An unmistakable divide has emerged in Boston’s wide-open race for mayor: Fund-raising has been dominated by white candidates.
By mid-August, no candidate of color had raised more than $220,000. Four white candidates had amassed two to four times as much in the same crucial stretch leading to September’s preliminary election. In fact, on four occasions, a white candidate hauled in more than $220,000 in a single month.
“The patterns do not lie,” said Erin O’Brien, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “You can’t tell me race isn’t a part of it when you see those funding disparities.”
The financial divide may seem counterintuitive in an era with a black president and a state with a black governor, both of whom have proved to be prolific fund-raisers. But a municipal election is much different from a national or statewide race. And this is Boston, a city where only white men have served as mayor.
Many disparate factors contribute to the divide — including the fact that several of the white candidates had ramped up fund-raising long before the start of the race — but the simplest explanation is socioeconomic, say O’Brien and several other political scientists. White communities tend to be wealthier. That can make fund-raising easier for a candidate from the largely white neighborhood of West Roxbury than for a competitor from northern Dorchester, which is largely black, Latino, and Asian.
“Everybody has 100 best friends, but if your 100 best friends are richer than my best friends, you have an advantage,” said Maria Jobin-Leeds of the Partnership for Democracy and Education. “No matter how many calls you make and how many asks you make, your inner circle has less cash.”
Some analysts and elected officials reject the suggestion that skin color can be a barrier to raising money. In other recent Boston elections, ethnicity has not dictated fund-raising. For example, Linda Dorcena Forry, who is of Haitian descent, raised $163,000 in the lead-up to winning a state Senate seat representing South Boston, Dorchester, and parts of Mattapan and Hyde Park. Her closest competitor in the Democratic primary was Nick Collins, who is white and raised $156,000.
“I don’t think that race is a factor,” said state Representative Jeffrey Sanchez of Jamaica Plain, who is Latino and has served in the Legislature for 11 years. “People came into the mayor’s race at different points in their lives.”
Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced in March that he would not seek a sixth term, a decision that took some by surprise and unleashed a generation of pent-up political ambition. In the two decades since Menino took office, Boston has become increasingly diverse, with more than half of residents now black, Latino, or Asian. The city seemed ripe for electing its first mayor of color.
Twelve candidates qualified for the ballot. Six are white. The other six are Latino or black.
A Globe analysis found that white mayoral candidates tend to have a larger share of their donors contribute the maximum $500. White candidates also have done more fund-
raising outside the city, receiving financial support from the suburbs and beyond.
In contrast, Latino and African-American candidates have a higher percentage of contributions of $200 or less. They generally have received more of their money from Boston residents.
Individual circumstances can account for some of the inequality. Five of the white candidates hold elected office and had active fund-raising networks before the race began in the spring. Three of the white candidates are lawyers, a profession with a history of political donations. Another white candidate is a state lawmaker and influential labor leader whose bank account has been buoyed by large donations from unions.
But circumstance cannot fully explain the financial gap. Two of the candidates of color — Felix G. Arroyo and Charles C. Yancey — are sitting city councilors. Arroyo also has strong ties to organized labor. Another African-American candidate, Charlotte Golar Richie, served in the Legislature in the 1990s.
‘Many of the white candidates had been planning to run for mayor for years.’ — Paul Watanabe, UMass Boston
One white mayoral candidate, Councilor at Large John R. Connolly, launched his mayoral bid before Menino announced he would not seek reelection and had been actively raising money. Connolly was not alone.
“Many of the white candidates had been planning to run for mayor for years,” said Paul Watanabe, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “I don’t think that is true to the same degree for candidates of color.”
In a statement, Golar Richie noted that she was the last candidate to jump into the race.
“We have raised close to $225,000 in 3½ months, starting from zero,” Golar Richie said. “Compared to other candidates with $1 million after 10 years of fund-raising and others who raise funds year after year, I’d say that’s not a bad result.”
Golar Richie appeared to be referring to Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, who entered the race with a war chest of $868,000. But since Golar Richie joined the race, Conley has raised more than three times as much money as she. Two of his monthly hauls, $257,000 in May and $244,000 in July, eclipsed all her receipts combined.
Another candidate, John F. Barros, has raised almost 60 percent of his funds from Boston residents, significantly higher than many others in the race. But he had raised only about $138,000 by Aug. 15.
“The fact that John isn’t leading in the fund-raising race is not surprising,” said Barros’s spokesman, Matthew Patton. “He has spent his life engaging the community to build a better neighborhood, not cultivating political connections to build his political future.”
Arroyo had an uptick in fund-raising in the first half of August, when he reported raising $62,000, driven largely by donors from Puerto Rico.
Doug Rubin, a senior campaign adviser to Arroyo, worked on Governor Deval Patrick’s first campaign, when the relatively unknown African-American executive and lawyer took the state’s political establishment by surprise. Rubin said a campaign can decide to have a candidate spend less time making fund-raising phone calls and more time meeting voters and building a network of volunteers.
“We’re raising enough money to fund our plan to win this election,” Rubin said. “In Felix’s case, like the governor’s case, more of his time is spent knocking on doors and building the grass roots.”
The fund-raising divide could also be a reflection of a city in which politics have been dominated for 20 years by the same mayor. As a result, political networks crucial to fund-raising have not flourished.
“Boston hasn’t had this kind of race in decades,” said O’Brien of UMass Boston. “I feel like our mayoral politics has been on pause. If you go back 20 years ago, race relations [were different] and income inequality in the neighborhoods was a lot higher.”Andrew Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.