Hey, Boston: Can we have a mayoral race going at all times?
Seriously, I don’t want this to end. Just as Massachusetts seemed mired in an endless string of nasty campaigns — complete with barn jackets and houses in Maryland and Native American cookbooks and fearmongering negative ads — along came an eerily positive democratic exercise.
We have before us a group of 12 candidates who, almost to a person, are credible, likable, fluent in city policy, engaged with neighborhoods and affinity groups, and respectful of one another, having shared the stage at what seems like 30,000 candidate forums. They tease each other gently and band together, when need be, in the face of petulant moderators.
Even their TV ads are positive. Though totally unnecessary.
This is the single truly disappointing thing about the campaign: The fact that many candidates felt the need to engage in an air war at all. Beyond subsidizing TV stations and entertaining suburbanites, what do they hope to achieve? The preliminary election on Sept. 24 will be won on shoe leather, personal contact, detailed conversations, and serious efforts to get out the vote.
Yet political consultants have clearly been standing beside some candidates’ ears, singing the modern-campaign siren song that’s difficult to resist. Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College, said he suspects that many candidates succumbed to pressure: Put up an ad and you appease the chattering classes, check off a box on the Serious Candidate checklist, and spend some of that money that’s burning a hole in your war chest.
Well, OK. Let’s look at the ads in this race. What have we learned?
■ Dan Conley has nice eyes. This is a statement of fact. It’s hard to miss those eyes while your TV is on, even if you’re merely flipping past Channel 5 on the way to a rerun of “Storage Wars.” Conley has the most money, so, by definition, his ads are the most unavoidable, as well as the most beautifully produced. In a not-unrelated development, they are also the ads that most feel as if they could apply to a candidate from South Dakota.
■ Rob Consalvo is “all in.” His ad is the Bernie and Phyl’s commercial to Conley’s slick McDonald’s ad — and I mean that in the kindest possible way. There’s something charmingly small-bore about the way Consalvo alternates between making policy points and hitting three-point shots, then runs up to the camera, breathless and Menino-like. He got sweaty for you, Boston. Remember that.
■ Mike Ross has a good visual sense: The campaign-ad image that sticks most in my head is the group of screaming kids, following Ross across a street. His “running” ad, with its Django-esque score, makes him a shoo-in for mayor of whimsy, but doesn’t illuminate the rest of his personality. Same goes for Bill Walczak, a thoughtful and deliberative guy whose demeanor doesn’t match his goofy commercial — the closest thing to a negative ad that you’ll find in this race, given that his opponents’ heads all turn up in a giant slot machine.
■ John Barros did a lot of good work in Dudley Square.
■ Short money leads to wise choices. Felix Arroyo doesn’t have much in the way of campaign finance, so at least his ad is targeted: Spanish-language, running on Spanish stations.
■ Marty Walsh has friends with money. The ads on his behalf, like Conley’s ads, are nicely produced and impressively on-message. His “I am Boston” ad, featuring voters from nearly every demographic and ethnic group, would feel like a triumph of Dorchester life, if it didn’t happen to be paid for by a union super PAC.
■ John Connolly loves Boston schoolchildren — so much that he does not want them to eat expired food, because that is gross.
Look, none of these ads are bad, or distorted, or particularly intrusive. The problem with them is the problem with every 30-second campaign spot: They don’t do the candidates justice. We never get a sense of Barros’s charisma, or Conley’s intensity, or Arroyo’s ability to make emotional connections, or Connolly’s political instincts, or Walsh’s people skills, or Ross’s vision for the future. Each ad is a sliver of conventional wisdom that only ratchets up the need for fund-raising in a city whose leader could use fewer obligations, not more.
Save the ads for the Senate races, I say. Boston has already shown it can do better.