You can tell a lot about somebody by whom they admire.
Ask the current mayoral candidates to pick their favorite mayors — past or present, of here or elsewhere — and you get some pretty revealing answers.
Some choose boldly — transformative mayors who upended old ways of doing things. Some do not, choosing figures similar to themselves, or who represent the status quo.
There are right answers and wrong answers here, depending on how you want Boston to be. If you see no reason to change much, the candidates for you are the ones who choose Mayor Tom Menino. If you want something quite different, you might want to go another way.
State Representative Marty Walsh likes former Baltimore mayor (now Maryland governor) Martin O’Malley. “He got elected in a majority-minority city,” Walsh says. “He reached across lines, talking with the ministers and other folks. I think that is one of the things in Boston we have to work on.” He admires O’Malley’s record on crime — he used data to track progress on policing, among other areas, holding municipal employees more accountable. O’Malley also has the Irish ancestry thing going (he fronts a Celtic rock band), which is a Walsh thing, too (the Irish part, not the band part). “There are just a lot of similarities,” adds Walsh. He also likes Julián Castro, the San Antonio mayor who has made helping the city’s poorest residents central to his tenure.
“That’s an easy one for me,” says City Councilor Felix Arroyo. “My father-in-law.” Héctor Luis Acevedo was mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, from 1989 through 1996. There’s more than sucking up at work here: Acevedo was an underestimated underdog, which is how Arroyo sees himself. “He wasn’t supposed to win, and he ended up winning . . . by 29 votes,” the mayoral hopeful says of his close adviser. As mayor, Arroyo says, Acevedo did brave things, like pushing for a needle exchange program to reduce rates of HIV infection. “You’d think he’d try to play it safe, but he’s not that way.”
Bless him for this: John Barros is the only candidate who first names a woman as his favorite mayor. He likes Kim Driscoll, the hotshot mayor of Salem. “I love her work ethic,” he says. “She’s really smart and bright, she knows the issues, and she’s humble about it.” He especially likes Driscoll’s partnering the city’s troubled schools with Salem State University. And the fact that she is invested in the system, educating her own kids in it. “She just gets things done,” Barros says.
Charlotte Golar Richie
If Charlotte Golar Richie were to win this thing, she would be Boston’s first black mayor, and the first woman to lead the city. But in this field, the candidate who seems to most symbolize change is actually among those who seem happiest with the status quo of the last 20 years. Naturally, Tom Menino is her favorite mayor. “The mayor I worked for for eight years is going to be the mayor I know the best,” says Golar Richie, who led Menino’s Department of Neighborhood Development. She admires his focus on neighborhoods, and his fiscal restraint. She also mentions Cleveland’s Carl Stokes, who became the first black mayor of a major US city in 1967; Lisa Wong, who currently leads Fitchburg; and Shirley Franklin, Atlanta’s first black woman mayor.
Councilor Mike Ross likes Mike Bloomberg of New York, for his businesslike approach to government, and Newark’s Cory Booker, for his energy. His other favorite mayor is a fascinating one, from much further afield: Amram Mitzna, who led Haifa, Israel, from 1993-2003. “His ability to bring divergent views together is something I admire and emulate,” Ross says. He says Mitzna provided education opportunities that were as strong for the city’s Arab population as for its Jewish one. A former army general, Mitzna was an unlikely — and, as his dashed hopes to become prime minister showed, unpopular — dove when it came to the peace process. Ross admires the courage of that stand.
John Connolly, the only candidate with the guts to come out for mayor before Menino announced his retirement, chooses a Boston mayor who is the exact opposite of Menino. “Kevin White is my favorite mayor,” he says. “He had a big vision, and he held the city together through the most difficult time in its history.” Connolly believes White prevented the city from exploding during the powder keg years of the 1960s, and through the busing era. “Everything could have fallen apart in a way we may never have been able to come back from” without him, he says. He also admires the fact that White brought a whole generation of spectacular talent into City Hall. “He wasn’t afraid to let that talent shine,” Connolly says.
There’s no suspense when it comes to Councilor Rob Consalvo’s preference. Few candidates can claim to love their favorite mayors as much, or know them as well, as he does. “Without a doubt, it’s Tom Menino,” says the city councilor. Consalvo pushes his wonky, innovative side hard — and it’s genuine — but they don’t call him Menino’s mini-me for nothing. The city councilor has the retail king’s hardest-working-man-in-show-business thing down. He even looks like Menino’s progeny. “With Tom Menino, I’ve always been impressed with two things,” Consalvo says. “How much he loves the city. He doesn’t want to run for anything else. He wears that love on his sleeve. And how much he cares about the children of the city.”
Codman Square Health Center founder Bill Walczak likes current Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, calling him “a problem solver and an innovative thinker.” Nutter’s administration rewrote the city’s zoning code to make it more predictable, a course of action Walczak and others have been pushing. And Walczak admires the way Nutter came to the table to negotiate changes with the ACLU after the civil rights group challenged his stop-and-frisk policy. “That is the kind of consensus management I want to practice in Boston,” Walczak says. Though please, we could probably do without the stop-and-frisk.
Daniel F. Conley
Suffolk County DA Dan Conley chooses a fellow prosecutor: former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell. “I’m following that similar path,” Conley says, though he hastens to add he’s not interested in being governor. He admires the way Rendell took over a city with abysmal finances in 1992 and brought it back to relative fiscal health. “He was elected at a time of unrest and worked hard on improving public safety as well,” says Conley, who also admires Newark’s Booker — who will probably soon be a US senator — for his inspirational leadership, as well as his focus on “getting at the root cause of crime, and poverty and dependence on the government.”
“I’m going to go with Mayor [Ray] Flynn,” says former Boston police officer and TOUCH 106.1 FM founder Charles Clemons. “He was part of the Boston Miracle,” the huge reduction in city homicides that began under Flynn’s tenure in the early ’90s and continued with greater effect under Menino. He adds that Flynn “brought about true community policing, where there was a great relationship between the Boston police, the clergy, the residents, the organizations, and businesses.” This may come as news to city residents who lived through the years of street violence that marred much of Flynn’s mayoralty, but Clemons sees the greatness in the “mayor of the neighborhoods.”Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.