Politics & Government
4:44 pm
Mon September 23, 2013

Why The Boston Mayoral Race Matters To Out-Of-Towners

The candidates for Boston mayor.

Weekday commuters on the Green Line are hurrying to get to work. I stand on a platform at Kenmore, asking dozens if they’re paying attention to the mayor’s race. Almost all say no. And then there’s Helene Martel.

"I live in Arlington, and as a social worker for the state, I do a little bit of everything," Martel said. "Boston is our center."

Boston may be the center — the Hub — but it’s not clear how long the lines will be when city residents vote in today’s preliminary election. The City Election Department isn’t making any predictions. But don't let that overshadow the importance of the race — including in the suburbs.

"We’re all Boston-driven, I think," Martel said. "It’s our political and economic and cultural Mecca. So it’s very important. And Menino has transformed the city in so many positive ways."

Mayor Tom Menino has served longer than anyone else in Boston history. In 20 years, he’s left his mark on the city — creating an entire new neighborhood on the South Boston waterfront, creating the Innovation district, winning reelections by wide margins.

One way to gauge Boston's importance beyond its own city limits is by looking at all the routes we take to get there. And there are numbers.

During the average weekday rush hour, the Mass Pike swells to 65,000 cars. From the north into the city, Route 93 sees 85,000 cars per day. From the south into the city, 111,000 cars are on the expressway every day.

And from all directions, the MBTA buses, trolleys and trains transport 1.2 million riders a day.

And that's not even counting the average 41,000 passengers who fly in to Logan airport on a given weekday.

It’s a total of more than 1.5 million people and cars flooding into Boston on an average workday. And the mayor is running that city. So even if you can’t vote, you’re affected.

“Boston’s population roughly doubles every day," said David Luberoff, Senior Project Advisor to the Boston Area Research Initiative at Radcliffe. "About twice as many people come to work in Boston as there are Bostonians.”

Luberoff says Boston's next mayor will have both economic and psychological clout, but for those towns that surround Boston.

"There’s a subtle, but I think important, environmental issue here," he said. "If you care about sprawl — one of the key issues for the state and the region is trying to encourage more compact development — that is driven by a hope that people want to live in cities."

Luberoff is also a commuter who drives or bikes the 14 miles from his home in Lexington. In the crowded field of 12 candidates, it seems people in the suburbs are waiting until after the preliminary election to turn their attention to Boston politics.

"Obviously for Bostonians, it’s the quality of life in Boston," he said. "Thinking regionally, the region’s economy clearly is deeply connected to the economy of Boston."

To give you that clear connection, Luberoff says, you just need to follow the money. Tourism alone pours $8.3 billion a year into Boston's economy. That means more jobs, transportation and city and state services. And that connection, when physical, matters, especially in transportation. Newton Mayor Setti Warren, points out that with Brighton at its border, his city is especially interested in the race.

“We have critical transportation nodes that go from Boston into Newton and beyond," Warren said. "Public transportation as well as roadways."

And it's not just Newton that will have a stake in working with Boston's next mayor. Boston Redevelopment Authority data shows that the neighboring cities and towns — Brookline, Newton, Milton, Quincy, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop — collectively send more than a third of their residents to Boston to work each day.

But beyond the workday, Boston's next mayor will have an impact on nights and weekends too. Whether you go to restaurants, take in live theater, root from the Fenway bleachers or the Garden's rafters, Boston's energy is a selling point — and the mayor often sets the tone.