The battle lines were drawn early, and Felix Arroyo could see them and read them. Hours after he was sworn in as the first Latino city councillor in Boston's history, he voted for Maura Hennigan for the council presidency. Later, he would tell the Reporter that Hennigan's candidacy earned his backing because he wanted to show his ballot "symbolic support for her 20 years as a woman leader." Publicly at least, he shrugged off any suggestion that his immediate alliance with the council's liberal wing - rounded out by Dorchester's Charles Yancey and Roxbury's Chuck Turner - would damage him politically.
"I don't see any actions so far that indicate any negativism because of my vote," Arroyo said almost two weeks after the vote.
Now, facing a tight race for re-election to one of the Council's four at-large seats, Arroyo hopes the same holds true.
Hennigan, whose 22 years aboard the Council make her its longest-serving member, professes optimism that she will remain thus, and points to broad, if not deep, support reflected in the results of the preliminary election results. Numbers for the September 23 vote show City Council President Michael Flaherty, who has taken fire for his involvement with the District Four race where he backs Ego Ezedi over Councillor Charles Yancey, with a comfortable 18 percent of the vote, followed by Councillor Stephen Murphy, who performed well in Dorchester and other heavy-voting parts of the city.
The spoiler, for Hennigan and Arroyo in the preliminary election and possibly for one's or the other's re-election aspirations, is Patricia White, whose image and ideas may not curry as much favor with voters as does the legacy of her famous father, former Boston Mayor Kevin White. White insists her support crosses age, ethnic, and geographic barriers. Campaign literature she was handing out Monday night at Little House showed White and her proposals next to pictures of no fewer than six senior citizens, one of them her dad.
White rejects the theory that she has benefited from her father's name, and assistance from Mayor Thomas Menino and Flaherty. Her "visible and active" campaign, she says, is to thank for her strong showing in the preliminary, where nearly 15 percent of the vote slotted her one point behind Murphy.
Both Arroyo and Hennigan point to past preliminary results scrambled in the interim six weeks until the final election. When Flaherty was elected in 1999, his surge in the campaign's final weeks vaulted him into office, and Dapper O'Neil out. The two incumbents insist their progressive ideology - and frequently shared contrarian stances against the "Young Turk" coalition - make them natural allies, even as they compete for the same pool of votes.
"I'm going to continue to hope that Felix serves on there, hope that I will continue to serve on there, but ultimately that is the choice of the voters," Hennigan said. Both Arroyo, a Hyde Park resident, and Hennigan, of West Roxbury, say "independent-minded" voters will lean their way in a final election they hope will draw more voters to the polls than the paltry, under-14 percent showing in the primary.
"When turnout goes up, it is less influenced by the political powers-that-be," Hennigan said after the Little House candidates' night. "And, you know, that's when your average person who doesn't owe allegiances to whoever actually can just come out and vote for whoever they feel is the best candidate."
Matt O'Malley, the energetic Roslindale native and former Peggy Davis-Mullen aide, admitted after the preliminary to feeling "frustrated" by his distant sixth, a six percent showing that lumped him at the bottom of the pack with Althea Garrison and Roy Owens. And, despite O'Malley's vigorous campaigning and Irish last name that make him a candidate for voters in high-percentage districts likely to adhere to ethnic lines, the top five seem secure as the final approaches. Flaherty and Murphy benefit from the same pattern, and have fortified their bases with active organizations and strong name recognition.
Flaherty and Arroyo have been making nice recently, as each stands to benefit from the others' influence. Flaherty could use backing from Arroyo's supporters to burnish his reputation as a bridger of cultural divides, dented by anger from Yancey loyalists who resent what they perceive as Flaherty's strong-arm tactics in supporting Ezedi.
"I would prefer that he would stay focused on issues that are particular to the city of Boston however, Felix and I have worked well together," Flaherty said last week at a forum in Jamaica Plain.
Flaherty's invocation of Rule 19, which gavels dead without debate discussion of matters the Council president deems "not germane" to the city, has drawn Arroyo's ire this year. But Arroyo has distanced himself from Turner and Yancey, who have pounded Flaherty over Rule 19. "I understand where (Turner and Yancey) are coming from. That doesn't mean I agree with the way they deal with it," Arroyo told the Reporter outside last week's J.P. forum.
And Arroyo, who will benefit from liberal voters casting "bullet" votes (one vote for one candidate rather than the allowed four votes for four candidates), could stand to gain a little Flaherty-tinged centrist appeal in big-turnout wards like Dorchester's 16, where his seven percent earned him only sixth place, and South Boston's Wards Six and Seven, where his three percent and four percent, respectively, cost him. Hennigan and White's preliminary results project more balanced support across the city.
Privately, Council insiders fret about the message that would be conveyed if Arroyo is ousted on November 4. A majority-minority city with only two councillors of color (Turner and Yancey) is potentially embarrassing for the Turks who seek - for reasons not exclusive of good electoral strategy - to embody a more diverse population. At the same time, the whittling of the "crazy caucus" proves appealing for councillors eager to dodge further heated debates over Rule 19 like the one that flared up last week, when Councillor Maureen Feeney blasted Flaherty's critics.
Still, between them, councillors will register only 13 ballots in the city's new machines on November 4. The rest, as Hennigan said, is up to the people.
Two election forums are on the horizon in Dorchester. On October 16, Dorchester House will host a candidates night, and the McKeon Post will host a second on October 22.