Reporter’s Notebook: Mayoral watch is keeping chattering class very busy

Michael Flaherty:: Will he make an attempt to return to City Hall in '11?Michael Flaherty:: Will he make an attempt to return to City Hall in '11?
Locally, as politics-dominated years go, 2010 is unlikely to get topped anytime soon. A Republican from Massachusetts was elected to the U.S. Senate, and the nation sent dozens more to the U.S. House in a red tidal wave in November. As thoughts quickly turn to 2012 (when Scott Brown is up for re-election) and 2013 (a race for mayor), 2011 shouldn’t be overlooked. In the first two months alone, a Boston city councillor will get sentenced and an election to determine his successor will follow. Here are a few things that people will likely be talking about throughout the new year.

Menino and the papabili
His every trip to the hospital, every missed public event, every hire and departure is watched and analyzed zealously. If the city’s chattering class were privy to which side of the bed Mayor Thomas Menino gets out of every morning, that information would be dissected for a day-by-day comparison. Welcome to Year Two of the mayor’s fifth four-year term, which may or may not be his last. (Only the mayor, and perhaps the Boston Globe’s editorial board, with its occasional glimpses into Menino’s soul, know for sure.) But the focus isn’t on the mayor alone. The potential contenders for his seat are also being carefully watched. Filings with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance are pored over. And e-mails to their supporters are getting noticed, such as City Councillor At-Large John Connolly’s Dec. 27 note helpfully alerting people to the fact that his City Hall office was open and ready for business during the snow emergency. Sometimes, Boston can be seen less as a shining city upon a hill and more as a rumor mill grinding away on top of a landfill.

Thirteen plus one, potentially
All of the 13 city councillors – including Chuck Turner’s successor after he or she is seated in March – will be up for re-election in November. Two question marks remain, aside from who will be representing District 7: Will Dorchester City Councillor Maureen Feeney run for re-election? She declined to explicitly say one way or another this week. And will former City Councillor At-Large Michael Flaherty make a play to return to the council? This would put pressure on first-termers Felix Arroyo and Ayanna Pressley, who finished third and fourth, respectively, after Flaherty and Sam Yoon gave up their at-large seats in 2009 to run for mayor.

Communities of color are expected to rally around Arroyo and Pressley if Flaherty jumps in, and Pressley in particular could be aided by the Urban League conference set for Boston this July. Flaherty’s entry would also set off an expectations game, as in: What would it mean for his mayoral aspirations if he didn’t top the ticket as he frequently did when he was a councillor at-large.

Turner and the District 7 special
Voters will have a little over a month to take a hard look at the dozen or so candidates – depending on who managed to turn in enough valid signatures to make the ballot – aiming to replace Turner. Haywood Fennell, a community activist who did not pull nomination papers in time, is reportedly looking at a write-in campaign. On Feb. 15, voters will winnow the field to two candidates, and Tito Jackson, former political aide to Gov. Deval Patrick, is widely expected to make it to the final round. The preliminary field also includes Candace Sealey, who is taking a leave from her job as aide to U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano; Cornell Mills, son of former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson; and former State House aide Natalie Carithers. Asked whether he would be campaigning for Jackson, the governor said, “I love Tito,” but added that Jackson had not asked for a formal endorsement yet. And, Patrick quipped, he has been “admonished” to stay out of contested primaries. Each candidate will likely face the Chuck Question – their thoughts on his corruption trial and conviction – from the media, the public, and the former city councillor’s diehard supporters, some of whom booed Arroyo and Pressley when they cast their votes to throw Turner off the council. In the middle of the preliminary comes Turner’s sentencing on Jan. 25. Muddying the waters is the lawsuit he filed against the City Council, claiming they illegally removed him from office and violated his Constitutional rights. And then there is the setting up of a “Roxbury Institute of Space Exploration... to help people understand how they can explore their inner space,” as Turner told the Boston Herald. One can assume he is not referring to miniaturization experiments.

The budget
On the one hand, a light can be seen at the end of the recessionary tunnel, lawmakers say. On the other, this year could be the worst budget year yet, they say. Patrick said this week he’ll be submitting a budget later this month that’s $1.5 billion smaller than this fiscal year’s, and City Councillor At-Large Stephen Murphy has estimated the city will face a $30 million budget gap. “That means everything’s on the table,” Patrick said, including local aid to cities and towns. Watch for a potentially bruising battle on health insurance reform, which Menino has proposed to the unsurprising chagrin of labor unions. Under the proposal, their power would be reduced during negotiations. As the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, which backs the reform, put it in a recent newsletter, “Over the past two fiscal years, Boston’s state aid has been cut by $81 million or 17 percent and deeper cuts are expected in fiscal 2012. In this fiscal environment, reform of local health insurance is the single most important initiative that can help each city and town in Massachusetts.”

New hires on Beacon Hill and in City Hall
The new year after an election means the start of new jobs for city’s political class. The State House News Service reported Wednesday that Rosemary Powers, former chief of staff at state Sen. Jack Hart’s office and a top official at the state Department of Environmental Protection, has signed on as intergovernmental affairs director under Gov. Patrick. Over in the City Hall, Mission Hill Councillor Michael Ross has hired George “Chip” Greenidge as his chief of staff. Greenidge has served as founder and executive director of the National Black College Alliance, Inc. The hire came as Ross relinquished the City Council’s presidency to City Councillor At-Large Murphy because of term limits.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at Material from State House News Service was used in this report.