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[talking politics]

Silent Tom
It’s the guessing game of the summer: Who’s Mayor Menino supporting in the Ninth Congressional District race?


NO FIGURE DOMINATES Boston politics more these days than Mayor Tom Menino. House Speaker Tom Finneran may wield tremendous power on Beacon Hill, but his presence is largely absent at the local level. Councilor James Kelly gave the mayor fits when he was president of the city council, but he lost his soapbox in January when councilors elected Charles Yancey president. Menino’s hand, by contrast, can be felt in every neighborhood center and every development battle — in short, in every question facing the city today.

Every question, that is, except who should be the next representative from the Ninth Congressional District. In the Democratic primary scheduled for September 11, most Boston pols are backing State Senator Stephen Lynch of South Boston. State Representatives David Donnelly of West Roxbury, Kevin Fitzgerald of Jamaica Plain, Jack Hart of South Boston, Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park, and Martin Walsh of Dorchester have all endorsed Lynch. So have district councilors Maureen Feeney of Dorchester, Maura Hennigan of Jamaica Plain (who is running for an at-large seat this year), and Kelly of South Boston, as well as at-large councilors Michael Flaherty and Mickey Roache. As for the real-estate developers, lawyers, businesspeople, and the like — they’re with Lynch too (see " Heavy Metal, " News and Features, August 17). Amid this illustrious crew, Menino’s absence is conspicuous.

Officially, the mayor is neutral in the race. Earlier in the summer, Menino’s press secretary, Carole Brennan, said he was " entirely focused " on the election challenge from at-large city councilor Peggy Davis-Mullen. (The mayor’s press office said last week that there had been no change in his position.) And Menino-watchers do like to point out that the mayor takes nothing for granted and treats even a minimal challenge like the fight of his life. But it’s hard to believe that he couldn’t be involved in the race for the Ninth if he wanted to be. After all, polls show that Menino is likely to trounce his opponents (former state representative Althea Garrison is also running). Internal Menino campaign polls favor the mayor even more, showing that Davis-Mullen has the support of only about 15 percent of Bostonians. Menino, quite obviously, is using his upcoming race — he does, in fact, face a preliminary election on September 25 — to avoid getting behind Lynch or any of the other established Ninth candidates: State Senators Cheryl Jacques of Needham, Brian Joyce of Milton, and Marc Pacheco of Taunton, and even housing activist John Taylor.

For the candidates, Menino’s reticence is no small matter. The mayor’s backing has the potential to decide the election. Demographically, Boston makes up 37 percent of the Ninth Congressional District. Much of the contested territory in the race — West Roxbury, Hyde Park, Roslindale — lies in political no man’s land. None of the candidates can claim a base in this part of the city. Yet it’s the home turf of one very important person — Menino, who served for years as the district councilor from Hyde Park. In an election where turnout is expected to come in under 20 percent, Menino’s political machine could make the difference. Mayoral support matters more now, in this era of tepid local politics, than it did in the 1970s, when Mayor Kevin White saw his efforts to elect a slate of friendly city-council candidates, the " Kevin Seven, " rebuffed.

" Menino has a considerable organization, " says Susan Tracy, a former state representative from Brighton. " I don’t know anyone else who has that kind of machine in the district. The mayor is the most powerful political figure in the city, and there isn’t a candidate in this race that wouldn’t want his support. "

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Issue Date: August 30 - September 6, 2001

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