charles Yancey’s run for real?

It looks like a cynical political calculation. But to hear Charles Yancey tell it, standing for mayor while also running to keep his City Council seat is the quintessence of magnanimity.

His devotees fretted at the prospect of losing him if, by some chance, he did not ascend to the city’s top job (he currently polls at 3 percent). They asked him to stay in both races. He agreed. For them.

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“My constituents were concerned that if I ran for mayor and did not prevail, that I would lose my voice in city government, and they were pretty insistent about that, so the compromise is, I’m running for both,” he said Wednesday.

It’s a compromise the four other city councilors running for mayor were unwilling to make: They’re all giving up their seats. Maybe their constituents aren’t as crazy about them as the voters of District 4 are over Yancey.

Or maybe they figure if you’re serious about running for mayor, you shouldn’t be hedging your bets. None of them want to criticize their colleague’s decision (there’s more affection in this race than at an E-fueled rave). But they clearly made different ones.

If Rob Consalvo doesn’t win, “I’m out of work, actually,” the District 5 councilor said, adding that his wife isn’t crazy about that prospect, but supports the enterprise. “We thought it was worth it to be all-in. We believed the future of the city is worth the risk.” Unlike some other councilors, Consalvo has no second job. The council is all he has, and he loves it to an unnatural — even Menino-like — degree. He shows up everywhere. He geeks out on innovations like the shotspotter gun detection system, which he brought to Boston, and rubber sidewalks, which he’s still working on. The guy is obsessed with Governing magazine (also with The Smiths, which speaks well of him). Consalvo is putting a lot on the line to run for mayor, and that is admirable.

Yancey isn’t. You have to give the 30-year veteran points for political smarts. Running for mayor gives him exposure he could never have afforded as a plain old council candidate, given his anemic campaign funds. That bigger stage has allowed him to push causes that have been dear to his heart since Consalvo was in Pull-Ups, like his annual Book Fair (a legit achievement and noble undertaking) or a new high school for Mattapan (more questionable).

On top of that, the mayor’s contest has sucked the oxygen out of the down-ballot races. And there are approximately a gazillion candidates running for council seats, some of them so fresh and impressive that City Hall can’t help but be transformed come January.

Yancey, who has three challengers, bristles at the suggestion that his run isn’t genuine. He says he’s just as serious as the other guys.

“I don’t like to see my candidacy for mayor trivialized,” he said. “I love the city and believe I have something to offer.”

It would be easier to take Yancey’s word for it if he hadn’t spent three decades holding microphones hostage and edging into the frame whenever somebody raises a camera (usually to take a picture of somebody else). Also, his campaign finance reports reveal no paid campaign staff and no electoral operation.

In this crowded field, Yancey’s presence leaves less time for other candidates at forums and chips away at supporters that might go to other hopefuls. But that’s democracy. Everybody who can qualify can run, and that’s a beautiful thing. There’s no going back in any case: No matter how dim his prospects, Yancey will appear twice on the ballot in September.

The voters of District 4 will surely send him back to the council. But even Yancey’s most ardent fans should think hard before wasting a mayoral vote on a candidate who is less than all-in.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com.
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