With 10 days to go before voters head to the polls, has the mayoral election become a battle for second place?
The case is getting stronger that Councilor Michelle Wu holds a substantial lead over her rivals. The top two vote-getters in the preliminary on Sept. 14 will do battle in the general election.
The latest good news for Wu came Friday in the form of a poll by Policy for Progress and MassINC. That survey had Wu at 30 percent, followed by Acting Mayor Kim Janey at 15, Councilor Annissa Essaibi George at 13, and Councilor Andrea Campbell at 11.
The poll was the first to show Wu as high as 30 percent, and, in fact, showed her with significantly more support than other surveys, which have tended to have her in the low- to mid-20s. Still, it broadly follows other polling over the past two months that has consistently shown Wu holding a lead.
Unless the numbers deceive, she should make the final.
The other finalist? That remains the question of the hour, and the fuel for a pitched political battle.
That’s because three strong candidates are slugging it out for second place. I believe any of them could make the final.
Campbell received a glowing endorsement from the Globe on Thursday, which her team will doubtless waste no time converting into TV advertising.
Though Campbell’s relentless attacks on Janey have clearly hurt the campaign of the acting mayor, it’s less clear that it has drawn voters to her. But she has a significant amount of money to spend, a great biography, and a strong message. She’s very much in the hunt.
Essaibi George has reason to feel upbeat, as well. Her anti-reform message plays well to a base of very reliable voters — older, whiter, more conservative. In a low-turnout election — which this could very well be — it isn’t hard to see her making the final.
Janey’s campaign feels oddly stalled. Voters haven’t rallied behind someone holding the office the way one might have assumed. Two or three months ago, I would have called it inconceivable that a sitting mayor could finish third in an election. It doesn’t feel unthinkable now.
It isn’t that Janey — the first woman to hold the office, as well as the first person of color — has been a bad acting mayor. She’s been fine.
But she hasn’t really seized the mantle. Repeatedly — on mask mandates and extending the city’s eviction moratorium, to cite two recent examples — she has appeared pushed into doing the right thing only after being blasted by Campbell.
Mayors get pushed into action all the time. But it hasn’t inspired confidence among voters who are only getting to know her.
I believe Campbell made the calculation some time ago that she could only make the final by going after Janey — which was both bold and risky, because it meant potentially alienating Black voters by going after the city’s first Black acting mayor. But it’s been effective in slowing Janey’s momentum.
So we’re headed for the most intriguing preliminary election in years. Questions abound: Is Essaibi George’s base as potent as she thinks it is? Can Janey pick up more voters outside her base? Can Campbell — armed with good ideas, good press, and a lot of ads — close the gap? Is Wu doing enough to hang on to her lead, or does it shrink as voters start to focus more closely? Do voters take a second look at John Barros, the former economic development chief now polling fifth? If his supporters bail — thinking he can’t make the final — where do they go?
The best news here is that this field is full of candidates who could do the job as mayor. But it’s unusual — to say the least — for this many candidates to have a legitimate path to the final less than two weeks out.
The candidates are in for a nerve-racking sprint to the final — but, of course, this is the life they have chosen.
For the rest of us, this election promises to be a fascinating look at where Bostonians want the city to go, and whom they trust to take it there.