Longfellow Street is politically in Ward 15 (Precinct 7, to be exact). It is a fairly heavy turnout street on election days and people pay attention to candidates going back to the days when almost all of the voters around here were Irish greenhorns. Nowadays, people have come here from all over the planet.
Ward 15 has a Democratic Party Committee that mirrors the new demographics of the neighborhood and is considered one of the most progressive-leaning groups of its kind in the city. Early in the preliminary campaign season this year, an upstart arrived at a monthly meeting of this committee and asked for its endorsement: Michelle Wu, young, attractive, Harvard-educated, immigrant story, progressive politics, someone to lead the New Boston. In spite of her lack of electoral history, the committee voted unanimously to endorse this fresh face, perhaps the first such group to endorse her this year. And the committee followed through in both the preliminary and final campaigns with contributions, house signs, bumper stickers, dressing the polls, poll workers, and so forth.
Imagine the shock, then, when the members read in the Boston Globe that Michelle’s first vote on the city council was probably going to make Bill Linehan from Southie the council president. With her in Linehan’s coalition, it almost made for a Disney movie scenario, “Michelle and the Six Old White Guys.” Catchy but hardly progressive in terms of the way Michelle had projected herself, hardly the tableau of the New Boston. It isn’t as if she had no other suitors. Matt O’Malley and Tito Jackson were putting together young, multi-cultural, mixed-gender voting blocs in which Michelle would have made an easily understood addition.
Certainly, it would be in Linehan’s personal interests to campaign in two years for re-election with a Chinese/American woman, since Suzanne Lee (his two-time opponent from Chinatown) seems as tenacious as can be. Perhaps he was willing to pay a high price for Michelle’s vote. But what good does it do Michelle to be seen in this group of older gentlemen? Fantasies of power? More like the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy falls into the hog pen and is almost crushed. Does Michelle realize that Matt O’Malley represents Ward 22 and his ally Frank Baker represents Ward 16, the two highest turnout wards in the city; that Tito is hugely popular in District 7; that any friend of Linehan is probably not going to be loved by Linda Dorcena Forry’s fans after he tried to deny her the gavel at the St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast in March (it isn’t good enough that she married Irish?); that the LGBTQ community might hold it against him and those close to him for comparing LGBTQ residents, who wish to march in the March parade the same day, to the KKK? Her prospective vote is sending the question, “What the hell, Michelle?” wafting across the progressive ether from Ward 15 activists. What will they think in Wards 4 and 5? Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
If all this turns out behind the scenes to be “politics as usual”, most people might write it off. But what of those who took Michelle’s progressive, New Boston message seriously? I guess the interim between final election day and inauguration day is always a fluid period in the town where politics never sleeps. Who knows? Michelle could change her mind.
Edward Cook is a resident of Longfellow Street and a member of the Ward 15 Democratic Committee.