April 23, 2009
It's the "Obama effect", say many political observers, and Boston is not immune. Out of 18 individuals now indicating their intent to run for council at-large, 11 are people of color, likely setting a record for the city.
And the stage is set for another first as Sen. John Kerry's political director Ayanna Pressley is planning to apply for her nomination papers today, according to those close to her campaign.
If elected - and she is widely considered a favorite in the field due to her background and experience - she would be the first black woman to hold any seat on the council.
"Ayanna absolutely is top tier," said Joyce Ferriabough-Bolling, a Roxbury political consultant and Pressley supporter. "What she brings to the race is extraordinary."
Pressley, 35, hails from Chicago, an only child from a one-parent household who originally moved to Boston to attend Boston University. As class president and a debate champ, she quickly landed an internship with Congressman Joe Kennedy. Leaving school to support her mother, that internship turned into a full-time job as a district rep.
When Sen. John Kerry ran against Bill Weld for reelection in 1996, Kennedy lent Pressley's talents to the Kerry cause. After seeing her in action, the Bay State's junior Senator hired her. Over the past 11 years in Kerry's organization, she's worked her way up to political director.
In Washington, she stood out not only for her race and gender, but her young age. Since then, the political landscape has changed.
Starting in November, several of Pressley's political friends began tugging on her sleeve to run for City Council. One of the first to buy a condo at the Carruth Building in Peabody Square after moving from the Back Bay, paying the mortgage could have been a factor in her decision-making process. Pressley did not return phone calls for comment.
Though she may be the most talked about, Pressley was not the first black woman to apply for papers.
"I come with a lot of experience and wisdom," said Dorchester's Natalie Carithers, 54, an aide to Rep. Willie Mae Allen who applied for her papers last week. "It's time for change. We need a little bit clearer vision and I'm here to take it further."
Coming out of the healthcare industry where she was an x-ray technician for years, Carithers migrated into management as an assistant director at Massachusetts Emergency Medical Services, and eventually into politics where she joined forces with Allen.
"I'm versed in a lot of things," she said. "But my primary focus right now will be fundraising and gathering signatures."
With the field beginning to crowd, the election has become at once one of the most racially diverse the city has ever seen but also, paradoxically, one where very few, if any, have a unique ability to capitalize on their own natural constituencies. The reality is pointing the smarter candidates toward a broad appeal, as the once clear lines between Boston's multitude of cultures continue to blurâ€”another factor in the "Obama effect."
Two incumbent councillors - Stephen Murphy and John Connolly - are running for re-election this cycle. In addition to Carithers and Pressley there are two Asian-American newcomers in the field: Hiep Q. Nguyen and Peter Lin-Marcus, a Chinese-American. Three Latinos - Tomas Gonzalez, Felix G. Arroyo, and new candidate Francisco Trilla, a doctor from Jamaica Plainâ€” have made their intentions known.
Dorchester residents Jaha Hughes, Ego Ezedi, Marty Hogan and Robert Fortes and Mattapan's Jean-Claude Sanon are mounting campaigns, as are Andrew Kenneally, Doug Bennett, and Scotland Willis. Jamaica Plain's Sean Ryanâ€”a Ron Paul supporter who gets by selling frankfurters at Fenway Park - has pulled papers. So has Kevin McCrea, who announced plans to run for mayor earlier this year. McCrea issued a statement last week indicating that he was now thinking of switching to a council run.
All of this seems a windfall to some, but some campaign strategists have started speculating off hand about a reverse of 2005, when several familiar sounding Irish-American names on the ticket may have diluted the vote from white districts, leaving the door open for a Yoon and Felix D. Arroyo victory.
"I disagree with that at this juncture," said Ferriabough-Bolling. "Clearly with so may people of color in the race it would seem a preponderance for a person of color or two to take these two seats with. What it boils down to is who gets out the vote and who can cross those lines in the city."
She also, however, alluded to the possibility of maneuvers after September's primary, when the field will be narrowed to eight candidates for the final.
"When we see who makes out and there's only eight, that will be the time to shake the wagons out," she said.