Reflections on Round One

And then there were two.

Frank Baker and John O’Toole earned the right to compete for our votes again in November by finishing in the top two spots on Tuesday’s ballot. The preliminary election in District 3 has been a hard-fought, intense contest to date and there is every indication that the second round will be even more competitive.

There has not been a race like this one in recent memory in this part of Dorchester. The closest corollary took place in 1997, when Rep. Marty Walsh bested Jim Hunt III and several other candidates in a special election to replace former Rep. Jim Brett in the 13th Suffolk district. In that race, as in this one, there were several candidates from Ward 16 who split the vote in the lower half of the district and helped pave the way for the sole Savin Hill-based contender — Walsh— to top the ticket. On Tuesday, a similar scenario played out, with Frank Baker piling on big numbers in Ward 13 and Craig Galvin and John O’Toole splitting most of the Ward 16 vote.

In 1997, though, there was no Round Two since all the candidates were Democrats and Walsh won the House seat in an uncontested final election. He has faced only token opposition since then.

So the Nov. 8 face-off between O’Toole and Baker will really mark the first time since 1993 that this section of Dorchester has witnessed a hotly contested, head-to-head race between two strong candidates for an open seat. It promises to be a historic election, one that could very well hinge on some of the precincts in places like Bowdoin-Geneva, Meetinghouse Hill and Lower Mills (including one Mattapan precinct), which are relatively open turf at the moment. And, of course, the two winners will now need to aggressively court those 3,164 “good voters” who cast their ballot for one of the candidates who did not make the cut on Tuesday.

They will have six weeks to do it. In the meantime, there will be new candidates for voters to consider as well, as seven people — including four incumbents— running for Boston City Council at-Large will seek to capture voters’ attention. Their presence on the ballot on November 8 will certainly increase the turnout in District 3 — which topped off at only 21.5 percent on Tuesday. Thousands of additional people will turn out for the next round, a bump that will change the dynamics of the race.

For the candidates who did not win on Tuesday: Thank you. The time and devotion it takes to put yourself out there into the public eye — and undergo sometimes rigorous questioning— is a sacrifice that you now know well. The disappointment of coming up short yesterday will soon dissipate. Far more enduring will be the pride you and your key supporters can take in having run a campaign that brought up important issues and engaged your neighbors in a positive way. You’ve done this community a service by offering your time and ideas in this way.

This field of candidates brought to light a few promising people who will likely be key figures in our neighborhood’s civic conversations for years to come. Craig Galvin, who has long been a fixture in civic circles in Neponset and beyond, was particularly impressive in this first round and the results on Tuesday showed it. Galvin made a very positive impression in his first run for office and will remain, we are certain, an influential voice in local affairs.

– Bill Forry