Acrimony, accusations, alliances, and intrigue — the bricks and mortar of Boston politics — are back for the 2011 campaign.
After months of rumor and conjecture, Flaherty announced this week that he is, in fact, seeking to retake his old at-large seat on the Boston City Council this year. Although several potential challengers have begun collecting signatures for that race — including Flaherty's fellow 2009 mayoral challenger Kevin McCrea — it's Flaherty who immediately turned what might have been a quiet, off-year municipal-election season into a swirl of controversy and bitterness.
That's because all four at-large incumbents are seeking re-election. Flaherty's success would necessarily knock one of them out of office.
That could easily be one of the two newest, Felix Arroyo and Ayanna Pressley, who were both elected in 2009 to fill slots opened when Flaherty and Sam Yoon ran unsuccessfully for mayor.
Arroyo is the council's only Hispanic member. Pressley is the only black woman ever elected to the council, and one of just two women on it — and with Maureen Feeney retiring, Pressley's defeat could leave only men on the 13-member body.
Resentments about the potential racial and gender effects are already fomenting — a little unfairly to Flaherty, perhaps, who is no more targeting Arroyo and Pressley than he is the Irish-American males, John Connolly and Stephen Murphy.
Flaherty did, however, launch his campaign with an assault on the integrity of all four incumbents, painting them as pawns of Mayor Tom Menino. His press release said that "members of the council are routinely marginalized by the mayor," and he stood by that charge in an interview with the Phoenix.
"There is no independent voice" among the at-large councilors, Flaherty said. "Nobody's willing to talk about the big issues."
The incumbents and their supporters would strongly dispute that — especially Connolly, whose criticisms of schools superintendent Carol Johnson raised Menino's hackles.
That kind of talk from Flaherty is likely to accelerate what has already been an unusual level of campaign camaraderie among the incumbents. While far from running as a slate, they have shown support for one another — Murphy going so far as to speak at an early Pressley fundraiser.
As for the question of who might be most vulnerable, city political observers are up in the air.
One thing they agree upon is that turnout will be unlike the '09 mayoral-election year, when Arroyo and Pressley prevailed, and more like the previous non-mayoral election year, 2007. That year featured a similar at-large contest, with one strong outsider — Connolly — taking on four incumbents. Just 46,000 people voted, compared with more than 110,000 in 2009.
Conventional wisdom says that low-turnout elections, which minorities and younger voters historically skip, favor the "traditional" candidates — and in fact Arroyo's father, Felix D. Arroyo, lost his seat in that '07 election.
That has some speculating that Arroyo, who finished third in 2009, could suffer his father's fate. Others say that Pressley, the fourth-place finisher, is the obvious short straw. Still others say Murphy, despite the advantages of being the current council president, is most at risk after yet another attempt at statewide office. Some even suggest that Connolly, the top vote-getter last time, could be in trouble if Menino sets his mind on ridding him from the council.
And of course, Flaherty himself is no shoo-in to be welcomed back by voters. The only sure thing at this point is six months of good, old-fashioned rough-and-tumble Boston politics.