Was last week the worst week of the Walsh administration?
One could easily make that case. Consider: On Tuesday, multiple candidates the mayor endorsed and actively supported — most prominently US Representative Michael Capuano — were soundly beaten at the polls.
But Walsh’s bad week didn’t end there. Later, federal prosecutors asked an appellate court to revive the Boston Calling corruption case in which two Walsh aides were indicted in 2015. The case had been dismissed in March.
Finally, Walsh’s former chief of staff, Dan Koh — a candidate for whom the mayor did everything but set himself on fire — stands right now as the razor-thin loser to Lori Trahan in the Third Congressional District (though that race is headed for a recount).
This is not good, not good at all, for a mayor who seemed to view this fall as an opportunity to display his growing influence. In addition to campaigning for Koh north of the city, the mayor has also been on the stump in other states, campaigning in labor-friendly, working-class areas.
I don’t want to overstate the woes of a very popular mayor. But if Walsh harbors ambitions beyond Boston City Hall, as is widely presumed, those dreams took a hit last week.
The biggest blow, of course, was Capuano’s defeat at the hands of Pressley. It’s also the most instructive, because it combines several of Walsh’s weaknesses in one event.
For the most powerful politician in the city, Walsh has backed more than his share of losers. Warren Tolman, Joe Ruggiero, Stephen Passacantilli, Jeffrey Sanchez . . . the list goes on. The common denominator is that he backs people who supported him. He has a lot of old friends in the business, and he remembers his friends.
As a human being, his loyalty may be a lovely quality. As a political matter, it’s becoming problematic. Not surprisingly, many of his longtime acquaintances — not all — are white guys. And now he has actively opposed the election of Maura Healey, Lydia Edwards, and Pressley, backing white males in each case.
For a progressive mayor, it’s not a good look.
There’s also the matter of how Pressley toppled Capuano. She was able to inspire a large number of voters who weren’t part of the traditional Democratic machine — who, in fact, voted explicitly against traditional party politics. Pressley won despite being hugely outraised in terms of campaign finances. She won with limited support from organized labor. Indisputably, she beat the machine.
If you are a mayor whose single greatest political asset is controlling the levers of that machine, that can only give you pause.
None of this is to imply that Walsh is some political hack. He is not. He is presiding, mostly successfully, over a time of huge growth in the city. He is managing the most inclusive city government Boston has had, by far. He is respected as a manager, and admired for his inspiring personal story.
But if he wants to run for governor, Koh’s likely defeat suggests that his appeal loses some luster beyond the city limits. If he wants to scare off future opponents with the strength of his indomitable political operation, well, that operation just became less intimidating. If nothing else, a strong opponent in Walsh’s next race just became a much more likely prospect.
As for that machine: Some savvy observers believe that it was simply stretched too thin. These people, who didn’t want to be named because they’d like to continue working in Boston politics, think the mayor — at a minimum — should get more selective about his causes.
They’re right, but there is more going on than that. It’s possible that the era of the big political bosses is ending before our eyes. The formulas that have guaranteed victory in the past don’t anymore.
For the better part of a century, Boston mayors have been invulnerable. What if that’s no longer true?