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.