Friday, November 11, 2011

Council Results Show Boston Vote Shift

If you go back twelve years in Ward 18, the at-large vote for City Council looks like the politics of a different century. Even in 1999, the ward--comprising Hyde Park and Readville, along with parts of Mattapan and Roslindale--was racially mixed. But the top four candidates were (in order) Hyde Park resident Steve Murphy, Mickey Roache, Albert "Dapper" O'Neil, and Peggy Davis-Mullen. 

As it turned out, 1999 was the last hurrah for O'Neil, a racially divisive figure who in earlier votes had topped the ticket citywide. But, in November of 2011, the top four vote-getters in Ward 18 were (in order) Ayanna Pressley, Felix G. Arroyo, John Connolly, and Steve Murphy. Even excluding the ward's six precincts in Mattapan, the top four were the same, only with Pressley behind Arroyo and Connolly behind Murphy. 

But the most recent numbers show more than racial change. In the previous year with a vote for City Council only, in 2007, the vote was off in the ward's precincts in Hyde Park and Roslindale, though up in Mattapan. On Tuesday, the number of votes was up throughout the ward, and especially in the predominantly black Mattapan precincts, where the number of votes was more than 91% higher than it was in 1999. 

Boston's 2007 election is notorious for low turnout (13.59% citywide), and this year's figure of 18.13% hardly looks impressive compared with the figure for 1999, at 24.49 percent. But the steady increase in voter enrollment, plus growth in Boston's population, have also produced a larger electorate. That's one reason why a modest improvement in the turnout figure obscures the dramatic increase over 2007 in the number of votes cast--a jump of of more than 36 percent. 

Overall, the number of people voting Tuesday wasn't much higher than the figure in 1999--by only 5.72 percent. But a breakdown of the citywide figure shows some dramatic changes in the distribution of votes. For example, in the high-turnout Ward 20 (West Roxbury and part of Roslindale), the number of votes was down from the figure in 1999 by more than 20 percent. In South Boston, despite an increase over four years ago with this year's competitive race for a district council seat, the number of votes was still down from the figure in 1999 by 7.69 percent. In the same district, the number of votes from the largest piece of Chinatown (Ward 3, Precinct 8) was more than five times the figure in 1999, going from 124 to 825. 

Also posting substantial increases over the vote counts in 1999 were Ward 14 (Grove Hall, Four Corners, Franklin Field), by 62.62%, and Ward 17 (Lower Mills, Codman Square) by 70.22 percent. And, in Roxbury's Ward 12, the figure was up by 13.25 percent. 

Though the changing composition of Boston's active voters owes much to the mobilzation for the last presidential election in 2008, there is still a good deal of change to be found in the elections with the weakest draw, for City Council only. In 2011, as in 2007, there was no citywide preliminary vote to give the race added visibility, though this year's final vote had ideal weather for maximum turnout. If there was any political boost expected for turnout this year, it was supposed to be among predominantly white voters drawn to competitive races for district seats (in Dorchester, South Boston, the South End, Chinatown, Bay Village, and the Leather District), or to the best-known at-large challenger, former councilor and mayoral contender Michael Flaherty. 

In pre-election coverage by local media, there was speculation that Flaherty's campaign could be at the expense of the council's first and only woman of color, Ayanna Pressley. As it turned out, Pressley would finish ahead of all the other at-large candidates. Pressley and colleague John Connolly got some attention for making campaign appearances jointly. And this year's incumbents sometimes made appearances and statements expressing mutual support. 

The campaigns also resulted in votes that crossed the racial boundaries of the past. For example, in Ward 20, Pressley came in second, behind only Connolly, who lives in the West Roxbury. In Ward 19 (Pondside, Jamaica Hills, part of Roslindale), with its normally progressive tilt, Pressley came in first, even surpassing Jamaica Plain resident Felix G. Arroyo. 

Though Flaherty came close to matching his vote in 2007, when he topped the field, he failed to match shows of strength two years ago, when he campaigned for mayor with fellow councilor Sam Yoon as a running mate. This year, Flaherty finished behind the top four positions in Ward 5 (Back Bay/Beacon Hill/South End), which he carried in 2009, and in Jamaica Plain, where he lost that year with almost 49% of the vote. 

If Pressley showed it was possible to pick up votes across racial lines, then so did the the other winners at large, especially Arroyo and Connolly. Another example was the challenger for the council in District 2, Suzanne Lee, who fell short of beating the incumbent from South Boston, Bill Linehan, by only 87 votes. 

As expected, Lee carried almost all the District 2 precincts outside South Boston, with almost three-quarters of the votes in those precincts. Linehan carried all of South Boston and two neighboring precincts in Dorchester with less than two-thirds of the vote. In these precincts, Lee had more than thirty percent of the vote. 

In the race to fill the seat being left open in District 3 (Dorchester) by Maureen Feeney, Frank Baker took almost 56% of the vote against John O'Toole. Both candidates had their share of union endorsements and well-known political supporters--Mayor Menino's organization and an official endorsement from Maureen Feeney for O'Toole, and Dorchester legislators--including another Columbia-Savin Hill resident, Marty Walsh--for Baker. 

It was Baker who showed more strength outside his base in Columbia-Savin Hill, even carrying precincts in Port Norfolk and in Lower Mills, where he had support from State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry--and where O'Toole might have been hampered by disenchantment with Feeney over plans (later reversed) to close a branch library. For all the contentious campaigning, the results in District 3 were also explained by Baker's ability to make contact with voters, even close to O'Toole's base in Cedar Grove, with its high-turnout polling place at Florian Hall. O'Toole carried the precinct (Ward 16, Precinct 12), but union backing and direct contacts helped him get 308 votes, his fourth highest precinct tally in the district. 

The two other district races were much less competitive. In District 7 (Roxbury, parts of Dorchester, Fenway, the South End), Councilor Tito Jackson won his first full term, taking 84% of the vote over Sheneal Parker. In District 4 (Dorchester/Mattapan), Charles C. Yancey was re-elected over perennial candidate JR Rucker with almost 89% of the vote.


One reason has been given for the decrease in the number of votes this year--compared with 1999--from Ward 20: the lack of competition for the district council seat. In the earlier election, there was a strong but unsuccessful challenge to the City Councilor for District 6 (covering most of Ward 20), Maura Hennigan, by John Tobin. In the next off-year elections, there would be two other incumbents, John Tobin and Matt O'Malley, who were unchallenged. And there was little speculation in the media that West Roxbury's at-large councilor, John Connolly, was in danger of losing his seat. Though vote numbers could also reflect a drop in population or voter engagement, it has to be noted that the number of people registered to vote in Ward 20 (26,283) is higher this year by about 8 percent.

Comparing this year's figure for Ward 20 to that from November of 2007 shows an increase of almost 14 percent. But, in some areas of Boston without a competitive race for a district council seat (in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan), the numbers were up anywhere from 47% to 62 percent.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Challenger Makes Splash in Council Race

There's no doubt the most remarkable result from yesterday's preliminary elections for Boston City Council was the first-place finish for Suzanne Lee. Running in District 2 (South Boston, South End, Chinatown, Leather District, Bay Village), she received 39% of the vote. The incumbent from South Boston, Bill Linehan, received 35%, followed by another South Boston candidate, Bob Ferrara.

After reuniting with her parents at age 11, Lee grew up in Grove Hall and eventually became well known for her accomplishments as an educator and community leader. And she went into yesterday's election with endorsements from the Ward 5 Democratic Committee and the South End News.

Another way to view the results in District 2 is to say the two candidates from South Boston got more than 60% of the vote. That's greater than the share of the vote for Linehan in the final round of the special election to fill the vacancy left by the death of Jim Kelly. In that earlier contest, Linehan won with less than 53% of the vote. His co-finalist from the South End, Susan Passoni, received more than 46 percent.

One significant difference in the vote this year was in the largest subdivision that includes Chinatown, Ward 3, Precinct 8, which is also Lee's home neighborhood. The precinct gave her 484 votes, for 80% of the total. In May, 2007, the precinct vote was split, with Passoni getting 52% and Linehan almost 48 percent. Before yesterday's election, much of the precinct vote was thought to have been controlled by allies of Boston mayors. If that element was somewhat offset in Passoni's showing, then yesterday's election stood out for being the first district race in which people in the precinct could vote for one of their neighbors.

But figures from recent elections also show the precinct has more voters, partly as a result of mobilization by an organization Lee helped form in the 1970's, the Chinese Progressive Association. By comparison with the figures from May, 2007, turnout rates in most of the District 2 precincts throughout were down. Those figures will probably go up in this year's final election, November 8, when the ballot will also have 7 candidates running for the council's 4 at-large seats--including South Boston's Mike Flaherty.

Within South Boston, Linehan carried 11 out of 15 precincts, with the other 4 carried by Ferrara. In the preliminary round of the special election for District 2, Ferrara came in last place, in a field of 7 candidates, with less than 5% of the vote. This time, he got 25% of the vote throughout the district. And, in three South Bo
ston precincts carried by Linehan, Ferrara still managed to get more than 40% of the vote.

Another draw for voters in Boston will be the final round to fill the seat being left open by Maureen Feeney in District 3. The district covers most of Dorchester, from Columbia-Savi
n Hill, Fields Corner and Meeting House Hill, to Pope's Hill, Cedar Grove, and Lower Mills. The race had long been viewed as mainly a competition between three candidates, and that proved to be the case. Frank Baker came in first place with almost 32% of the vote, followed by co-finalist John O'Toole, with almost 26 percent. Finishing 150 votes behind O'Toole was Craig Galvin.

The two finalists come from opposite ends of the district. Baker grew up in what is now Blessed Mother Teresa Parish (formerly St. Margaret's), in a family of 13 children. A former shop steward in the city's printing department, he has also worked on other political campaigns and served as a leader of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association.

A realtor and former plumber, O'Toole
served 14 years as the president of the Cedar Grove Civic Association. He also came into the race with an official endorsement from Feeney and, many believe, the unofficial support of Mayor Menino.

In line with the geography, both finalists carried the bulk of their precincts closer to where they lived. For O'Toole, these were in areas such as Cedar Grove (including the high-turnout polling place at Florian Hall) and Lower Mills. In addition to prevailing in the Columbia-Savin Hill area, Baker carried precincts in Uphams Corner, Jones Hill, Meeting House Hill and areas near Fields Corner.

In other races, the results for candidates believed to have the mayor's unofficial support have been mixed. And the transfer of votes from other candidates, especially Galvin, could also be driven by other factors. Come November, any machine vote should be higher, but there could also be more voters drawn out by Flaherty, who's casting himself as the at-large candidate most likely to differ with the mayor.

The competition was much less intense in District 7, which covers Roxbury, along with parts of Dorchester, the Fenway, and the South End. After succeeding Chuck Turner in the special election in March of this year, Tito Jackson received 76% of the vote in yesterday's preliminary. His opponent in the final election will be Sheneal Parker, who placed ahead of two perennial candidates with 11% of the vote.

Yesterday's turnout figure was 13.77% That represents voting in only 3 of the 9 City Council Districts, so it's hard to find a recent comparison. But in the last final election for City Council without a concurrent vote for Mayor, in 2007, the turnout citywide was an abysmal 13.55 percent.

Friday, July 22, 2011

How Federal Budget Showdown Affects Boston

As President Obama and both houses of Congress negotiate over spending cuts and the national debt limit, advocates and providers of health care and social services are trying to get more attention for the possible toll on the needy. In a demonstration yesterday outside Government Center in Boston, they turned the heat on the state's Republican Senator in Washington, Scott Brown.

The next day, Brown would vote for the more stringent cuts that would have been required by the "Cut, Cap and Balance Act." The measure was defeated by a vote of 51-46, and liberal advocates were quick to denounce Brown for voting to "gut" Social Security and Medicare while protecting tax breaks for millionaires and "big oil." But a nationwide survey newly posted in the Rasmussen Report shows Republicans doing better than Democrats in handling debate over the debt ceiling. Even if that hardly proves Brown's vote would have a similar level of support in Massachusetts, he does have whatever political advantage there might be in favoring the GOP measure, yet without the disadvantage of its full range of cuts taking effect.

Should there be a political compromise along more moderate lines, that would still probably result in dramatic changes in federal spending. As of last night, President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner were reportedly trying to get support for a deficit reduction of $3 trillion over the next ten years. If that fails to appease many Republicans in the House, it could also be tough to swallow for many Democrats.

As for the effect of reaching an agreement before the deadline for action on the debt ceiling, the best scenario would have the advantage of a financial crisis averted and a more sustainable pace of federal spending, with benefits for the economy at some point. But, even in that scenario, there would be short-term disadvantages, with job losses and cuts in federal money for everything from publicly supported health coverage to grants for higher education--even for people working their way out of poverty at community colleges and programs offered by Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD). In response to the federal budget developments this week, ABCD President and CEO John Drew issued a memo, which included these observations on the possible range of budget cuts:

Our elected officials in Congress are battling in budget negotiations tied to an agreement to raise the debt ceiling. President Obama has convened ongoing meetings to reach a budget compromise. On the table are severe cuts in federally funded domestic programs, including CSBG. The two sides find themselves at an impasse over the President’s insistence that tax increases as well as spending cuts be included in the legislation. Thus ABCD programs and many others – including Medicare, Social Security, Food Stamps, public housing and other “safety net” programs – could be sacrificed in the budget compromise.

If Congress does not reach an agreement and the debt ceiling is not raised, then the government will be unable to pay its bills and ABCD programs along with Social Security, government pensions and salaries, and other programs will not receive the federal payments due them.

At a time when the economy is in desperate straits, when unemployment remains high and people struggle to pay their mortgages and rent and put food on their tables, our national leaders in Congress and the White House should not be putting Americans – especially our most vulnerable citizens – at this terrible risk. I call for our elected officials to get together and act responsibly so that increased misery is not inflicted on the most vulnerable in society. At a time when increasing numbers of Americans are at economic risk we should be investing in job creation, boosting programs that help the most vulnerable in society, and doing what is necessary to keep the country going. We should not be gambling with people’s lives.

Thus we are in a position similar to that of last spring – when the new conservative majority in the House of Representatives proposed huge domestic cuts including elimination of our critically needed Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) monies – in the budget that would continue funding America. At that time we let Congress and the world know that Community Action is too important to cut and that the work of ABCD and the 1,000-plus CAPs across America is essential to the survival and upward mobility of the huge numbers of Americans struggling in poverty and to the nation’s economic recovery.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Personal Rounds Through a Public Golf Course

I first experienced the George Wright Municipal Golf Course as a six year-old intruder. Since I had no understanding of golf whatsoever, I only knew that the course, like earthly paradise, was a gated landscape. And what impressed me above all was the size. My family had just moved to Hyde Park from a two-family house in Dorchester, so I was used to much smaller worlds, with more pavement and much less open space.

Like other kids in the neighborhood, I considered any stretch of woods or grass a potential playground. After school, during weekends, and throughout the summer, we spent hours of unstructured time roaming the fairways and the rough, dodging the golf balls and the police on the motorcycles (reviled if not exactly identified, by names such as Hackett and Hogan). Along with burning calories, these excursions begged for plot lines, whether it was about soldiers at war, criminals on the run, or explorers on the frontier. From here, it was only a small leap of imagination to believe it when someone told me the water in a brook near the 18th fairway came through mysterious underground channels all the way from Texas.

Since our family lived on a hill that overlooked George Wright, the course was how I placed the neighborhood on my earliest maps of the world. From certain vantage points, it was possible to see the course stretching into Roslindale, toward a high point on the horizon marked by the water tank on Bellevue Hill in West Roxbury. In the other direction, the fairways rolled out toward the Neponset River, the main commercial center of Hyde Park, and eventually the Blue Hills.

In the spring, we could hear the night music of peepers from the urban wilds in the Stony Brook Reservation. This was separated from the course by stone walls that were stained with years of rust from miles of chain-link fencing. In the fall, when people on our street burned piles of dead leaves in the gutters, there would also be smoke from the golf course, where patches of rough were turned, by design, mischief, or accident, into scorched earth and, months later, a fresh patch of overgrowth.

After snowfalls in the winter, there were sleds and toboggans streaking down the 12th fairway. Like other kids from the neighborhood, I went down the hill many winter afternoons, and even at night. On some winter nights, from the window in my bedroom, I could see fidgets of light on the part of the fairway known as "Suicide Hill." I still remember going out there one night when someone had built a fire, and a radio was playing a hit song from the Beatles "Sergeant Pepper" album.

My next phase at George Wright was a brief attempt at caddying. At the time, I was 14 years old. Though I still had little interest in playing golf, I had a keen desire to make even a token amount of money on my own. That's how, on at least a few early mornings, somewhere along the stairs between the clubhouse to the first tee, I passed the time waiting for employment.

I mostly remember my competition, especially the kids who seemed to snap up bags of clubs with little fuss and strap them on with little sign of strain. No doubt, some of them were regulars who had proven their ability to haul their weight for the full 18 holes and track down shots that were so readily devoured by encroachments of wild grass and trees.

Though a designer might have intended the wilderness features of George Wright to evoke the natural splendors of the Scotland, even a caddy knew that golf was supposed to be a triumph of civilization and geometry. Braving hazards of water and sand, golfers had to adjust the arcs and lines of their shots to dips and swerves of terrain. After this came the treacherous nuance of a green. Aside from being a beast of burden easily replaced by a golf cart, an effective caddy was potentially the difference between order and chaos: the difference between just another retiree with a bad lie, and a raving trek through the heath with King Lear.

My waiting for assignments usually ended in rejection, or passively watching a procession of golfers who avoided eye-contact altogether. It didn't help that I wore glasses, which must have made them expect I would miss balls (and I certainly missed my share) or fail to keep my mind on their game.

As we waited for our luck to turn, my fellow day-laborers would advance theories. Maybe the caddies were supposed to have been assigned from a list kept in the clubhouse by another mysterious figure of authority (sometimes referred to as Delaney). A thing apart from the course, the clubhouse itself was almost palatial in its underutilized spaces, with their lingering smells of beer, perspiration, and cleaning solvents. Somehow, I construed all this as an outpost of administration, kept going by a troupe of interchangeables who might just as well have been named Murphy, Molloy, and Malone.

Despite the rejections, I did manage to service a few golfers and make it through 18 holes without too many losses. Among the clients were the owner of a pub in Jamaica Plain and an affable teacher of high school Greek, a regular at the course whose exotic attire even included a pith helmet. I also remember a couple of golfers who seemed dressed for a course with more prestige. One of them, according to rumor laced with schadenfreude, was a supermarket visionary and Harvard grad who, because he was Jewish, wasn't allowed to play on a private course more on par with his income. Though a municipal course had to be less discriminatory, I sensed that legal requirement could also seem utterly stigmatizing, if only through its inability to disguise a reasonable claim to something better.

It would take me decades to figure out why the kind of discrimination that seemed outdated almost anywhere else could flourish on a golf course. I should have taken a hint on the fairway when I overheard a joke about the Irish that didn't seem funny. After all, this was one of the few places, outside of a barroom, where men (for the most part) could be free from the constraints of mixed company, and where the only rules that mattered were part of a game. As a caddy, I was supposedly old enough to be exposed to off-color verbiage, but still young enough for people to expect I should behave differently. Like any good servant, I was also obliged to keep the indiscretions under wraps. In such a way, I defended civilization as a guardian of appearances.

It was only after a chance for practice on a driving range that I started going to George Wright for golf. Since I happened to live in Boston and went to one of the public schools, I was allowed to play quite a bit for free. I could borrow a set of clubs from an older brother, so the only other thing I needed was a supply of golf balls, which came from the course itself--and my countless hours of rummaging. If I broke a rule by not returning stray balls to the pro shop, I obliged by losing all of them somewhere else in the course. You might even call it borrowing or recycling. Whatever it was, it was part of a routine that allowed me to burn off a couple of summers by playing as many as 27 holes a day.

With a couple of exceptions, my golfing days were over by August of 1969. By then, at age 16, I was old enough, and lucky enough, to get a year-round part-time job. From that point on, I never really missed the game, and I sometimes felt golf was an activity for which I was temperamentally unfit. Aside from a lack of discipline, technique, or brute strength, it seems my physical motions were hobbled by some mental circuitry I couldn't shut down. Instead of being motivated or diverted by the companionship of a team sport, I was often playing the course by myself, tangled up in some internal conflict. In a fit of desperation, I even painted my golf balls orange. I thought a change of color might improve their trajectory or make them easier to locate, but the paint only seemed to add more drag to the sluggish air of a hot summer.

Every so often, there were things that worked, if only from sheer luck. I really did come within inches of a hole-in-one on the short 17th fairway, though that was badly tarnished by a rash of wayward putting. On the longest fairway, the 15th, there was a drive from the tee that sailed at least 150 yards, clearing a downslope to a lower plane of grass. The shot would also be spoiled by what happened later. But there was still that one moment of a boundary cleared by something that was still on track as it dipped out of sight.

In more recent years, I have come back to the course, if only for walks, with or without a dog. I pay little if any attention to golf, though it's hard to resist picking up a stray ball, whether for luck, or as something like a rare mushroom after heavy rains. If I do pay attention to something, it's more likely to be the smell of freshly cut grass, a torrent of wind in the trees, or the drizzling pulsation of crickets on a Friday afternoon in June.

I’ve also walked the course in winter, puzzling over tracks in the snow, or picking out remote specks of Christmas lights from the 12th fairway. So let's say I'm at the top of the hill, looking out toward Fairmount and, off to one side, the highest of the Blue Hills. The sledders have all gone home, but the course is draped with snow, and there's a moon overhead, nearly full. The light reflects off the snow, not as it does from the glossy matrix of a golf ball, but as something more subdued, yet also less contained or even earthbound. Almost weightless, it extends past all borders in all directions and, for all I know, indefinitely through outer space.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tribute June 4 in Roxbury for Ron Bell

A tribute luncheon will take place tomorrow in Roxbury for Ron Bell, Governor Patrick's Senior Advisor for Community Affairs. Also well known as the founder of Dunk the Vote, Ron was hospitalized a couple of months ago with a massive heart attack. But he's come a long way toward recovery, and he's scheduled to be on hand tomorrow. The event's being hosted by the Statewide Black Clergy for Unity, and there will also be a jazz performance led by Frank Wilkins. The time is 2 p.m, at the Roxbury Center for the Arts (Hibernian Hall) in Dudley Square. Tickets are available at the door or by calling Pastor Cutts at 857 221-0291, or Anthony Brewer at 617 272-0473.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Last Respects to a Voice of the Neighborhoods

A funeral service is being held today for Clyde Whalen, a long-time contributor to BNN's Neighborhood Network News in Boston, who passed away Friday, at age 91. In more than two decades with NNN, Clyde kept to his beat with utmost dedication. He reported the news from his long-time neighborhood, Allston-Brighton, then also from his new territory in the Fenway. He did his job as a correspondent with considerable care, whether gathering information from sources, processing stories from newspapers, or practicing his script to make sure he got it right--with his own hyper-local flavor. As a seasoned performer who had traveled the world entertaining on cruise ships, Clyde knew the toil and calibration needed to make something look natural, and he kept on in the same spirit even through his last segments with us earlier this year. By swapping impressions and observations in the newsroom, he helped keep us all more engaged in a neighborhood’s life and atmosphere. Not just another face on a learning curve, Clyde had his own brand, a way with the facts of the day that could arouse the sense of outrage, admiration, or absurdity. And, when it was sorely needed, he was an ambassador who could vouch for NNN’s authenticity as a local phenomenon, and not just a farm team for bigger leagues. All this, plus his inquisitiveness, his sense of humor, and even a daring to be downright puzzled by what's going on, will be missed.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Obama Rallies Boston Supporters to "Steep Climb"

Some things had changed since Barack Obama rallied Boston supporters more than two-and-a half years ago at the Seaport World Trade Center.

At the earlier event, Obama was trying to become the Democratic nominee for president. When he stood on the platform, he was the newest figure in a constellation that included Deval Patrick, Ted Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, and John Kerry. Speaking on the eve of the Massachusetts presidential primary, he was a sum of possibilities, associations, and mystique.

Last Wednesday, in a fundraiser at the Cyclorama in the South End, Obama appeared after a series of warm-up speakers, including Patrick, but he gave his address as one figure on a platform, with a presidential backdrop of American flags.
Since this was a stump speech by an incumbent, there was a list of accomplishments, from partial progress on the economy, to health care reform, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, and the end of "don't ask don't tell." There were still echoes of campaign speeches in 2008, especially words about the country's historic march toward greatness through adversity. This time around, there was also talk about the grind of governing, with its compromises, setbacks, and detours. And, given the expected showdown with Republicans in Congress over the debt limit, Obama was compromising enough to talk about cutting waste and living within the nation's means.

"We're going to have to make some tough decisions about things we can do without," he said, "and we'll all have to make some sacrifices."
So the difference between Obama and Republicans was to be over how the sacrifice would be distributed. Though public opinion surveys show support for some of Obama's positions--ending tax cuts for the wealthy and subsidies for oil companies--there is also the poll by MassINC showing confidence in economic recovery in Massachusetts is slipping, despite the steady but modest improvement in employment figures.

Anxiety could also mean a chance for Republicans to advance a recovery plan with less government spending and regulation. Even if their steeper cuts in the budget eventually prove a stronger boost for the economy, the near-term result could still require more public sector layoffs and more out-of-pocket spending on what used to be covered by entitlement programs. And that, too, could be a source of anxiety, added to the continuing slippage the housing market.
With the beginning of the calendar year for the next presidential election still more than seven months off, polls show there is no single Republican challenger who can beat Obama. At the same time, Obama has been shown trailing a generic challenger with a Republican orientation. And Massachusetts is no exception to at least some shift in voter sentiment, with its Democratic governor re-elected by less than 50 percent of the vote and with Ted Kennedy succeeded by Scott Brown--also still without a strong challenger.
So, as he stood on the platform last Wednesday, Obama was trying to mobilize supporters for the grind of campaigning. Snapping tweetable photos with their smart phones, they looked ready to channel the team spirit personified on the podium by Kevin Garnett and Bill Russell. But this moment in the calendar and this gathering of (mostly) young professionals, as Obama acknowledged, was still a long way from the multitude of decisions by the less fortunate and less networked to bother voting.

"This is just the start," he said, "of what is going to be a steep climb."