In loss, city’s diverse candidates made a mark
They had come this far.
Each had slogged through countless handshakes, participated in numerous debates, and struggled to raise money, while trying to make history as the first minority mayor.
When polls closed and ballots were counted Tuesday, the six candidates of color had collectively garnered 34.7 percent of the votes.
But none of those candidates made the final cut.
“If the ultimate goal is to have a person of color in the top two, then it failed,” said Peniel E. Joseph, a history professor at Tufts University and a political observer. “If the ultimate goal was to show that these diverse candidates are qualified to be mayor and can get nearly 40,000 votes in the primary, then it’s a success. But I think people ultimately wanted political power.”
One day after the preliminary elections ended with two white men — state Representative Martin J. Walsh and Councilor at Large John R. Connolly — advancing in the mayor’s race, the results were met with a mix of disappointment, celebration, and bittersweet resolve.
While the candidates of color fell short, their solid showing in the campaign is seen as another indicator of the changing Boston, where more than half of the population is black, Latino, and Asian.
Data from the Boston Election Commission showed that the top three candidates of color were substantially outspent by some white candidates, but still won more votes.
Now many community advocates and candidates across the city are wondering how they can tap into the energy generated in communities of color during the preliminary election.
“Black, Latino, and Asian voters are the ones that are actually going to be the tipping point,’’ said Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. “You are going to have a communities-of-color agenda in terms of how you are going to unify the city. I think it would be shortsighted of any candidate to try and sidestep that.”
Walsh and Connolly will also need to target the base of voters who cast their ballots for the candidates of color. At one precinct in the heart of Roxbury, for example, former state representative Charlotte Golar Richie, Councilor at Large Felix G. Arroyo, and former School Committee member John F. Barros captured 70 percent of the vote collectively, according to the city’s Election Department. And in the Bowdoin-
Geneva area of Dorchester, the same three candidates secured 60 percent of the vote.
More people are engaged in conversations about affordable housing, educational achievement, and jobs for at-risk youths, and the mayoral contenders attribute that to having a diverse pool of candidates in the race, political observers said.
The crowded field of 12 included one Latino, one Cape Verdean, and four African-Americans.
Golar Richie, who was last to enter the race, came in a respectable third with 13.8 percent of the vote, compared with Connolly’s 17.2 percent and Walsh’s 18.5 percent.
Arroyo pulled in at fifth place with 8.8 percent of the vote, and Barros was in sixth place with 8.1 percent.
The other candidates of color were Councilor Charles C. Yancey, radio station general manager Charles L. Clemons Jr., and former teacher David James Wyatt.
“Having multiple candidates of color in this race allowed us to mature as communities of color in Boston and allowed us to raise some questions that we should continue to have conversations around,” Barros said.
It also created a natural forum for a broader array of issues to be discussed in public settings. For instance, candidates of color pushed for more diverse leadership in key city posts, particularly the superintendent of schools, police commissioner, and the head of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
“The next mayor has to pick new leadership,’’ said Arroyo, who said he is open to the idea of teaming with the other candidates on the issues he championed. “Across the city, we should make it clear the kind of leadership we’d like to see in our city. Most Bostonians want to see an inclusive leadership.”
So, the minority candidates and political observers say, the trick will be to continue having diverse voices represented in conversations with the two candidates left standing.
“Throughout the campaign, every candidate became aware of the stark disparities that exist in the city of Boston,’’ said Yancey, who ran for mayor while campaigning to keep his District 4 council seat. “Disparities based on wealth. Disparities based on income. Disparities based on participation in the highest levels of city government. And if either of those candidates ignores those issues, then they are going to lose.”
Williams, of the Urban League, said candidates of color must come together in “some type of come-to-Jesus meeting” and figure out how to build on the momentum of the preliminary election.
The time has come, he said, to put the needs of the community before individual interests to ensure the issues emphasized by the candidates of color — poverty, health disparities, education reform, jobs, affordable housing, crime and safety — remain on the table for the duration of the race.
“We’re going to have to have a seasoned group that can make the pitch,” Williams said. “But we need to have a real soul session” around key issues. He added that “trustworthy ambassadors” need to highlight the community issues above their own interests.
Kelly Bates, a political analyst for WGBH and an Arroyo supporter, said the campaigns of Walsh and Connolly will need to genuinely appeal to communities of color. And voters, including white residents who want to see a minority in the mayor’s office, will have to hold the two candidates’ feet to the fire, she added.
“They have to have people of color on their campaign staff. And if they don’t already, they have to get it,’’ Bates said.
Barros said he was not ready to say Wednesday how he planned to help mobilize his supporters, but he plans to reach out to the other candidates of color who, like him, were bested Tuesday night.
Hubie Jones, dean emeritus of the Boston University School of Social Work and a longtime community advocate, said that despite the outcome of the race, the candidates had a significant impact that exceeds the race.
He said he mailed a letter to Golar Richie, whom he was supporting, saluting her third-place finish. Golar Richie declined to comment through a senior campaign adviser.
“The reality is she now has a larger political voice,’’ he said. “It’s probably true because of her, her run, and the other candidates of color that there will be a serious partnership between the new mayor and leaders of color in the city like we’ve never had before.”