They got on the bus last spring, and two days hence all but two get off. Twelve candidates went through the toil of collecting signatures, filing forms, and pulling together campaign operations, all for the chance of becoming Boston’s next mayor. Come Tuesday, 10 of them are losers. That’s a word that’s often meant as a mocking put-down, but in this case, even the losers have accomplished much.
I don’t know which two will make it through to the November runoff. The most recent polls show a number bunched together. One by Suffolk University and the Boston Herald puts at-large City Councilor John Connolly in the lead, at 16 percent, while District Attorney Dan Conley, state Representative Marty Walsh, and onetime state representative and former city official Charlotte Golar Richie are narrowly behind. A second, from WBUR, has similar results but adds at-large City Councilor Felix Arroyo to the mix. A reasonable bet would be that the finalists come from those five.
A reasonable bet but not a sure one. Both polls show large number of voters to be undecided and have margins of error of 4 percent or more. Thus even candidates with lesser numbers can argue that the margin of error plus some late-breaking voters equal victory. The weather, last-minute developments, and candidates’ ground games — their get-out-the-vote efforts — can all move numbers on Election Day, particularly in a field as crowded as this.
Campaigning is a grind. Candidates have to simultaneously create a field organization, raise money to support their efforts, put together a solid rationale for their candidacy, and reach out to voters at every opportunity possible. It is an exhausting ordeal, each day a roller coaster of emotions. A good story in the paper can leave you high; two hours later, a simple rebuke from a voter can bring you down. Although the candidates will tell you they’ve learned much and had experiences that will deeply inform their postcampaign lives, it’ll still be nice when it ends.
Campaigning is also risky. Four of those running — Felix Arroyo, Rob Consalvo, Connolly, and Mike Ross — have sacrificed their day jobs as city councilor for this run. (A fifth councilor, Charles Yancey, is running both for mayor and reelection.) The others as well have had to take leaves from jobs, and all have had to take leave from the obligations of their personal lives. Running for mayor is a strain on relationships with spouses, children, family, and friends.
So why do they do it? Power, of course. The mayor’s job, as incumbent Tom Menino has noted frequently, is one of the best political jobs around. With Boston’s strong-mayor-and-weak-council system of governance, a mayor can have enormous and often unfettered influence.
But most also run, I think, for the best of reasons. As trite as it may sound, the candidates care. They have a vision for what Boston might be and want to help move the city in that direction. Sure, it takes a lot of ego to believe that you are uniquely qualified to do such a thing, but that’s the nature of political office — a combination of hubris and aspiration.
This campaign has been remarkable. There’s been much smart thinking about new plans and programs. People — especially young people — have become (often for the first time) engaged in politics and, by extension, in the daily life of the city. And the battle for votes has been, as many have noted, exceptionally civil. The mudslinging of other elections has left many of us cynical about the political process. This election has been a refreshing tonic: thoughtful, issues-focused, and uplifting. The campaign itself has helped make Boston a better city; all the candidates deserve credit.
The 12 have been together at so many debates and showcases that they have developed a kind of camaraderie. They’re rivals, to be sure, yet they’ve also gotten to know each other so well that, like long-married couples, they can finish each other’s sentences. There’s almost a sense of melancholy as the end approaches. Two will go on; the rest return to the real world. To those 10, we owe our thanks.