Without warning, the race to succeed Tom Menino has suddenly become interesting.
The candidates have honed their performances and are trying to reach beyond their obvious geographical bases. Voters appear to be gradually tuning in. Actual issues have become part of the debate.
A few thoughts gleaned from my own observation and from campaign participants:
By consensus, state Representative Marty Walsh and City Councilor John Connolly are currently in the strongest positions.
They draw their strength from different places. Walsh not only has deep support from organized labor, but also the most passionate and committed organization, as well as a sizable geographical base in Dorchester that cannot be wrested away.
Connolly is benefiting from having committed to the race early; he was once the only serious candidate running against Menino. Also, he is wringing surprising mileage out of the issue of improving the public schools. Frustration over the schools cuts across geographical, economic, and ethnic lines.
The original conventional wisdom — that a candidate of color would surely survive the preliminary ballot and make it to the final round —
City Councilor Felix Arroyo is having even more trouble raising money than he expected. Meanwhile, his zealous support of organized labor — he is a former organizer for SEIU Local 615 — isn’t translating into union support, either financially or organizationally.
Charlotte Golar Richie, meanwhile, has wrestled with finding a powerful message. Her presumptive strength remains based on demographics. Simply being the only woman isn’t likely to put her in the final.
Still, it’s too early to count her out. “She’s the one person in the field who could have a great September and pass everybody,” said one of her rivals.
Ask the other candidates who impresses them and the answer is amazingly consistent: John Barros.
The head of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and former Boston School Committee member has impressed the field with his command of the issues — particularly education and development — as well as his boundless energy.
“We have 40-something days left and I need to spend every one of those days meeting voters,” Barros said Sunday. “The level of interest is increasing, and right after Labor Day we will see more of a heightened interest.”
The battle for the voter-rich strongholds of Hyde Park and West Roxbury may hurt multiple candidates.
Dan Conley, Rob Consalvo, and Connolly are battling for the loyalty of those two neighborhoods. Consalvo, in particular, needs to own Hyde Park to have a shot at making the final. Conley and Connolly — elected countywide and citywide, respectively — are less dependent on dominating their home turf.
The big wild card may be Menino.
He has vowed to stay out of the race, but will he be able to help himself?
The final widely held view: In such a crowded field, with voters just beginning to focus, it’s hard for campaigns to have a clear sense of how they’re doing. “We have a plan and we’re going to stick to it,” one operative said last week. “Who knows whether we’ll make the final?”