Analysis | A tale of two coalitions

From left to right: Henry Santana, Mayor Michelle Wu, Brian Doherty, Darlene Lombos and state Rep. Jay Livingstone

In the small world that encompasses Boston politics, there were the stirrings of two coalitions this week.

One remains under construction, with help from labor leaders. The other, if it even existed outside of an email from a top public relations company, evaporated in the summer heat.

Both encircle City Hall, home to multiple factions as progressives fight with each other, as well as the conservatives and moderates.

One coalition appeared to assemble on the eighth floor of a former Garment District factory in Chinatown, as Mayor Wu endorsed a former aide for one of the four at-large City Council seats. The man of the hour was Henry Santana, who basked in the support offered by his former boss and several councillors who hope he’ll join them in the Council Chamber. Union leaders stood behind them.

“I want good colleagues on the Boston City Council who are going to put the residents and the people of Boston first in everything,” said Councillor At-Large Ruthzee Louijeune. Colleagues “of integrity,” who can work together and work with the Wu administration are also wanted, she added.

District 4 Councillor Brian Worrell, who represents Dorchester and Mattapan, and District 1 Councillor Gabriela Coletta (East Boston, Charlestown and North End), joined Wu, Louijeune and the labor leaders, Darlene Lombos of the Greater Boston Labor Council and Brian Doherty of the Building Trades. State Reps. Jay Livingstone and Chris Worrell, the councillor’s brother, also attended.

Wu said Santana has experience inside City Hall, where he worked as an aide to former Councillor Kenzie Bok, and held an administration role — director of the office of civic organizing — that “touched every single department.”

The mayor has separately endorsed a candidate for Bok’s District 8 seat (Beacon Hill, Back Bay and Mission Hill) after she left for the top post at the Boston Housing Authority: Sharon Durkan, longtime political operative who has worked for Wu and Sen. Ed Markey, among others.

Asked what her endorsement brings, Wu noted ballots this fall will feature only City Council races, and turnout tends to be low. While district-level races, including the ones in Dorchester-based District 3 and Hyde Park/Mattapan-based District 5, will see a preliminary on Sept. 12, the at-large race will only be on the Nov. 7 ballot.

“My hope is trying to draw attention, and be very clear about the fact that we have an incredible candidate running for the first time in this at-large pool,” she said.

“I want to urge people to take this election cycle very seriously because the City Council has an important role to play in shaping decision-making in the city,” Wu said.

The election comes as councillors continue to make headlines, from clashing over the redrawing of district boundaries and the city’s budget to one councillor, District 6’s Kendra Lara (Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury) crashing her car into a Centre Street home, and another, District 5’s Ricardo Arroyo, getting hit with a $3,000 ethics fine. Both Arroyo and Lara are part of one progressive Council faction, while Louijeune, Worrell and Coletta are part of another.

The at-large race is just one battleground, and voters get to choose up to four candidates. Michael Flaherty, spent two tours of duty on the Council spanning twenty years, isn’t running again. With the other incumbents running for reelection (Julia Mejia, Erin Murphy and Louijeune), that leaves something of an open seat. In addition to Santana, South Boston ironworker Bridget Nee-Walsh and Mattapan activist Clifton Braithwaite are on the ballot. Catherine Vitale and Shawn Nelson, anti-vaccine protesters and Dorchester residents who spend significant amounts of time screeching at the mayor in-person and online, are also candidates.

The evening before Mayor Wu’s endorsement of Santana, there was the glimmer of another coalition. The public relations company owned by George Regan, who built it after working for Mayor Kevin White, sent an email to the Reporter promoting a July 22 gathering at Regan’s home in Mashpee, a beach town on Cape Cod.

An already-publicized fundraiser for District 2 Councillor Ed Flynn (South Boston) was on the day’s agenda, as was a birthday party for Flynn’s father Ray, the former mayor and US ambassador to the Vatican, who turns 84.

The Regan email said that in addition to the fundraiser and birthday party, it would be a launchpad for a group dubbed “Save Our City.”

The group plans to embark on a “3-year mission to save the City of Boston from the negative impacts of the ultra-progressive policies [that] dominate the current City Council and current administration at Boston City Hall,” the email added. It listed Flynn and others as attending, including Councillors Murphy and Flaherty, at-large candidate Nee-Walsh, exiting District 3 Councillor Frank Baker, and District 3 candidate John FitzGerald.

When reached for comment on Wednesday and Thursday, many of the officials, candidates and their campaigns expressed bewilderment about their names appearing in the email. “First I’m hearing of it,” said Flaherty.

Flynn, who also serves as the Council’s president, said he understood Saturday to be solely a fundraiser for him and a birthday celebration for his father. “I will continue to focus on delivering positive leadership on the Council, addressing quality of life issues for my neighbors, and working together with Mayor Wu and all of my colleagues to help move our city forward,” he said.

The FitzGerald campaign said their candidate “has no idea how his name was included” and he won’t be attending, choosing instead to spend the weekend knocking doors in District 3. On Thursday evening, FitzGerald was spotted at a fundraiser for Santana in Dorchester, which was also attended by Wu.

Murphy, Baker and Nee-Walsh had similar reactions when reached for comment. “I have no idea what a ‘save our city’ campaign is,” Murphy said Wednesday evening, adding that she was only invited to a birthday party for Flynn’s father.

In a phone interview on Thursday, Regan himself said the coalition did not exist. He blamed his secretary for the email.

Regan had a hand in the last mayoral election, working for an outside group funded primarily by New Balance chairman Jim Davis. The group sought to oppose Wu and boost her rival, Annissa Essaibi George, who asked, with little success, for the group not to intervene.

“The city is not on the right path,” Regan said Thursday, but he reiterated, “there is no group.”

The focus of Saturday was to raise money for Flynn, according to Regan. Flynn has nearly $600,000 in his campaign account, as of the end of June, and does not face an opponent this fall.

“He’s got a very difficult group,” Regan said, referring to the Council. “And the reason I’m doing it, I’m trying to save the city.”

In a statement sent on Friday after the story was published, the company reiterated the event is a birthday party and a fundraiser for Flynn.

"With a myriad of concerns currently facing the city, including historic infrastructure, traffic and transportation challenges, George believes there is a need for strong leadership today," the statement said.

The statement added there is no group operating under the "Save Our City" banner and no 3-year, or any, plan, and "the invited guests were never expected to be involved in such an effort. George came up with Save our City 40 years ago when Boston had big problems. It refers to that period of time and not today."

This post was updated Friday evening with a statement from Regan Communications Group.

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