Stand-out showdown at Adams Corner

Last Saturday was a warm, glorious, sun-splashed late summer day. The weather forecasters predicted it would be a gem – one of those “top ten” days, a perfect day to be outdoors.

It was the last Saturday before this week’s preliminary city election—and thus, it was among the very last days for mayoral candidates to marshal their troops and show their strengths.
And so it was that the organizers for Mayor Menino planned for a show of support, aiming to capture the attention of voters, real and potential.

In the old days the bustling few days before an election would be see street- corner speeches, and sound trucks blaring a “get out and vote” message. Shoppers would find last-minute flyers on their windshields, and volunteers would go door-to-door dropping campaign literature – “lit drops” – under their neighbors’ doors.

And while similar measures remain standard tools of the trade, they have been supplemented by a relatively new campaign activity, the street corner stand-out.

So last Saturday morning, 60 or more supporters holding signs to re-elect the mayor staked out positions at Adams Corner, where Adams Street meets Gallivan Blvd. and Granite Ave.  During the planned three-hour ‘visibility’ – from 9 a.m. to noon – a steady stream of motorists was greeted by dozens of green and white Menino signs. For those hours, like other Saturday mornings earlier in the summer, the corner became a living, breathing, moving human billboard seeking support for the mayor.

Then, shortly before 11 a.m., there was a new development: From Saranac Street, a couple of blocks up Adams Street, there emerged a coterie of supporters for City Councillor Michael Flaherty. Carrying  red, white and blue Flaherty for Mayor signs, five dozen or more backers walked briskly down Adams Street, heading directly for the Menino-claimed intersection, all cheering and shouting their support for the challenger.

Looking like an invading army, the Flaherty volunteers stormed the intersection, claiming any terrain not already occupied by the Menino supporters.

It was a political skirmish, to be sure, and for a few brief moments, it seemed there might be a clash. But quickly, it became clear that it was just a counter attack, a case of one-upmanship. For every Menino sign, it seemed there was a Flaherty sign. There was something at once light-hearted, almost inspirational at the sight of the two rival campaigns duking it out for the attention. And despite some early tension, the competing rallies resulted in a carnival-like character.

It was, as someone called it, “The Great Adams Corner Smackdown of 2009.”

Some participants seemed put off by the ploy. “In 30 years I have never seen anything like this,” one sign-holder said. “You don’t take over someone else’s standout. It’s a lack of etiquette. We have been here every weekend all summer long, but they haven’t been here at all, so to show up on the Saturday before the election is just sort of grandstanding in a way.  It’s about consistency in showing up, you know – you don’t just barge in at the last minute.”

“How many children are here versus how many children are over there?” she said, pointing to a group of Flaherty backers. “It’s campaign etiquette, that when somebody has a corner, it’s their corner, and you don’t barge in on that.”

But not everyone seemed to be bothered by the gambit. One Flaherty backer said,  “I think it’s ‘Flaherty meets Mayor Menino.’ It’s a great day and it’s starting to heat up.

“The Flaherty people are having a lot of fun and the Menino people look like they’re being forced to be here. They’re all miserable and we’re all just enjoying ourselves,” he said with a laugh. “Everybody’s getting along, we’re all friends, we all know each other. It’s just a great day to hang out and say hello.”

But, he was asked, is there an etiquette to standouts? “I suppose there is, and there isn’t. We all know each other, everybody’s getting along, it’s just good clean fun.

“Whether you’re for Menino or you’re for Flaherty, it’s a sign that this is a pretty politically active neighborhood,  that people care, and we all have the same interests, and we’re all out here.”

Just then, a fire truck started across the intersection, from Granite Ave across Gallivan and onto Adams Street. The firefighters union has been a strong supporter of Flaherty, and as it passed, there were several loud blasts on the fire horn, and the driver and a front seat passenger waved and cheered the Flaherty backers, eliciting a roar of approval from the sign-holders.  Then, a third firefighter riding on the side of the truck flashed a “thumbs-down” gesture to them, accompanied by a big grin.

“I think it was a true reflection of the city, I really do,” the Flaherty sign-holder said. “It’s the sign of a good strong neighborhood.

“It would bother me more if no one was here.”