Mayoral forays into East Boston, like the proverbial land wars in Asia, often end poorly for the invading party.
Tom Menino tried it. In 1999, it worked, when Menino backed a then-young staffer, Anthony Petruccelli, over the favorite son of the neighborhood power brokers for an open House seat. Eastie political types still talk about the divisions opened by that race.
But Menino and Petruccelli teamed up again eight years later, along with much of the local political establishment this time, when another Menino scion sought the seat after Petruccelli’s ascension to the state Senate. Aplurality of the neighborhood’s voters had other ideas, getting behind Carlo Basile.
Basile has now decamped for the Baker administration — somewhat ironically, becoming very part of the establishment that once eschewed him — and afforded a new(ish) mayor the opportunity to wade into the quagmire of Orient Heights.
Despite the counsel of some advisers, it was a touch unrealistic to expect Martin J. Walsh to do anything other than inject himself. For one, Joe Ruggiero, a former field organizer from his 2013 campaign, was a candidate, and personal loyalty — even when practiced with varying degrees of political acumen — is a lovingly polished facet of the Walsh brand.
“There’s a matter called loyalty that seems to be lost in the conversation today,” said Robert Travaglini, the former Senate president and Eastie native who managed to back losing candidates in both the 1999 and 2007 battles. “And that’s what drove Marty Walsh to support Ruggiero. And I applaud that.”
But, at bottom, it’s simply that Walsh can’t help himself. An enthusiast of the electoral game by nature, he now has a career littered with alliances broken or forged by his eagerness to involve himself across the city.
In the 2003 political season, for instance, Walsh, then a 36-year-old state representative, endorsed no fewer than three candidates for at-large City Council seats. One of those endorsees, Felix D. Arroyo, has a son, Felix G. Arroyo, who 10 years later would mete out an electoral blessing of his own, helping Walsh to some of the pivotal victories in communities of color that made him mayor.
This week’s Eastie Democratic primary proved less fruitful.
Backing Ruggiero came at the expense of, among others in a field of five solid candidates, Ed Deveau, a former Petruccelli aide who had campaigned for Walsh in 2013, and Adrian Madaro, the former Basile aide who won the race.
There are degrees of political endorsements. The “soft” endorsement entails, perhaps, lending one’s name to campaign literature, perhaps hosting a fund-raiser.
This is not the Walsh way. Walsh’s political operation essentially ran the Ruggiero campaign, putting his people in contact with those from the other four campaigns on Eastie’s streets (to the extent that “streets” have existed in Boston with any semblance of normalcy during the winter of 2015).
That level of intensity was not a first for Walsh, but he’s now the mayor. People are now paying attention, and he has demonstrated little capacity to refrain from involving himself in local skirmishes. Were neighborhood politics instead foreign policy, the mayor would qualify as a neocon.
For political observers, it’s tremendous sport, the equivalent of having a team perennially in the playoff hunt — always something to watch. And, now that he can be both king and kingmaker, Walsh’s support is deeply desirable.
Ask Charlie Baker, who flirted outrageously with the mayor during last year’s gubernatorial campaign, much to the distress of Martha Coakley’s camp, and has continued to cultivate the bromantic association since taking office.
But there is an undeniable downside, as Walsh learned Tuesday night. Not just that the victor had cause for ill feelings against City Hall, in a part of town where the Marty Party could use more expansion than contraction.
There is a “peace breakfast” scheduled for Friday (at Donna’s on Saratoga Street). The mayor is likely to attend, and all will mouth the necessary post-election inanities. In time, at least some of the wounds will heal.
“It had ramifications,” Travaglini said of Walsh’s attempted intervention. “But they’re correctable.”
For Walsh this time, East Boston proved a bridge — and perhaps a tunnel — too far.