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Bank on it
Large bills needed for at-large race
Related links

Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance

This is the first year that Boston’s at-large city-council candidates must file reports with this office electronically. Those reports go directly into this Web site’s searchable database. As a result, the money is easy to trace, both on its way into and out of the campaigns.

Boston City Council

Curious what the city council actually does? This is its official Web site, with information about all the upcoming hearings — and minutes of all the past meetings. You can even print out an official form to request a hearing yourself.

Joseph Ready and Kevin McCrae

Think it’s unfair that unknown candidates can’t raise enough money to become known? Now you can put your money where your mouth is by donating to these two long-shot candidates. Both Web sites allow online contributions, so get out your credit card and go!

Boston voter information portal

All Boston residents vote for four at-large councilors, as well as for one councilor to represent their district. To learn which district you live in and where your polling place is, use this handy site.

BOSTON’S CITY-COUNCIL elections have always had the feel of retail politics, with candidates asking for votes face-to-face, one at a time. This still holds true for the nine district seats, but it’s rapidly becoming obsolete when the four at-large seats are at stake. Two years ago, at-large candidates spent roughly $1.1 million — a record amount that will soon look like small potatoes. This fall, with a group of well-connected challengers taking on three at-large incumbents, that figure could easily double. As a result, this could be the first council race to play out largely through advertising, with personal contact a rarity.

As you can see in the first chart, council president Michael Flaherty is already sitting on a sizable stash and figures easily to break the spending record he set last time. Two other incumbents, Felix Arroyo and Steve Murphy, both plan on upping what they spent in 2003, shown in the second chart. Arroyo, who has a birthday fundraising bash planned for April 14, says that "the minimum in order to run will be about $200,000 to $250,000." Murphy, who has decided to seek re-election, plans to raise at least $250,000, starting with a kickoff event on April 27.

A crowded field is gunning for the seat being vacated by Maura Hennigan, who is leaving to run for mayor. Several candidates have already demonstrated their fundraising prowess. John Connolly has surpassed Hennigan’s entire 2003 campaign budget, when his early April donations are added to the figure above. He has done it largely through the connections of his parents, Massachusetts District Court chief justice Lynda Connolly and former secretary of state Michael Connolly.

Sam Yoon, Asian Community Development Corporation housing director, has found support in the Asian-American community, locally and nationwide, as well as among real-estate developers. He has just hired a fundraising consultant.

Repeat candidate Patricia White, who had not even entered the race at this time two years ago, claims to have more than $100,000 in pledged contributions. She has been able to tap into the network of her father, former mayor Kevin White. "I’d say $200,000 is the baseline of what you need to run a citywide council election," says White.

Matt O’Malley, another repeat candidate, does not have any of those built-in advantages. "I think I would have done better, and maybe even won, if I had been able to raise more money last time," O’Malley says. He should raise much more this year, helped by the contacts he made last year as campaign manager for Suffolk County sheriff Andrea Cabral.

Two other declared candidates, Joe Ready and Kevin McCrae, are not likely to raise enough money to compete.

Any actual campaigning for votes — i.e., spending all this money — is still five months away, waiting for the last two months before the election. "My job right now is to raise [funds]," says White. "We’ll sit down in September and work out how to spend it."

WHITE PROVED two years ago that more money doesn’t automatically translate into more votes, as the second chart shows. But a certain minimum is required to get a message out to such a large voting base. Boston’s at-large city councilors represent roughly 270,000 registered voters — more than a US congressional district. It will probably take 40,000 votes to finish in the top four and win a seat. In contrast, Charles Yancey defended his District Four seat with just 3679 votes.

But at-large candidates cannot knock on 40,000 doors, or even speak directly to that many in person. So candidates have to get their message out through more impersonal — and expensive — methods, like direct mail. A single, well-targeted mailing to 30,000 of the most likely voters citywide costs about $25,000 for printing and postage. Arroyo spent $72,853 — half his war chest — on three mailings in 2003, which he credits for much of his success.

Broadcast ads, never previously a part of city-council races, made an appearance in 2003 and look like they’ll return this year. White spent close to $60,000 on television and radio ads that year, and Flaherty spent $90,000 on TV commercials. This development has been spurred by the emergence of neighborhood cable systems, which offer ad time at lower cost and promise a more-targeted audience. So far, Connolly is the only candidate who says he plans to run commercials, but once one candidate is on TV, it might well force the others to follow. "I think we are getting to the point where every competitive candidate will have to be on TV," says Connolly. Which means, of course, that they’ll need even more money.

David S. Bernstein can be reached at dbernstein[a]phx.com.

Issue Date: April 15 - 21, 2005
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