It was Mayor Thomas Menino's toughest test in sixteen years and he passed with the highest grade: The onetime Hyde Park city councillor bested challenger Michael Flaherty of South Boston by 16,355 votes, thereby rolling to his fifth term and into the city's history books.
The easy win, by a 57 percent to 42 percent margin, was a departure from local election results across the state as incumbents were turned out in Brockton, Lynn, North Adams, and Worcester. "The mayor was running against his own longevity," said City Councillor At-Large Stephen Murphy, a close friend who has served on the council for 13 years.
But Menino's win also mirrored Boston voters' overall choices on the ballot, where they largely chose to stick with their incumbents.
"It's a tough time right now," said John Maciaszczyk, after emerging from Catherine ("Kit") Clark Apartments on Dorchester Ave., the polling location for two precincts in Ward 13. "My feeling is you have a man in there with experience. I've got nothing against Mr. Flaherty. At this point in time, you want the man that's been at the wheel for a while."
Menino's victory speech, given at the Fairmont Copley Hotel, focused on the future and his administration as he warned that complacency and the continuing fiscal downturn would be its "highest hurdle yet."
Referring to his grandchildren, who were gathered with the rest of his family on stage, Menino said that in his next term, he will work "to better this city for their generation. Some day, I'll just be Papa, and not the mayor."
Over at Flaherty's party at Venezia in Port Norfolk, when the mayor as shown speaking, someone in the crowd yelled, "What year?" The city councillor at-large had offered a frequent refrain on the campaign trail: "It's time."
But from the beginning, the spirited campaign of 2009 seemed to be more about 2013, and the next mayoral election, as polls showed Menino's sky-high popularity among voters. Flaherty and fellow City Councillor At-Large Sam Yoon, a former candidate who joined up with Flaherty in a joint "ticket" to topple Menino, gave concession speeches that hardly sounded like a concessions that the fight was over.
"What we learned tonight is that change takes some time," Flaherty said. "This is just the beginning." Flaherty said he had called the mayor to congratulate him and quipped, "Let's do it again in four years." The mayor chuckled, he added.
Coming out of the polling booth at the Clark Apartments, Julie Czerwinski agreed with Flaherty. "He's done a lot of good, but it's time to go," she said of Menino. "I want change. I want Dorchester to be safer. I feel so unsafe in my own neighborhood," she said, alluding to a noontime murder earlier that morning at the nearby Marshall School.
Others disagreed. "I don't think Flaherty was able to make his case that the city of Boston was falling apart," said Bill Walczak, the head of the Codman Square Health Center and a Menino supporter.
Added City Councillor Maureen Feeney, who was among Menino's most tenacious campaigners: "After 16 years, people still have such faith in him, and such hope for the future of Boston."
Flaherty campaign officials were hoping for a higher turnout, but said they were outgunned when it came to fundraising, and as one put it, they were "creamed" in West Roxbury, a key area. According to the city's website, 111,067 votes were cast citywide, or 31.16 percent of registered voters.
"The mayor had incredible resources," Yoon said. "And the power of the office of the mayor." Jim Spencer, a strategist for Yoon's mayoral bid, echoed his boss. "This is not like Maura Hennigan," he said, referring to a past challenger of the mayor. "This almost happened."
In Dorchester and Mattapan, Menino received high support: He won 62.4 percent of the vote to Flaherty's 37.2 percent.
The mood of the Menino celebration was one of conviction, with groups of supporters both young and old taking part in rolling chants of "four more years." Confident chatter among the crowd turned to outright glee as the final vote tallies were projected onto screens on either side of the hotel's opulent ballroom.
In a showcase of his establishment support, faces in the crowd included State Representative Marie St. Fleur; City Council President Mike Ross, who handily won reelection; City Councillors Sal LaMatina and Feeney; State Representative Linda Dorcena Forry; and U.S. Senate candidate Stephen Pagliuca.
"On this campaign, much has been made of the fact that ... I've met more than half of the residents of Boston. Tonight, how long would it take for me to go back and thank every single one of them?" Menino said at the beginning of his victory speech.
In contrast, the mood at the Flaherty party was somber. When Flaherty asked during his speech for people to clap for Menino, many did not.