Mayor Thomas Menino and Councilor at Large Michael Flaherty finish one-two in preliminary mayoral race

It’s Menino vs. Flaherty
Mayor cruises into final; councilor holds off two fellow challengers

By Donovan Slack and Michael Levenson, Globe Staff | September 23, 2009

Mayor Thomas M. Menino surged to the top of the field and Councilor at Large Michael F. Flaherty Jr. grabbed second place in Boston’s preliminary mayoral race yesterday, setting up a general election that pits two former allies who have become sharp political adversaries.

Menino captured 50.5 percent of the vote, while Flaherty got 24 percent, beating out the other challengers by a comparatively slim margin for a spot in the final election. Councilor at Large Sam Yoon ended the day with 21 percent, and South End businessman Kevin McCrea got 4 percent.

In their victory speeches, Menino and Flaherty displayed dramatically different postures, potentially foreshadowing a fierce six-week campaign that will culminate with the Nov. 3 election.

“We’re going to engage in a positive campaign, about the future of the city,’’ Menino told scores of supporters at his election night party at the unadorned headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 in Dorchester. “Come join us. Together, we will continue to move Boston forward.’’

Flaherty, speaking to a room packed with backers at a Dorchester restaurant, signaled he plans to go after Menino aggressively. He said the city cannot wait another four years for new leadership and led the crowd in a chant of “We can’t wait! We can’t wait!’’

“If everyone in this room stands with me and rolls up your sleeves and throws a shoulder into this effort, we will change Boston,’’ he said.

Yesterday’s contest marked the end of the first chapter in Menino’s toughest battle for reelection since he took office 16 years ago. Already the longest serving mayor in city history, he is seeking a fifth 4-year term.

Also yesterday, a wide field of council candidates vied for eight places in the general election. Incumbent councilors John R. Connolly and Stephen J. Murphy made the ballot, as did Felix G. Arroyo, Ayanna Pressley, Andrew Kenneally, Tito Jackson, Doug Bennett, and Tomas Gonzalez. In a notable development, Councilor Chuck Turner, under federal indictment on corruption charges, easily topped his race with nearly 53 percent of the vote in his district.

At Yoon’s election night gathering at a Masonic social hall in Dorchester, an energized, diverse, and mostly young crowd of about 200 was expectant, upbeat, but realistic that their candidate faced a hard road yesterday.

“I want you all to know that there is nothing I regret about doing this,’’ Yoon told his supporters. ’’And there is nothing you should regret one iota.’’

Runner-up Flaherty is ready to ‘change Boston’
Candidate stirs workers with rousing speech

Michael F. Flaherty Jr.’s campaign aides were already beginning to clear an aisle for his speech when a collective groan went over the crowd inside the Venezia restaurant ballroom. The latest election results, broadcast on two television screens in the front of the room, showed that Flaherty had slipped behind rival Sam Yoon.

The crowd quieted and waited. Then they saw themselves on the screens, aired live from inside the ballroom, and began to chant “Michael, Michael,’’ a sudden and seemingly undue demonstration of confidence.

With Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s preeminence a foregone conclusion, the preliminary mayoral election results last night were still something of a squeaker with Flaherty ultimately defeating fellow city councilor Yoon and continuing on to the November election. But Flaherty came out swinging nonetheless.

The councilor at large with a political pedigree and a well-established base took the stage at his election night celebration to the thumping beat of the Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping up to Boston,’’ for an unusually rousing speech.

“If everyone in this room stands with me, rolls up their sleeves, and helps me throw a shoulder into this effort, we will change Boston,’’ he said, drawing cheers.

Until then, the crowd of about 400 in the Dorchester waterfront restaurant had not been very exuberant, or even relaxed. They were drinking and eating and waiting for Flaherty to arrive. They had already heard Menino’s remarks claiming victory and calling Flaherty the runner-up.

Incumbent has the troops and treasury for a big finish

After a campaign in which his challengers relentlessly disparaged him as a machine politician, Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday unleashed his not-so-secret weapon - an army of workers in all corners of the city that pulled thousands of his supporters to the polls.

And now, beginning a six-week sprint toward Election Day, Menino not only has that time-tested organization, but also a massive financial advantage over his opponent, Michael F. Flaherty Jr. Menino is sitting on a campaign fund with, as of a week ago, $939,000 in it, while Flaherty, who spent heavily in the final weeks of the preliminary race, had just $216,000 last week.

City Councilor at Large Flaherty survived the four-way preliminary, but only by spending heavily on a late-season television advertising campaign that helped him beat City Councilor at Large Sam Yoon, but still left him a distant second. Because of this gamble, he is short of funds for the final sprint.

Up to this point, Flaherty, a five-term councilor, has been relatively polite in his criticism of Menino, leading to speculation that he hoped to position himself as a potential successor if Menino is reelected and bows out four years from now. Flaherty must decide if it’s worth it to sharpen his attacks in an effort to shake up the dynamic of the contest, a task that will be made more difficult if he cannot raise sufficient funds to make his case in TV ads.

In this, his toughest reelection fight, Menino took nothing for granted. His aides assembled an enormous field organization, at least triple the size of the team deployed yesterday by Flaherty, and many of them have been making phone calls and knocking on doors since the spring. They combined new technology with old - everything from computerized voter targeting to sound trucks rolling through the streets.

Yesterday was the final phase - making sure that voters for Menino, who is seeking an unprecedented fifth term as mayor, made it to the polls.

A big staging area was Prince Hall in the Grove Hall business district at the Dorchester-Roxbury line. About 300 volunteers, including a large contingent of workers from the Service Employees International Union, were expected to take part late in the day, equipped with street maps and voter lists by address in an area stretching from Uphams Corner in Dorchester to Mattapan Square. They targeted the homes of 35,000 active voters, most of them African-American, Latino, Cape Verdean, or Haitian, while vehicles equipped with public address systems traveled the streets, urging people to vote.

In prior elections, Menino has won upward of 80 percent of the vote in those neighborhoods.

Editorial

In final, Menino and Flaherty should add some passion

THOMAS MENINO and Michael Flaherty, having earned the right to debate the future of the city in the mayoral runoff, now must do all they can to make it a spirited and relevant election. Each should be congratulated for his finish in yesterday’s preliminary election - for Menino, the solid endorsement of receiving more than half the votes, and for Flaherty, prevailing over stiff competition.

Both are strong, credible candidates. But each, in his own way, has erred on the side of caution. Menino has yet to fully articulate how another term might differ from his current one. And Flaherty has yet to fully demonstrate how he’d differ from Menino.

While neither man is running as a visionary, voters still need a better picture of where each intends to take the city. Menino defended his 16-year record , but didn’t inform voters how he would improve schools, make Boston safer, or maintain services during hard economic years ahead. And Flaherty emerged as a younger version of the mayor, with an impressive understanding of Boston’s neighborhoods, but less experience.