Intimidated by gulfs in fund-raising and polls showing white candidates in the lead, some black activists are considering asking some of the six candidates of color to drop out of the race for the mayor of Boston.
A meeting held on Wednesday appeared to be largely driven by supporters of Charlotte Golar Richie, the former aide for outgoing Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick. Kevin Peterson, a Golar Richie supporter and director of the New Democracy Coalition, told the Globe, “There is concerted interest in asking two or three of the minority candidates to step out.”
There should be no such interest. Let democracy happen.
Instead of trying to force out candidates, activists should spend these next two and a half weeks before the Sept. 24 primary asking citizens to give all the candidates a serious look as well as working on getting out the vote.
Any effort to racially gerrymander the campaign is a disservice. Having moderated two candidate forums recently, I found that the candidates of color — Felix Arroyo, John Barros, Charles Clemons, Golar Richie, Charles Yancey, and David James Wyatt — bring diverse perspectives and experience to the table, which should be a fundamental part of the runup to the Sept. 24 primary.
Asking candidates of color to drop out would be a denial of the New Boston that activists always wanted to see.
Even if there are perceived front-runners among the candidates of color, squashing the rest of the candidates silences potential voices that can pressure the front-runners to be more forthcoming about their positions and proposed policies. An obvious attempt by a few to handpick a candidate might have a boomerang effect, souring interest in the final from supporters of other candidates.
Asking candidates of color to drop out would also be a denial of the New Boston that activists always wanted to see. People of color are now in the 53 percent majority. If activists can activate the public to get to the polls, there is no telling what will happen.
Sure, white candidates Marty Walsh, John Connolly, Dan Conley, Mike Ross, and Rob Consalvo have all raised far more money than any of the candidates of color. But money itself does not vote, and many elections, including Barack Obama’s first presidential bid and Governor Patrick’s first campaign, amply demonstrate that grass-roots excitement can counter pure cash.
The potential is staring activists in the face. African-American councilors at the district level traditionally win with lower turnouts than in most other districts. In 2011, the turnout gulf between majority black districts and more white districts was as high as 13 percentage points. In 2009, it was as high as 15 percentage points.
That gulf represents thousands of votes, and the campaigns should be reminding voters of color that they now possess political power at levels previously unknown in Boston. Though a 12-person race is cumbersome, the cross-pollination of ideas in forums has been meaningful; nearly all the candidates have a serious ear to the ground in their work and communities. This diversity has made for a much richer contest, and should produce a much more informed mayor.
Finally, any attempt to pressure candidates to resign before the voters have their say has a patronizing irony built into it. This is a race to be mayor of all of Boston. The interest in weeding out some candidates is premature panic, a fear that white voters will not consider a candidate of color either in the primary or the final. Arroyo and Ayanna Pressley disproved that as at-large councilors. Linda Dorcena Forry disproved that with her state Senate victory in what was nicknamed the “Southie Seat.”
There is nothing in this exciting race that necessitates activists creating a “black seat” in the finals.