A lot of outsiders care about Boston’s mayoral election, but the candidates themselves profess not to want their involvement — especially if that involvement provides ammunition for another candidate. The issue, bubbling quietly over the summer, exploded last week when Stand for Children, an education reform group, said it would spend $500,000 promoting councilor John Connolly’s candidacy. In the context of this race, where the top-tier candidates have a million or so available to spend, that’s a breathtaking amount.
Rob Consalvo, another one of the 12 vying for the mayor’s job, strongly objected. He reiterated his call for a local version of the people’s pledge (the agreement Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown signed to tamp down outside expenditures). In fact, he dwells on this theme. “This campaign should be a conversation between the candidates and the people of Boston,” Consalvo says in a recent ad. “Our city needs a mayor who will answer only to the people,” he wrote to another outside group.
It sounds like a nice, principled stand. It isn’t though — indeed, the principle arguably cuts the other way. It does make for good politicking however.
The notion that city residents alone should be involved in choosing the next mayor is one the candidates themselves flout regularly. If Consalvo really believed that outsiders should have no say, then why does he seek and accept money from people living in the likes of Lynnfield (10 contributions totaling $1,850), Braintree (41 contributions, $8,669), or Newton (95 contributions, $23,466) — or, for that matter, Maryland (42 contributions, $8,735)?
I’m not cherry-picking here, either. According to the most recent filings at the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance, almost 45 percent of the $862,352 Consalvo has raised comes from outside of Boston.
Nor is Consalvo alone. Dan Conley has 11 contributions ($4,350) from Connecticut, Marty Walsh has 26 ($11,800) from Florida, Mike Ross has 170 ($44,938) from New York, and Felix Arroyo has 338 ($80,629) from Puerto Rico. In fact, all of the mayoral candidates except one have received money from outside of Boston. (The exception: David James Wyatt. He’s reported raising nothing.)
Outraged? Don’t be. It’s good and right that people and organizations from outside get involved in the city’s election. Boston matters to far more than just those who live in it. The way we run elections may limit the vote to just residents. But the consequences of those votes matter to many more people.
Each weekday the city’s population nearly doubles as commuters, tourists, and others make their way in to work and visit. They care about Boston’s future. An array of businesses, from health care to education to high-tech to real estate, call the city home — even if their owners or stockholders live elsewhere. They too care. The Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics care as well; they want Boston to be a place fans are eager to frequent.
Boston is the region’s economic, cultural, and intellectual center. Anyone who lives in New England, anyone with a stake in its success, is deeply interested in the outcome of the mayor’s race. The wrong person can easily undo all of the good created over the last 20 years. An increase in crime, a rise in racial tensions, more gridlock on the streets, a downgrade to the city’s debt rating — all of these and more have repercussions beyond Boston’s borders.
Then, too, Boston has national prominence, which is what attracted the attention of Stand for Children. Meaningful school reform in Boston could spark school reform across the nation. One can understand why Stand for Children wanted to get involved.
But it did so clumsily, with too much money and drawing too much attention to itself. That backfired on Connolly, the intended recipient of its largess, who took hits from his opponents until — the political heat intolerable — he asked Stand for Children to back off.
All of which underscores the delicate balancing act facing the mayoral candidates. They have to appeal to Boston voters, professing that their interests alone matter, while at the same time recognizing that the position they seek has a far greater constituency. And those from outside the city who seek influence have to understand that pushing too hard gets them nowhere at all.Tom Keane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org