REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: Campaigning in the sand box: Baker, O’Toole & friends go at it

By 
Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Oct. 27, 2011

In District 3, the endorsement war rages on. The two candidates, Frank Baker and John O’Toole, continue to proclaim backing from this union and that union, all the while eyeing the electoral clock that shows less than two weeks left until the vote.

The eight-month battle perhaps can be best compared to a sandbox version of the Trojan War, a seemingly endless slugfest that involves some childhood feuds that are still in play years later because of adults unable to act their age.

Nasty e-mails. Lawn signs torn down. Eggs splattered across campaign windows. Over the weekend, a ribbon-cutting at a Hill Top Street playground, an appropriate setting, was fraught with tension and cold shoulders.

So who can blame anybody for wanting to watch this from the safety of the sidelines? Congressman Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston) was at the Old Dorchester Post recently as part of his “Congress on Your Corner” tour when both candidates, who worked on Lynch’s Congressional campaign in 2001, strolled in. “I told them early on I’m going to stay in Washington until this race is over,” Lynch (D-South Boston) joked later.

Meanwhile, the campaigns continued to tout their endorsements. O’Toole this week picked up the backing of SEIU 1199 United Healthcare Workers East and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 93, while Baker received endorsements from the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) and Mass. Coalition of Police (COP), the largest law enforcement union in the state.

Last week, three sitting city councillors said they were backing O’Toole, including Rob Consalvo, who represents Hyde Park, Roslindale and a part of Mattapan; Mark Ciommo of Allston-Brighton; and Sal LaMattina, who represents East Boston, the North End, Charlestown, and Beacon Hill.

All three councillors are running for their own offices unopposed, and, as state Rep. Carlos Henriquez, who is backing Baker, noted in an online exchange with an O’Toole supporter, none live in the district. Then again, former state Sen. Steven Tolman, who endorsed Baker earlier this year before he stepped down to become the head of the state’s AFL-CIO union, lives in Brighton.

Of course, little jabs like that fly back and forth on a regular basis between campaigns. It’s a two-way street: In the days after the preliminary, O’Toole supporters whispered that South Boston was somehow running the Baker campaign, looking past the fact that on the night of the Sept. 27 election, O’Toole personally thanked Mayor Thomas Menino’s office for providing a helping hand and name-checked one of the mayor’s top operatives, who lives in…yes, South Boston.

Separately, Darnell Williams, the head of the nonprofit Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, raised local eyebrows with a rare personal endorsement. He said last week he was backing O’Toole.

The candidates have also sought to look a little more councillor-like.

Last Friday, Baker released a proposal to expand an electronic alert system about daily crime activity in the neighborhood. The idea includes designating a full-time staffer in his office to coordinate and monitor the expansion. Neighbors in Savin Hill and some parts of the St. Mark’s neighborhood voluntarily maintain an e-mail list that regularly updates residents of crime activities in the C-11 Police District with information from the Boston Police Department.

For his part, O’Toole sat down with state and city transportation officials over the traffic issues plaguing several intersections along Dorchester Avenue, such as Glover’s Corner. The Tuesday morning sit-down between O’Toole and the officials, held on City Hall’s seventh floor, will lead to a follow-up meeting with all civic presidents, O’Toole said.

In between the endorsement announcements and policy proposals, the pair has been dialing for dollars. Baker hauled in over $10,000 in the first fifteen days of October, according to campaign finance records. O’Toole pulled in $3,901, but his camp said that since Oct. 17 they’ve grabbed an additional $8,850 that hasn’t yet been filed with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. That brings O’Toole’s cash-on-hand to $13,250, his campaign said.

O’Toole spent $16,614 between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15.

Baker raised $10,727 between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15, and spent $12,192. He has $7,889 as an ending balance in his account.

A Baker campaign spokesman declined to release updated figures and said several fundraisers are scheduled in the next few days.

Treasurer Grossman encourages good humor when it comes to ice cream
Politicians have tended to be a ban-happy lot. A humorless constituent, with stern face and furrowed brow, cries out, and the pol comes running with parchment and pen. This has been especially true in Boston, where the Puritans are still venerated and the Watch and Ward Society originated.

So it’s always nice to hear when an elected official goes in the other direction and urges folks to maintain their sense of humor, as Steve Grossman, the state treasurer and an ice cream connoisseur, said last Friday when the Ben and Jerry’s controversy was broached in an interview.

The controversy revolves around the Vermont ice cream company offering up a “Schweddy Balls” flavor, based on a “Saturday Night Live” skit. Actor Alec Baldwin played “Pete Schweddy,” a baker who hawked his “Schweddy balls” on a faux NPR show.

The name of the ice cream flavor has predictably drawn outrage from a group calling itself One Million Moms. Stop and Shop, which is based in Quincy, Mass., has declined to carry the flavor, a move widely reported on Friday morning.

When the Reporter sat down for a previously scheduled interview with the treasurer at the Ice Creamsmith in Lower Mills, it would have been journalistic malpractice not to pose a question about the controversy to the man who went on an “ice cream tour” during his 2010 campaign.

“I was not familiar with it until you described it to me,” Grossman said. “But it strikes me that we make a big mistake when we lose our sense of humor.” He added: “I would counsel people who get too serious about this stuff to just remember that a sense of humor is an essential ingredient to getting through the day, the week, the month and one’s life.”

Grossman later said on the social networking site, Twitter, that he gave the ice cream flavor a five out of ten: “Too much vanilla. Not enough malted milk balls.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop. Follow us on Twitter: @LitDrop and @gintautasd.

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