Monthly Archives: April 2021

Who Is The Boston Electorate?

The Boston electorate has clearly been changing in the past several years, in three different ways:

  1. Changes in the overall demographics of Boston’s adult population;
  2. Changes in the political attitudes of Bostonians, in response to Trump, racial issues, etc.
  3. Changes in the political participation of eligible Bostonians.

These recent election cycles have, in my opinion, been so anomalous that it’s a fool’s game to predict how points 2 and 3 will play out in the 2021 mayoral race.

I’m usually up for a good fool’s game, how about you?

I propose that there are, broadly speaking, three types of Boston voters this year. The game is to say what percentage of the actual voters in this year’s mayoral election will fall into each category.

  • Genuine Change Voters: These voters want to feel that their vote is going toward pushing Boston toward significant progressive change.
  • Surface Change Voters: These voters want to feel that their vote is going toward making Boston more progressive and equitable, but without significantly changing too much about how the city works.
  • Anti-Change Voters: These voters want to feel that their vote is going toward preserving the general existing order of things in Boston.

If you look at some recent Boston elections — and how many of the prominent mayoral candidates are positioning themselves — you might break it down as perhaps 45% Genuine Change; 35% Surface Change; 20% Anti-Change.

I’m not so sure. What do you think?

This isn’t 1993

Here’s a fun fact: Tom Menino was Acting Mayor for just 10 weeks when he won the 1993 preliminary election that propelled him to an easy November victory and 20 years running the city of Boston.

By my count, Kim Janey will log 26 weeks as Acting Mayor — a full half-year — by the time the September 21 preliminary rolls around. To be honest, I don’t think Team Janey needs to be trying so, so hard to pound the message that she’s the mayor; over that period of time, I think it’s going to sink in with people.

Importantly, that will include the entire FY’22 budget cycle. The mayor — or Acting Mayor — must, per the pesky city charter, submit a budget proposal to the City Council by the second Wednesday in April. That’s in a week.

That means that Janey, who describes herself as an agent of change, can’t entirely get away with vague platitudes. She can, for instance, make a full-bore proposal for “reimagining” policing in Boston, as she put it in her campaign announcement speech Tuesday morning; or she can propose more politically palatable half-measures; or she can propose nothing much different at all. But she has to put her name to something — and any of them guarantees criticism from somewhere.

The council, which happens to contain several of Janey’s competitors, get to spend the next several months holding hearings and making comments about the budget. That, in fact, is part of why the other mayoral candidates have been quiet as Janey hogs the spotlight: they see the budget proposal as the bell that will end the period of polite deference to the historic new Acting Mayor, and start some policy debates that will define where they all stand.

Menino — who by the way was head of the council’s budget-reviewing committee before becoming Acting Mayor — never had to go through that. He dealt with things as they arose, and other than that mostly talked about how the city needed to learn to do more with less; which he could then back up with impressive knowledge about how the department or agency in question could save money or operate more efficiently.

All of this might very well work to Janey’s advantage. Six months in charge, and a full budget cycle with the city council, could very well solidify her image of seriousness and heft in comparison with the others.

Or, it could bring significant peril. I don’t know; I only know it’s very different from 1993.