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JOAN VENNOCHI

Tito Jackson’s ‘plausible’ challenge of Marty Walsh deserves a hearing

Candidate for mayor Tito Jackson addresses the crowd during a march from Roxbury to Boston Common as part of a counterprotest to a free speech rally being held there, Aug. 19.Nicholas Pfosi for The Boston Globe

To dream the impossible dream.

In Boston, tilting at windmills means doing what Tito Jackson is doing: making a quixotic run to unseat Mayor Martin J. Walsh. If Jackson finishes second in Tuesday’s primary, the district city councilor from Roxbury will be the first black mayoral finalist in this city since 1983. But as it looks today, there’s little chance of an upset on Nov. 7.

Walsh leads Jackson 52-21, with a 3-1 advantage over Jackson with black voters, according to a recent poll conducted by the Emerson College Polling Society. That same poll shows that a substantial chunk of those surveyed feel less safe, are financially worse off, and believe the city is over-developed and housing is unaffordable. No worries. Walsh is still the man.

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Cloaked with the aura of incumbency, the mayor is refusing to debate his opponents before the Sept. 26 primary. Along with Jackson, two lesser-known candidates are also on the ballot.

But Walsh isn’t running against Jackson anyway. He’s running against President Trump, Nazis, and hate. He has big issues, like climate change and DACA, on his mind. When he has something hyper-local to say, Walsh goes before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, as he did Wednesday morning, and announces sweeping plans for public park space on the waterfront and affordable housing in nearly every neighborhood. As CommonWealth Magazine put it after Walsh’s speech, “It’s good to be king.”

Boston is a thriving metropolis. Yet, as Jackson has been pointing out, all is not well throughout Marty’s empire. Commissioning a monument to Martin Luther King Jr. doesn’t change that.

“This is the best city in the world, but it’s not the best city in the world for everyone,” said Jackson during a recent meeting with the Globe’s editorial board. Gang-related violence, stubborn school achievement gaps, and a lack of affordable housing and economic opportunity continue to hurt the city’s poorest citizens. Some violence is spilling out beyond the boundaries Boston has come to accept — meaning communities of color. Boston Common was the scene of a recent shooting that left a 19-year-old Hyde Park man injured.

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Jackson is right to question the Boston Police department’s low arrest rate and to highlight the need for more police officers of color. He’s right to challenge state and city giveaways to General Electric, which is already scaling back its Boston employment commitment. He’s right to call for tough scrutiny of any deal to lure Amazon to this city. He’s right to say all of Boston deserves to share in the city’s economic wealth.

Walsh won the mayor’s office with the help of a diverse coalition, including black Bostonians. Jackson endorsed him in 2013, along with the legendary Mel King, the last black mayoral candidate to make it to the final ballot.

Today, Jackson said black voters who supported Walsh “were sold a bill of goods. . . . The mayor is a really nice guy. But he’s absolutely lost his way when it comes to folks who put him there.”

If Walsh has lost his way, current polling shows most voters of color have yet to notice. That could change, if the press, faced with the prospect of a boring mayoral election, starts to hold the Walsh administration a little more accountable, and begins to test the strength of the voter alliance that elected him four years ago. Or, as David Bernstein asked for WGBH: “Can Tito Jackson reassemble Mel King’s 1983 coalition?”

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My gut tells me no, but it also told me Trump couldn’t be elected president. Maybe voters will look up at the towers rising over Boston and remember they can’t afford to live in them.

Of his mayoral quest, Jackson said, “People think it’s impossible. I would submit it’s plausible.”

In the spirit of democracy, he deserves that much, at least.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.