After Deval Patrick’s stunning victory this past November, Beacon Hill regulars looked at the powerful grassroots network of progressive activists who’d helped elect him, and wondered: what’s next for them? Would Patrick keep them mobilized to promote his initiatives? Would they bring their energy to other political campaigns? Or would the populist surge be fleeting?
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In the congressional race for the Fifth District, pundits — even a few Democrats — are now wondering whether Republican Jim Ogonowski might defeat Democratic nominee Niki Tsongas in the general election later this month. And in Boston, some fear that liberal stalwart Felix Arroyo may be in danger of losing his at-large city-council seat.
In the wake of the recent local elections, more and more observers are concluding that the energy that put Patrick in the Corner Office has come and gone.
East Boston’s Democratic primary (and, by default, the state representative seat) went to Carlo Basile, a political operative who, in addition to Democratic campaigns, worked on Republican Kerry Healey’s run for governor. Much of Basile’s support and funding came from Republicans, and the Democratic state party, chaired by former Patrick campaign manager John Walsh, openly opposed him. Nevertheless, Basile easily defeated more liberal opponents.
In Allston-Brighton, progressive favorite Tim Schofield was widely expected to win one of two available spots on the November ballot in the race to replace district city councilor Jerry McDermott. But Greg Glennon, considered the most conservative candidate in the race, pulled the upset in the preliminary and will face neighborhood activist Mark Ciommo.
These are just the latest of this year’s defeats for progressive candidates, in a streak that includes a special city-council election covering the South Boston and South End neighborhoods; a state-senate race to replace Cambridge Democrat Jarrett Barrios; and a Democratic primary for US Congress to replace Marty Meehan, who resigned this summer to take the helm at UMass-Lowell.
This current state of affairs reminds some of November 2004, when Mitt Romney’s plan to pressure state legislators by showing them he could pick them off at the polls backfired and left the legislature feeling immune to outside influence.
In these instances, we may be seeing a small backlash against liberal Democrats, who now control the legislature and governor’s office. That control was clearly exhibited in the surprising defeat of the same-sex-marriage ban at this summer’s Constitutional Convention, pulled off by Patrick, House Speaker Sal DiMasi, and Senate President Therese Murray.
Locally, City Hall insiders suggest, the trend has been exacerbated by the actions of “Team Unity” — the four minority City Councilors who, in the opinion of some, have unnecessarily aligned themselves in opposition to moderate and white constituents.
Meanwhile, the recurrence of old voting patterns seems to confirm that the progressive vigor of this past autumn has faded.
Turnout for the recent special elections and primaries has been dismal, because the less attention-getting an election, the fewer people vote. When that happens, historically the scales tip toward the “neighborhood” voters — the old Italians in Eastie, the long-time residents of Brighton, the conservative Southie Irish — who show up at every election. Ideally, that would be different now, with greater participation from younger voters, area newcomers, minorities, and others in the progressive camp who were invigorated by the Patrick campaign. Evidence suggests that this change hasn’t occurred.
For the governor’s part, say several Boston liberals, Patrick hasn’t given progressives a single issue to rally around. At one time, he seemed to be elevating his taxation plan — closing certain corporate tax “loopholes” and allowing municipalities to tax meals and hotel bills — to rally status. The governor held a series of events on the issue, and warned the legislature that he would sic his progressive supporters on those who opposed the bills. But the legislature ditched those ideas without the governor raising any further hell, and Patrick’s threats have been largely forgotten — more so since he unveiled his casino proposal.
Choosing a darling
There is another way of looking at these recent elections: the progressive agenda has become a minimum requirement for election. Perhaps the most liberal candidate didn’t win, but the winning candidate was pretty darn liberal.
“In many cases,” says John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, “there has been an embarrassment of riches for progressives.”
Anthony Galluccio, who won the Democratic primary to replace Barrios, is liberal enough to have gained the enthusiastic endorsement of several progressive groups in Cambridge. Ciommo, who finished first in the Allston-Brighton council preliminary, meets all the usual progressive tests on the issues. Even Basile, in East Boston, is pro-choice, anti-death-penalty, and supports gay marriage.
All of those candidates, observers say, succeeded through hard work — getting to know and impress people in their districts over many years. Yet none of them became a “darling” of the new progressives. And most of those who were anointed darlings — Schofield in Allston-Brighton, Jamie Eldridge in the Fifth Congressional District, Gloribell Mota in East Boston, Tim Flaherty and Jeff Ross in Cambridge — couldn’t put together the kind of effective district-wide campaign that wins races.