Politics & Government
8:16 am
Fri November 1, 2013

Endorsements, Outreach Mark Marty Walsh's Efforts To Attract Communities Of Color

Author Jim Vrabel cites the many Boston activists from the 1960s and 1970s — like Mel King, second from right — as having an outsize influence on the development of the city. Vrabel is the author of a new book about the subject.
In this screenshot from a Marty Walsh campaign ad, City Councilor Tito Jackson, Walsh, City Councilor Felix Arroyo, former state Rep. Mel King and former mayoral candidate John Barros pose.
Credit Marty Walsh campaign

The color of Boston has changed since the city last elected a new mayor. No longer a city where white residents make up the majority, the next mayor, nonetheless, will be a white male.

This fact provides an opportunity and a challenge to Marty Walsh and John Connolly. How can they attract traditional minority voters at a time when communities of color make up a majority of city residents?

Immediately after winning the preliminary, Walsh began speaking about diversity and equality.

“Let’s not forget, this is also a race about who we are, a race about values," Walsh said. "About whether Boston will be a city for all its people in every neighborhood, not just some.”

To win, Walsh is banking on a slew of endorsements from the most popular and powerful minority politicians, from yesterday to today.

The latest: former Mayoral candidate Mel King, who endorsed Walsh this week.

“People have talked about the good Samaritan, and how important that is in our culture — and religious stories and history — but here’s a person who actually lives and practices it,” King said in his endorsement.

Walsh worked hard to secure the endorsements of 3 of his opponents in the preliminary election, Charlotte Golar Richie, Felix Arroyo and John Barros. Walsh’s latest ad features statements from all three.

Together, those 3 candidates won over 30 percent of the vote in September's preliminary election. But can Walsh convert all of that support to his column on Tuesday?

Felix Arroyo believes he can deliver his base to Walsh.

“We’ve been phone banking our supporters, we’ve been canvassing and door knocking them, and for the last week of the election, we’re going to go back out to their doors,” Arroyo said.

Knocking on doors is one way to get elected in a close election like this one. But the impact of endorsements is not always a clear pathway to victory. WGBH News political analyst Peter Kadzis says that's because not all endorsements are equal.

"The Cape Verdean community will vote more or less in unison," Kadzis said. "And I think John Barros' endorsement is worth more in his community than Charlotte Golar Richie's is in the black and African American community. With Felix Arroyo it's mixed. But the Hispanic community is newer to voting than the African American community. And the newer you are as voters, the more susceptible you are to taking suggestions from community leaders. That’s as old and as American as apple pie."

While Boston now has more residents of color than white residents, it doesn't necessarily translate to who ends up voting.

In the preliminary, for instance, many black voters sat it out. In all of the majority black precincts, turnout was just 13 percent, much lower than the citywide average of 31 percent.

And although there are about 100,000 latinos in the city, less than half are eligible to vote, either because they’re new immigrants or they’re under 18.

Then there’s an enthusiasm challenge.

Alejandra St. Guillen is executive director of the group Oiste, which endorsed Arroyo in the preliminary and is endorsing Walsh in the final.

St. Guillen says nice things about Walsh. But her eyes light up when she talks about Arroyo. She says she put her blood, sweat and tears into that race.

“We worked day and night to get Felix elected," she said. "So you know when he didn’t go through, or when John Barros didn’t go through or Charlotte Golar Richie didn’t go through, those of us who were in those camps, and were fighting really hard to get them there, it was hard for us.”

St. Guillen thinks it will be more difficult to energize latinos in the final election than it was in the preliminary.

But Walsh isn’t giving up.

He’s working hard to make inroads to voters of color at black churches, on Caribbean Radio, meeting with minority business owners — plus he's been distributing Spanish-language literature and is running ads in the newspapers El Mundo, El Planeta and on Univision.

In a recent appearance on the Sons of Afrika radio program, Walsh spoke about unfair incarceration.

“A majority of the people who are arrested in Massachusetts are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and they end up in jail, when they really should end up in treatment programs,” he said.

At a forum at Roxbury Community College, Walsh spoke about breaking down racial barriers in schools, business and government.

“As mayor of the city of Boston, I’m going to make sure not that I just work with the building trades, to change the face of building trades, or change the face of organized labor, or change the face of the business community, but I’m going to work to change the face of city hall.”

But Walsh’s opponent, John Connolly is also making an aggressive bid to win over black and Hispanic voters. And while Walsh is winning the endorsement race, Connolly’s signature issue of education appeals to voters across racial lines.

So who will have the edge in the battleground communities of color? Kadzis says no one knows.

"We haven’t had a real live mayor’s race for 20 years in Boston," he said. "This is going to tell us a lot. The minority communities, all of them in Boston, supported Mayor Menino. This is the first time these communities have had to make a serious other choice."