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editorial

To be heard by next mayor, voters must go to the polls

The preliminary election on Tuesday will send two messages — one about the mayoral candidates, and another about the Boston of 2013.

For the 12 would-be mayors, the vote’s verdict will be straightforward enough: Only the top two finishers will survive to meet in the final election on Nov. 5. The verdict on the city’s political makeup, though, may prove equally consequential. Simply by showing up, the electorate that turns out to vote Tuesday will provide a CT scan of what political Boston looks like now — and of the constituencies the next mayor will spend the next four years tending. Bostonians who want to maximize their voice in that future need to vote.

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Historically, organized interest groups and voters in a few politically active neighborhoods have dominated Boston municipal elections. That was the case in 1993, when Tom Menino and James T. Brett moved into the final in the last mayoral preliminary in which no incumbent sought reelection.

Since then, though, more people of color and more young people have moved into the city. Parochial voting patterns that once dominated city elections have faded to some degree. Still, while the so-called “new Boston” has turned out to vote in presidential years, the city’s civic core — the voters whom politicians know they need to respect and fear — are the ones who have traditionally turned out in elections like Tuesday’s. If the old truisms of Boston politics look increasingly outdated, Tuesday is the first chance for voters to prove it.

Whether that new Boston shows up is the central question that has kept campaign strategists guessing all summer. The answer will shape the next four years, no matter who wins. Candidates will notice which precincts vote in large numbers and which ones don’t. If a crush of new voters does materialize on Tuesday, it will send a crystal-clear message to the next mayor that the city’s priorities must reflect that shift. On the other hand, if the old patterns hold, the city’s political class will set its compass accordingly.

With their ballots, voters will pick two mayoral finalists; with their choice to show up, they’ll determine which electorate the next mayor will answer to.

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