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Stop trying to push Black candidates out of the mayor’s race

On Acting Mayor Kim Janey's first day, light and shadows played on the Brutalist architecture of City Hall.
On Acting Mayor Kim Janey's first day, light and shadows played on the Brutalist architecture of City Hall.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Richard Taylor, a Black developer and sometime political activist, is nothing if not direct.

And, true to form, he didn’t mince words last week in his hugely ill-considered effort to push Andrea Campbell out of the race to succeed former mayor Marty Walsh.

In an e-mail to some of Campbell’s supporters, Taylor urged them to back her (nonexistent) bid for Suffolk district attorney, a position that could soon become vacant if Rachael Rollins is appointed US attorney.

“If Rollins moves, this opening is probably the ONLY window for a ‘credible’ exit for Campbell,” Taylor wrote. “I think Andrea is great. And had Marty not left I would be supporting her. BUT now that we have a Black female in the seat, what is the purpose of changing.” (The e-mail was first reported by Commonwealth Magazine.)

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It’s ugly politics, this notion that Campbell should step aside, that we have a Black woman as mayor, and therefore no other Black woman — or man, for that matter — should seek the office. As if Black women are interchangeable. As if Acting Mayor Kim Janey has somehow earned an automatic pass to a four-year term.

None of which happens to be remotely true.

This is the latest verse in a very tired song. For years, a small group of activists have pushed the idea that Black voters can only support one person at a time, and that everyone else should stand down.

There was a ham-fisted version of this in the mayoral campaign of 2013, when a group of activists held a meeting at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury to anoint a person of color as the candidate of the people. (The Black and Latino candidates who were supposed to drop out simply ignored it, as well they should have.)

More recently, in the district attorney race in 2018, there was pressure on candidates of color to drop out, driven by fears that a “split” vote would lead to a victory by Greg Henning, the most popular white candidate. We all know how that turned out: Once again, the targeted candidates stayed in the race.

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And Rollins won going away, proving that the whole premise was a bunch of nonsense. Rollins had always distanced herself from the effort, and has maintained repeatedly that it did nothing for her campaign.

Campbell — who was the second candidate to announce for mayor, long before Walsh decided to leave — wasted no time Friday blasting Taylor’s suggestion.

“Black women candidates for public office are not interchangeable,” Campbell said in a statement. “I would hope everyone would be offended by the suggestion that one Black woman candidate is interchangeable with another with ‘no difference.’ I would never allow my supporters to push this narrative and neither should Acting Mayor Janey.”

These efforts are rooted in the historically inaccurate idea that white politicians routinely make way for others of their ethnicity. For the record, when Thomas M. Menino was first elected mayor in 1993, he bested a field that included fellow Italian-Americans Bob Rufo, then the Suffolk County sheriff, and City Councilor Rosaria Salerno. (John Nucci, an early front-runner, dropped out when he realized that his supporters were flocking to Menino.)

Clearly, Italians didn’t get the word that they had “their mayor” and were all set.

A group known as “Wakanda II” has already declared plans to vet the Black candidates in this race, and select the person that they believe Black voters should get behind. But it shouldn’t even need saying that Campbell — as well as the many other candidates of color — have every right to compete in this election. No self-appointed group of “leaders” should be telling anyone otherwise.

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Janey has gotten off to a decent start, in the sense of being on-message about the symbolic importance of her presence and the need for change. She hasn’t done anything that says Andrea Campbell, or anyone else, should get out of the race.

Voters — remember them? They decide who should be mayor. And they’ve barely begun to tune in.


Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.