Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Boston's Preliminary: Turnout and Patterns

The turnout for yesterday’s preliminary election in Boston was impressive, but only by comparison with the lackluster municipal contests going back to 1997.

By comparison with the presidential election turnout last November—at 61.8%--yesterday’s figure for mayor and city councilors was much lower, at 23.1%. That’s still higher than turnout figures for the last two preliminary elections in years when there were votes for mayor and city councilors. In 2005, when there was no preliminary vote for mayor, the turnout figure was 15.1%. In 2001, it was 17.25%, and in 1997—when Mayor Thomas Menino was unopposed—it was 16.15%

The most impressive number in yesterday’s election was the increase in the number of people who came out to vote, 81,641. That’s more than twice the number of votes cast in the preliminary election four years ago and 86% higher than the figure for 2001. That seems to contradict the modest increase in turnout percentage. But, since 1997, the number of registered voters in Boston has grown by 49.9%.

With three opponents in the preliminary, Menino faced what was by far his most significant challenge since winning his first full term in 1993. Yesterday, he received 50.5% of the vote, followed by his co-finalist Michael Flaherty with 24%, City Councilor Sam Yoon with 21.2% and Kevin McCrea with 4.1%. In the only other preliminary comparison between yesterday and 1993, Menino received 73% of the vote in 2001, when he and co-finalist Peggy Davis-Mullen were joined on the ballot by perennial candidate Althea Garrison.

Despite his federal indictment last year on corruption charges, the District 7 (Roxbury/Dorchester) City Councilor, Chuck Turner, received 52.6% of yesterday’s vote. The next highest vote-getter was Carlos Henriquez, with 23.9%. In the final election two years ago, Henriquez received 18% and Turner received 81%.

Among the candidates for councilor at large, the two incumbents, John Connolly and Stephen Murphy, finished well ahead of the other candidates. Félix G. Arroyo, finishing third, trailed Murphy by more than four thousand votes, but the son of former Councilor Félix Arroyo was almost nine thousand votes ahead of the next candidate, Ayanna Pressley. The only woman on the ballot, Pressley finished more than four thousand votes ahead of the 5th place candidate, Andrew Kenneally. Fewer than three thousand votes separate Kenneally from the other three finalists in November: Tito Jackson, Doug Bennett and Tomás González.

In the only other two preliminary contests for district seats on the council, the incumbents finished well ahead of their competition in November. In Allston-Brighton’s District 9, Mark Ciommo received 59.8% over Alex Selvig’s 23.2%. In District 1 (E. Boston, Charlestown, N. End/Waterfront), Sal LaMattina received 73.4%, while Chris Kulikoski received 15.1%.

With a racially diverse pool of candidates, there were expectations for higher turnout in much of Boston. This year, the results were closer to the old pattern, with the highest turnouts in Ward 20 (W. Roxbury/Roslindale), at 35%; Ward 16 (Neponset, Cedar Grove, Pope’s Hill), 33.2%, Hyde Park (30.4%) and South Boston (29.8%).

Areas with the lowest turnout percentages were Ward 21 (Allston), with 11.6%; Ward 5 (Back Bay/South End), with 13.4%; and Ward 4 (Fenway/South End), with 14.7%. In between were Ward 17 (Codman Square/Lower Mills) at 25.6%, Ward 1 (East Boston) at 24.8%, Mattapan (24.1%), Ward 12 (Roxbury) at 23.6%, Ward 11 (Forest Hills/Egleston Square) at 23.4%, Ward 2 (Charlestown) at 23.3%, Ward 14 (Grove Hall/Franklin Field) at 20.2%, Ward 15 (Fields corner/Bowdoin-Geneva) at 20%.

Though Menino finished well ahead of his competition, there were some pockets of support for Flaherty and Yoon. Flaherty carried three precincts in Charlestown, all but one of the precincts in South Boston, and five precincts in Dorchester—mostly in Ward 16’s Neponset-Pope’s Hill/Neponset area.

Yoon carried one precinct in the West End, two in the Fenway, four in the Back Bay, 14 in solidly progressive Jamaica Plain and 8 in Ward 21—mostly in Allston.

The rest was carried by Menino, including Ward 20 and the precincts with the largest Asian population (in the main Chinatown precinct, the vote for Menino was 58.2%).