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.