The longtime activists and former politicians who met in Roxbury Wednesday night to plot strategy for the mayor’s race came out with a surprising declaration: several of the candidates should get out of the race.
This group — dominated by supporters of Charlotte Golar Richie — declared that the best interests of the black community could be served by rallying behind a candidate with a chance to win. There wasn’t any mystery about which candidate they meant.
The meeting at Twelfth Baptist Church was spearheaded by Kevin Peterson, the head of the New Democracy Coalition, and a staunch Richie supporter. The Richie campaign issued a statement Thursday afternoon disavowing the meeting.
Still, the call for other candidates to drop out could not have caught her campaign by surprise.
I have nothing against Golar Richie. She is a smart and thoughtful former state representative and city housing chief. But her inability to formulate a winning message and galvanize voters is her own failing; it is not fair to ask other candidates to drop out, to help her consolidate support she should have mustered on her own. Their exit wouldn’t solve all her problems, either.
But that is not the worst of this. The worst part is that this anachronistic, smoke-filled-room exercise completely ignores the political reality of the city. This is an effort to draw politics in stark terms of black and white when they have long since become far more nuanced.
Those who really wanted to rally behind a candidate of color might consider John Barros, the Roxbury activist who has been more impressive than Richie in the view of practically everyone paying attention to this race.
But these would-be power brokers don’t seem to think of Barros, who is of Cape Verdean descent, as fully part of the African-American community. Likewise, City Councilor Felix Arroyo is a non-starter, because a Latino is not viewed by these dinosaurs as a representative of the black community.
“How do you have a meeting like that with no Latinos in the room?” City Councilor Tito Jackson asked rhetorically Thursday. “That ship has sailed.”
The stated view of the community elders at the meeting was that the bottom tier of black candidates — which they define as gadfly David James Wyatt, radio host Charles Clemons, and City Councilor Charles C. Yancey — should drop out of the race and endorse Richie, whom they view as the most qualified and viable black candidate.
Horace Small of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods was in the closed-door meeting, though he left before the notion of clearing the field for Richie had been aired. Small is unaffiliated in the race.
“This is not a move that's going to give the community any power at any level,” Small said. “With no field organization, no Election Day strategy, no resources, no labor support, and no support beyond black folks, I don’t see how they pull this off.”
Peterson told me yesterday that with the exit of several other candidates, Richie could make it into the final, where she would be somehow unbeatable as the lone woman and lone person of color.
Here’s the problem with that theory: if Richie was a strong enough candidate to win the election, she wouldn’t be languishing in the middle of the pack with less than three weeks to go. Pushing other people out of the race is no substitute for an effective campaign. Besides, for this strategy to make sense, she would need all of the other candidates of color to drop out, not just the ones with scant support.
I called Barros on Thursday and asked if he were considering dropping out. After a hearty chuckle, he had a typically thoughtful response.
“What we should be working on is expanding a 38 percent participation rate in recent elections among people of color,” he said. “That’s where the effort should be. That should be the conversation.” But that isn’t the conversation that’s taking place.
The true path to power lies in building bridges beyond — and among — communities of color. That’s how Deval Patrick became governor of Massachusetts, and it is how someone will become the first person of color to lead Boston. It isn’t going to come from a group of “leaders” attempting to execute a political strategy that lost currency years ago.
Winning an election isn't really all that complicated. It boils down to making a case for change, making a case for yourself as a person who can deliver change, and putting forth a program voters will rally behind. Whomever can do that deserves to win.
This election has attracted the most diverse field of candidates Boston has ever seen. That should be cause for celebration. Their fate will be decided by the voters, and rightly so.