Yesterday’s preliminary election in Boston is the first in 20 years to help put a new mayor into office for a full term. Much has changed in Boston under five terms of Mayor Tom Menino, but one thing remains almost exactly the same: the number of people voting—a little more than 113,000.
The number of absolute votes is hardly encouraging, since Boston’s population has grown over the last 20 years, and the number of eligible voters has increased by 63 percent. So the same number of votes cast (to be precise, an increase of 104 votes), 113,222, yields a drop in turnout from 50.23% to 30.75 percent.
If turnout shows voter engagement, absolute numbers help show the shifting balance of political clout, whether in terms of an area or population group. Here’s a comparison of the vote totals for each ward between this year’s preliminary election and that of 1993:
Despite being the home territory of two strong candidates for mayor—John Connolly and Dan Conley, Ward 20 (West Roxbury and part of Roslindale) actually fielded fewer voters than it did in 1993. So did three wards in Dorchester and South Boston where Marty Walsh had a strong advantage. One exception was Ward 13 (Uphams Corner, Jones Hill, Columbia-Savin Hill), which was part of the home base for Walsh and John Barros.
Though both finalists for mayor are white candidates with Irish-American roots, people of color (Charlotte Golar Richie, Felix Arroyo, John Barros, Charles Yancey, Charles Clemons, David James Wyatt) picked up more than one-third of the votes for mayor. In 1993, the lone candidate of color, City Councilor Bruce Bolling, received less than 6% of the vote.
Judged by votes cast, there were gains in wards with at least a high percentage of people of color: wards 8-15, 17 and 18 (Roxbury, South End, Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park). But the story was different when it came to voter turnout:
Compared with 1993, turnout was down in all Boston wards. As for the high end of the turnout scale, this was mostly in Ward 20 and part of Dorchester (especially Ward 16—Neponset, Ashmont, Fields Corner). The highest turnout figure was from Ward 16, Precinct 12, near Florian Hall and the Keystone Apartments.
As expected, Walsh and Connolly were top vote-getters in their own backyards. Connolly had an edge over Walsh in Charlestown (31.85% to 29.21%) and a bigger one in Ward 19 (Jamaica Plain/Roslindale), by 14.46% to 7.74%, but Walsh had a much greater advantage in South Boston (45.98% to 17.88%), despite the endorsement of Connolly by South Boston State Rep. Nick Collins.
In some ways, the Walsh-Connolly pairing resembles the previous Boston races for mayor between candidates with either stronger labor backing or a stronger reformist flavor (Curley-Hynes, Powers-Collins, Timilty-White), which makes this year’s race a throwback to days before Menino and even Ray Flynn. Correspondingly, that pattern also shows up in Connolly’s advantage in areas near downtown and the Back Bay. But in other ways, especially by being socially progressive, Walsh and Connolly are both from a different time.
In the race for councilor at-large, Michael Flaherty’s second place finish, behind Ayanna Pressley (who came in first in the last final election), shows a preference for continuity, as does the third place finish for Council President Steve Murphy. The other five finalists are running for the council for the first time. Michelle Wu, who came in fourth, could also benefit from an expected increase in Asian-American voters with the rematch for City Council in District 2 (South Boston, South End, Chinatown) between incumbent Bill Linehan and Suzanne Lee.
Another former councilor trying for a comeback, Gareth Saunders, came in 13th place. While a district councilor from Roxbury, he survived a challenge from Althea Garrison, but this time the perennial candidate got the better of him by finishing 10th.
And, despite repeatedly telling voters that he was a candidate for mayor, Charles Yancey will be on the ballot for re-election to the seat he has held for 30 years, as City Councilor for District 4.