We owe a debt of gratitude.
Gratitude not just to the finalists, Marty Walsh and John Connolly, but to all 12 brave and ambitious people who contributed their hearts, souls, and ideas about the future of Boston in their bids to succeed Tom Menino.
All of them — well, most of them — contributed to a vibrant race, even if it was a vibrant race that a distressing number of voters never quite tuned into.
John Barros forced us to think about education. Bill Walczak upended our lazy acceptance of a casino in East Boston whose benefits and costs are largely unknown. Felix Arroyo put poverty on the table as an issue. Charlotte Golar Richie challenged assumptions about what a mayor should look and sound like.
And over the course of dozens of forums, they hashed out interesting ideas about what the city should do and how it should do it under the next administration. Expect the next mayor to steal ideas from his former rivals.
I freely admit that I have come to this admiration gradually. Back in April, I took a swipe at the field, implying that I didn’t think any of them were up to running Boston. There was a reference in one of my earlier columns to the field’s lack of gravitas, prompting Dan Conley to corner me at an event a few days later, playfully jab me in the chest, and declare, “I do too have gravitas!”
But over the course of the campaign, I watched the field come into its own and find its voice. By Tuesday morning, I stood in a voting booth, yet another undecided voter, staring at the names of multiple candidates I could comfortably have given my vote.
Given the quality of the pack — not to mention the chance to pick a new mayor for the first time in a generation — voter turnout was a bit of a disappointment. Early indications were that turnout was heavy in many of the areas that are traditionally most active, while other neighborhoods were closer to the level of voting in 2009, when Menino was cruising into his fifth term.
Many theories have been advanced for the low voter interest, from the relatively short race, to a lack of hot-button issues. Some believe voters were waiting for the field to thin out, and will focus more closely on the final. We’ll know about that in a few weeks.
I think voters — like the departing mayor himself — are only slowly coming to terms with Menino’s retirement. Love him or hate him, he has defined the job like few of his predecessors. Even as his two decades wind down, he continues to be the dominant force in the city. No wonder his potential successors looked small for so long.
Traditionally, the losers of mayoral elections disappear, at least in terms of politics and government. Our mayors serve for so long that there isn’t much chance for a second act.
It would be too bad if that happened in this case, because so many of these candidates clearly have a lot to offer, mayor or not.
Walczak is a proven leader in public health. Barros understands at a deep level what is right and wrong with development. Many of Arroyo’s ideas about poverty and addressing the achievement gap in public schools deserve to be pursued. For the good of the city, these candidates shouldn’t disappear into law firms and construction companies.
This campaign began amid a lot of concern that Menino had few, if any, plausible successors. We know now that was nonsense, that the city has a better-than-even chance of being led in decent hands.
Elections are about winners and losers, yes. But they can also serve as important reminders that a great city’s best days may well lay ahead.