Prior to the September preliminary, I described the race to fill the only open seat on the Boston City Council — replacing Maureen Feeney of Dorchester, who has chosen not to seek another term — as something like a school election.

What I didn't realize was that it would be like the Reese Witherspoon film.

Anger and accusations are flying in Dorchester, with lines drawn between supporters of Frank Baker of Savin Hill, who finished first on the September 27 ballot; and John O'Toole of Cedar Grove, who finished second.

Defaced campaign offices, character-assassination calls to voters, destroyed lawn signs, intimidation, name-calling — the campaign has seen it all, just in the past couple of weeks.

The candidates themselves almost seem to have faded into the background — painted by their opponents as mere proxies in a battle between State Representative Marty Walsh, who is backing Baker, and Mayor Tom Menino, whose political machine is helping O'Toole.

Voters ultimately might end up ignoring all of this ugly, old-school wrangling, and choose a winner based on their one-on-one encounters in their neighborhood.

But the bad feelings and recriminations are likely to last much longer. And caught in the crossfire are everyone from the rank-and-file voters to elected officials, and even the community newspaper.

It's hard to separate out fact from fiction, and cause from effect. It's quite possible that Walsh and Menino are being conveniently blamed for actions and animosities that have nothing to do with them.

What is clear is that the race is up for grabs, which means that the hostilities are likely to only grow in the final two weeks of the campaign.


Tensions were already elevated prior to the preliminary, which ultimately eliminated Craig Galvin, along with several other candidates. Dorchester activists noted the heavy presence of Menino assistance for O'Toole, but many assumed that it was directed specifically at Galvin — who had been involved with Michael Flaherty's 2009 mayoral campaign.

Many also saw Menino's involvement as a favor to Feeney, who endorsed O'Toole early — and who has indicated she'd like to see someone from her Cedar Grove/Neponset part of the district win the seat.

Regardless, many expected the mayor's interest to wane once Galvin got knocked out. But rather than subsiding, the activity of Menino's people only accelerated. "It became all-hands-on-deck," according to one City Hall insider who is neutral in the council race.

To some political observers, this is just a textbook case of Menino wanting to elect a candidate who owes him for the win — and not wanting to see a more independent candidate get on the council.

And others, including the City Hall insider, speculate that even more is at stake. Walsh, an ambitious pol who now also serves as president of the Greater Boston Labor Council (GBLC), may be trying to prove that he holds greater sway than the mayor in his Dorchester base — and Menino may want to nip that conceit in the bud.

Thus, every union endorsement decision is seen by one side as Menino bullying on behalf of O'Toole, and by the other side as Walsh using his GBLC position to bully for Baker.

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Related: The fight for Dorchester's open city council seat is more like a school election than a modern political one, What happens if they hold a city election and nobody notices?, No more Mr. Nice Council, More more >
  Topics: Talking Politics , Dorchester, Maureen Feeney, city council,  More more >
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