African Meeting House, Smith Court, Boston

By Kirk Clay

Examining the Political Dynamics Surrounding Boston’s Future

Recently America experienced a tragedy which tested the spirit of the entire nation, especially one of our most historic cities–Boston. This is indeed a resilient city so there’s no doubt that this senseless act of violence will only serve as a catalyst for their renaissance. As our thoughts and prayers go out to the families affected by this terrible event, they are already showing signs of bouncing back.

As Boston grapples with the economic, cultural, and judicial effects this will have, it’s important to examine the political dynamics surrounding the future of the city. Remember that their population increased significantly in the last ten years. Yes, Boston grew 4.8% to 617,594 and it currently has over 85,000 “key” Voters of Color, but that only explains part of the story.

To understand Boston, you have to understand its historical role in shaping American politics. Their reputation for producing national leaders is a civic marvel and the stuff of political legends. Progressive Whites and People of Color (POC) are central to this history and have many stories to share about their “Pre-Civil War” Beacon Hill community. They will tell you with pride about the African Meeting House – the oldest surviving African American church edifice in the nation – where notables such as Fredrick Douglass and Sojourner Truth waged many early civil rights battles alongside progressive Whites.

Present-day, they will tell you how surreal it feels to watch President Obama, Attorney General Holder, Governor Patrick, and their current Mayor lead Boston in unity after the marathon bombing. Not to mention how amazing it must be to see their beloved city embrace these three people of color as American leaders. Even Bostonians living in neighborhoods like Roxbury and Dorchester- two majority minority neighborhoods – are surprised and excited about the changing face of politics. It’s truly a new day when there are multiple POC candidates running for Mayor and city council, all with a decent shot at victory.

Of course, it’s tricky to measure the political effect this set of events will have on the consciousness of the electorate–however there are signs. While “flash point” political impressions are hard to quantify, the fundamentals of this race are beginning to solidify:

  • There are over 600,000 people living in Boston – 17% Latino, 24% African American, and 9% Asian.
  • There will be at least four city council members in the race for Mayor – a crowded field leaving plenty of open council seats.
  • The 2009 Mayoral race recorded about 101,000 votes – a small universe of voters.
  • The 2011 at-large city council race recorded a little more than 170,000 votes.

There will be a lot of candidates running for Mayor and that may split the independent vote share at least 4 ways. It will be the Voter of Color who will likely make up the difference. There is a path to elect a Person of Color as Mayor with the right candidate, message, and a brilliant voter registration and turnout program.

Make no mistake, this is going to take a block by block community organizing effort but Bostonians have a history of voting for the candidate that represents their interests. They’ve been waiting with eager anticipation for the opportunity to vote for a candidate that has the courage to stand up for all Americans. Just as in Patrick’s governor’s race, the right candidate can tap into this powerful coalition of progressive Whites and Voters of Color.

The marathon tragedy has brought together this patriotic city like never before and the positive energy that Bostonians project may become the catalyst for positive change in their politics.


Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC