We’re ‘at zero again’ says Flaherty of the at-large campaign

City Councillor Michael Flaherty. Yukun Zhung photo for the Reporter

Michael Flaherty has a secret formula. When the polls closed the night of Sept. 14, he had just left Hyde Park’s Baptist College, which is in voter-rich Ward 18. As he drove to his campaign headquarters on Broadway in South Boston, numbers were already coming in, through phone calls and texts.

There are about a dozen precincts, out of a total of 255 across Boston, that Flaherty has looked to throughout his time as a citywide politician. Those precincts, he told the Reporter in an interview, have always been “extremely accurate” in forecasting who is going to win once all the ballots are counted.

By 8:30 p.m., his tallies were already showing that it would be Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George in the mayoral final. He also had the lineup for the highest-scoring four in the at-large race, which had seen a 17-person preliminary.

Flaherty, 52, topped the at-large ticket that night, receiving 41,299 votes (15 percent). His fellow incumbent, Julia Mejia, grabbed 38,765 votes, while newcomer Ruthzee Louijeune and second-time candidate Erin Murphy picked up 33,425 votes and 22,835 votes, respectively.

The other four finalists who will be on the Nov. 2 at-large ballot are social worker Carla Monteiro, former City Hall aide David Halbert, perennial candidate Althea Garrison, and South Boston ironworker Bridget Nee-Walsh.

“The day after the election, everyone’s at zero again,” Flaherty said in the interview inside his fifth-floor City Hall office. Behind him, the neon sign of the Union Oyster House peeked out from behind the rooftops across Congress Street.

He chalked up his preliminary win to being a recognized name and face throughout the city. A former prosecutor and the son of a South Boston state lawmaker, Flaherty first ran in 1999, spending nine years on the council, five of them as the body’s president. 

He gave up his seat to unsuccessfully challenge Mayor Thomas Menino in 2009. When Menino opted against a sixth term in 2013, setting off a 12-person race to replace him, Flaherty ran and won an at-large seat on the council instead of taking another shot at the mayor’s office.

“I enjoy helping people,” Flaherty said. “This job is about helping people.”

He cites a roster of South Boston politicians, from the late Congressman Joe Moakley to former Senate President Bill Bulger and former mayor Ray Flynn, alongside his father, Michael F. Flaherty Sr., as role models. He would answer the phone for his father when Flaherty Sr. wasn’t home, taking down names with a pad and pen.

“You knew it was someone in need of some help and you needed to make sure you got the message right,” he said. “Back then, their electricity was out, or they had no heat, or they were trying to get their mother into senior housing, or their street wasn’t plowed. The list was endless.”

He remembers his father coming home, grabbing a bite in the kitchen, and then going down the call list. “That’s the environment I grew up in,” he said.

For the people calling, whatever the issue is, it is likely the most important thing happening that their lives. Even when he’s unable to help, Flaherty said he returns the call.

“If you either have no news or bad news, make sure you share that, too, because you want to make sure you’re managing people’s expectations. You don’t want them thinking you didn’t take their call seriously or you weren’t working on their call.” 

Good jobs and affordable housing still top the list of what voters want. Boston’s economy was booming before the pandemic, and city finances were in better shape than elsewhere in the US, allowing Boston to weather Covid-19 better than other cities. But even as the city keeps attracting companies to the Seaport neighborhood, there is an affordability crisis underway as housing prices outpace what many people can pay.

“What good is it when CEOs are bringing their companies to Boston, yet those basic career opportunities are not flowing out to the neighborhoods of Boston?” Flaherty said.

The councillor added that UMass Boston has one of the best nursing programs in the country. “We’re missing a huge opportunity” for a feeder system to train the next generation, from Boston public schools to the vast internship system within the region’s hospitals, he said.

The MBTA is another issue, he said, pointing to the Red Line derailment at Broadway last week.

“Boston’s workforce depends on safe and reliable public transportation,” but doesn’t have a seat on the state transit agency’s board of overseers, he said.

Asked whether the MBTA should be free, Flaherty answered with a question. “Is it realistic for us to think the T can be free?” There are employees and benefit packages to pay for and infrastructure needs, he noted, adding the caveat that he hasn’t seen the numbers that could make such a proposal work.

“I leave that to other pioneers who want the T to be free,” he quipped, an apparent reference to Wu, his colleague who is running for mayor.

Flaherty didn’t endorse in the mayoral preliminary and doesn’t plan to issue one in the final.

“I stayed in my lane then and it seemed to work well for me. I’ve got friends on all sides of this thing,” he said. “I’m on the ballot and I’m just going to stay in my own lane and work on getting re-elected, and will use my experience to help whoever wins.”

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