Wednesday, April 18, 2007

City Council Special Election I

Seven names were on the ballot in the special preliminary election for City Council in District 2, but the competition was really among three candidates who finished within three percentage points of each other: Susan Passoni, Bill Linehan, and Ed Flynn. Though the district has long been dominated politically by South Boston--overshadowing the South End, Bay Village, the Leather District and a small part of Dorchester--the preliminary vote showed that Chinatown—straddling only two precincts—can be pivotal.

In recent years, parts of the district outside South Boston have been gaining in electoral clout. That hardly guarantees a victory in the final for Passoni, who lives in the South End. But the preliminary signals one tipping point in that the candidate who got the most votes in South Boston, Ed Flynn (1445), failed to make it to the final.

Finishing close behind Passoni throughout the district, Bill Linehan got the second highest number of votes in South Boston (1287), and he was far ahead of all the other candidates in Chinatown’s largest precinct, which also includes the Leather District. Ward 3, Precinct 8 gave Linehan 246 votes, even though the turnout here was only about 14%. In the same precinct, during the final election of 2005, when Jim Kelly won his last term, he received only 188 votes, despite a turnout of more than 32%. In that same election, the precinct gave Passoni 305 votes. Observers say it’s likely she’ll pick up some of the votes this year that went to other candidates, especially South Boston environmental justice activist Mary Cooney. Some votes for other candidates could also go to Linehan, and it’s anybody’s guess about the split among new voters in the final.

What’s also apparent is that Linehan has picked up support in Chinatown that eluded Jim Kelly. There could be many reasons for this, including Linehan’s work in Chinatown for Mayor Menino’s Administration on the addition of upper grades to the Josiah Quincy Elementary School. Other factors could include support from Frank Chin, a long-time community leader who enjoys good relations with City Hall. According to Lydia Lowe, the executive director of the Chinese Progressive Assn., the “City Hall machine” was a factor, at least in Chinatown precincts. Even if that overstates the role of Mayor Menino, Passoni is more noticeably at odds with the administration on issues such as powers of the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the construction of a biodefense lab near Boston Medical Center. Less clear is what, if any difference can be explained by rising numbers of new, non-Asian voters. And even Lowe says Chinatown turnout was highest among the elderly.

Another part of the Chinatown community—including residents of Castle Square, Mass Pike Towers, South Cove East and West lies in Ward 5, Precinct 1. This also includes Bay Village and part of the South End. In 2005, Passoni received almost two-thirds of the vote in this precinct. In this year’s preliminary, she had 57%, well ahead of Linehan’s 16%.

If Passoni is to win in the final election on May 15, she needs more votes from South Boston. In this year’s preliminary, with all the other six candidates from South Boston, precincts in that area gave her only from 2.9% to 16.9%. In 2005, the same precincts gave her anywhere from 15% to 37% of the vote, so that suggests she can do better in May. But that could still be far short of the votes for other South Boston candidates going to Linehan.

Whoever wins in May will have to run again for a full term later this year. There have been close special elections with large fields that set the stage for a much less competitive regular election. If Passoni were to win, there would seemingly be an incentive later this year for someone who could unify and mobilize the still dominant vote from South Boston—even if it’s unclear they would do better than Linehan. If Linehan wins and Passoni doesn’t challenge him, then Flynn’s performance shows what could be done, provided the South Boston vote isn’t split by any more candidates from the same neighborhood. But special elections also make an obvious but dramatic change in a candidate's political status: the difference between wannabee and incumbent.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Escalating Gun Toll, Escalating Response

City officials and church leaders are promising an escalated response to Boston’s rise in fatal shootings.

According to the Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, this will include federal investigations, possibly involving use of anti-racketeering statutes. A similar approach led to a dramatic fall-off in gun crime in Boston during 1990’s. Following a meeting between officials and church leaders this afternoon in City Hall, Davis said the investigation of people responsible for recent acts of gun violence is moving ahead more quickly. “They will not get away with this,” he said.

Davis said there would also be a “massive influx” of police officers in four neighborhoods most severely affected by the gun violence. The strategy would include putting administrative officers on the street one day a week.

The interim director of the Boston Ten Point Coalition, Rev. Jeffrey Brown, said church leaders would use their Easter Sunday sermons to ask for volunteers. The plan is to have those volunteers walk the streets, introducing police officers to the neighborhood, in hopes of reducing the level of distrust in the community. In recent months, officials have expressed some frustration over the apparent reluctance of people with knowledge about violent crimes to come forward.

“Our city is hurting,” said Rev. Brown, adding later, “We have to build a level of trust if we’re going to get through this period.”

The president of the Black Ministerial Alliance of Boston, Bishop Gilbert Thompson, said, “We want the people in the community to know there’s more than just 911 they can call.”

He said it was also important for families of victims to realize that getting closure by solving a case benefits the larger community.

“It’s not just the police that are asking for this,” he said, “it’s the church, it’s the community.”

Rev. Brown said the coalition was looking to have more home visits coordinated with police to deter young people engaging in violence. And he says the “ceasefire” campaign to broker truces between gangs should go citywide.