At a mayoral forum of building professionals last week, candidate John Connolly made a plaintive appeal to the crowd to become more engaged. “Boston’s forgotten how to have a mayor’s race,” he complained. Connolly was really just making a pitch for campaign contributions, but his remark underscores a larger point. After 20 years of relative political stability (call it a “Pax Menino”), the city’s civic gears are rusty. The next mayor has a chance to usher in an era of dynamic idealism with a visionary new urban team.
The conditions are ripe. After decades of disinvestment, cities are back as the hot new laboratories of domestic policy. Urban studies programs are booming, and the field is expected to grow by 16 percent this decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The buzz is reminiscent of the late 1960s, when Boston Mayor Kevin White and other youngish “reform” mayors were touting creative new ideas — and stoking their own political ambitions. It was the time and place that produced Barney Frank, Fred Salvucci, Peter Meade, Micho Spring, Paul Grogan, and the many other well-known figures who have defined Boston’s politics and philanthropy for a generation.