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Yvonne Abraham

It looks worse than it is

So, yeah, two white guys.

On paper, it’s pretty depressing. In Boston, a majority-
minority city where race still matters, the first open mayoral contest in 20 years yields a runoff that looks like 1950. John Connolly or Marty Walsh. One Irish Catholic politico or the other.

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I get the hand-wringing, especially among those of us who want the newest possible Boston to emerge after the departure of Mayor Tom Menino. But it’s not as grim as it looks.

For starters, despite appearances, this is not 1950. Both Connolly and Walsh have range and depth that go way beyond the stereotypes. That will come out in the next six weeks, as they reveal more of themselves and begin to court in earnest the voters of color and newer arrivals they failed to scoop up this week. There is more to Connolly than education reform and more to Walsh than union support. Both have the potential to be great mayors for all the city’s residents.

And it’s not as if the city isn’t ready for a black or Latino or woman leader. There is a huge hunger out there, as was demonstrated by Ayanna Pressley’s first-place finish in the at-large council preliminary, and especially by Charlotte Golar Richie’s third-place finish in the mayoral contest. Golar Richie was a way weaker candidate than her resume. In a campaign that turned almost solely on ideas, in which other candidates offered thoughtful plans for changing Boston, Golar Richie was comically careful, reluctant to answer questions directly or to offer specifics. She was the status quo candidate, tying herself more closely to Menino than anyone in the field save the delightful Rob Consalvo, his surrogate son. Yet voters vaulted Golar Richie to within a few thousand votes of the top two finishers. If she had offered half as much as some of the others did, she would be the most likely next mayor.

And if John Barros had had six more months, he might have had a serious shot, too. A star was born this year: The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative head and former School Committee member is an expert on education, community development, and the way they fit together. Young, Cape Verdean, and brilliant, he was a passionate, charismatic presence on the trail. Earlier this year, I worried that Menino had waited too long to announce his plans to give candidates without ready political machinery a realistic shot at his office. Sure enough, Barros, who raised little money but built an impressive and diverse operation from scratch, ran out of runway.

Barros was predictably upbeat Wednesday. He believes this mayoral race has started something. “I definitely saw new voices, new people, engaged in our process,” he said. “There’s this sense of ownership of the city’s future. As the campaign went on, people’s voices grew louder.”

He is disappointed that more voters in communities of color didn’t turn out. “We have a city that is demographically different, but our electoral participation is very much the same,” he said.

But there is no mistaking the great churn Menino’s departure has set in motion. We had multiple candidates of color, including the still very young Councilor at Large Felix Arroyo, who, like Barros, will probably be back. Some brought first-time workers and volunteers into the electoral process. We have new farm teams.

“There’s no reason for [minority residents] to feel disempowered,” said Malia Lazu, executive director of the Future Boston Alliance. “It’s up to us to let the candidates know they will not get power if they do not include us.”

Ideally, the next mayor of Boston would be the guy who so determinedly nurtures the best and brightest in all corners of town that he makes it possible for a black or hispanic candidate — or maybe even a woman! — to unseat him. His administration would be great, but not overlong.

Because another new Boston is coming, right after this one.

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