Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2009 City Election: The Sun in Their Eyes

I got pulled away by work this morning, but when I checked the Sun and made my tour of the half-dozen or so city blogs that I check regularly, there it was -- one of the most telling quotes of this electoral season, right from Mr. Armand Mercier:

"I really can't understand why I lost," he said. "I think voters subliminally lumped me in with (Councilor) Alan Kazanjian because we are friends. It doesn't make much sense."

Insulting the electorate is not exactly the most gracious way to go out. By comparison, Regina Faticanti's quote in this morning's paper came off as far more graceful. [Yes, I just said "Regina Faticanti" and "graceful" in the same sentence].

If Mr. Mercier cares to listen, I'd mention to him that there was palpable frustration with the status quo in a lot of corners of the city. Not just with the condo owners downtown, but from the teachers in the middle schools, the regulars at the VFW, the business owners worried about the city's reputation, etc. I'd also mention that while he was comfortably ahead of #11 in the returns, he was only a stone's-throw away from incumbent Rodney Elliott. Either could have lost last night, because both were lumped in with the Gang of Six, but very much unlike the Mayor and Rita, neither had the sun in his eyes.

So back to the title of the entry. Chris Matthews, a much better author than TV host, has often referred to this very short-hand heuristic that can be used in handicapping political races -- Which candidate has the sun in his or her eyes? Of course, it's not a literal question, nor an overwrought pun on my part regarding our newspaper of record, but it's a question about who's really working the streetcorners, the diners, and who's being chased by someone's dog in Pawtucketville as he attempts to knock on his 200th door that day.

I'd say nearly all of the victorious incumbents, and CERTAINLY all of the victorious challengers, had the sun in their eyes. I think there were a few challengers who phoned it in, and that it showed in the final tally. Here's a look at the nine who won, separated out by total votes received:

Look at Tier One: Rita, Bud, Franky. Rita is so well-known for constituent services that, well, everyone seems to know it. As far as ubiquity across the city, she's second only to Mayor Caulfield, who really isn't kidding when he talks about the 400 public appearances he's made in the past two years. I mean, the guy's been to more funerals than John McDonough. Franky's name and face were well-known to anyone who's ever done just about anything on Merrimack Street. She came to tons of neighborhood events, her campaign was very professional and easy-to-reach, and she had the organizational reach and charisma to somehow get a dedicated band of sign-wavers at VFW & Bridge on even the coldest and rainiest days. All three had the sun in their eyes -- bigtime -- and it showed in the final vote tally.

Tier Two: Broderick, Milinazzo, Martin, Mendonca. I was one of the many voters this year that voted for Broderick, Milinazzo, and Martin along with six challengers. Of course, this stemmed from two major issues -- the primary and the Andy Sheehan firing. Still, I had multiple opportunities to meet Broderick, Milinazzo, and Mendonca at some of the neighborhood meetings and campaign events -- all came across as genuine, and none struck me as arrogant or aloof. In Mendonca's case, I think he was a "best of both worlds" sort of candidate -- technically a challenger, but with enough past work on the SC and the CC to know you weren't getting a novice -- a great way to use one of your nine votes.

Tier Three: Murphy and Elliott. In Murphy's case, there's just no question at all that he had the sun in his eyes. He was out in the neighborhoods, gripping, grinning, and listening -- constantly. He remembered names. He had an energetic campaign staff, and widespread sign placement throughout the city. He used new media (YouTube) as well as the most old-fashioned campaign style, personal retail politics. I would also add that his 2007 Congressional challenge was a huge upside for him this time around in terms of the name recognition and the way it gave him a context in people's minds. As I like to say, losing a Congressional bid as a young novice, but then consolidating the lessons learned and channeling it into a future successful bid puts him in the good company of each of our last three Presidents -- Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Elliott, on the other hand, hung on, but barely. I think if he comes back for another term in 2011 (I'll be voting absentee then, so I hope the blogs report on it), you'll see much more from Elliott in terms of the retail work that could help propel him up from ninth to a higher finish in the standings.

As far as the challengers who didn't make the cut, it's no surprise to see Paul Belley, Ben Opara, and Ryan Berard all clustered close together towards the top. They did a lot of the nitty-gritty stuff -- the block parties, the neighborhood meetings, and, yes, the door-to-door grunt work.

I don't want to comment on Armand Mercier's health issues, which I don't understand and won't pretend to. Of course, that could've been a limiting factor for him in his ability to campaign this season. But I do know that things like entrepreneurism and politics are inherently "risky businesses" in the sense that the odds are stacked WAY against you when you decide to participate. When you fail, you can either: a) look inward, ask what went wrong, and hope to fix it; or b) go vindictive and blame everyone else BUT yourself.

In the long term, that's what separates successes from failures.


KMM said...

Very well stated as always. Not to take anything away from the hard work of the Descoteaux campaign; I do not think anyone is giving Eileen Donoghue enough credit for lending her support and encouraging her former supporters in Franky's direction.

The New Englander said...

Kathleen, you just gave me a great interview idea. Just e-mailed ED via Facebook, will see if I can get a chance to pick her brain a bit about what this election means...can't hurt to ask, right?

P Vondal said...

I'm late to read this analysis but am appreciating it this AM. What do you think are the possibilities for candidates Opara and Berard in the future? Sounds like you are saying that even though they ran vigorous, heartfelt neighborhood campaigns that a necessary ingredient is prior name recognition through running in the past or some other major involvement that has your name out there in a positive way.

The New Englander said...


Absolutely agree with that. I would say Opara and Berard stand out among the also-rans from 2009 as people who ran vigorous campaigns with, well, the sun in their face (I since re-checked the Chris Matthews piece and saw it's actually sun in their face, not their eyes...but oh well).

Mendonca is a great example of a guy coming back to fight another day and then riding the wave of anti-incumbent feeling into office.

Also, don't discount random factors...Jose Gabriel's presence in this race brought out a lot of people who ALSO voted for Mendonca. So he benefits from something in 2009 that was essentially beyond his control. There's a random factor in politics that's always going to benefit someone who puts himself or herself forward time and again.

Berard and Opara both made great impressions on people and made tons of friends who would come out to support them if they ran again. Same goes for Paul Belley..