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November 05, 2013 3:52 PM Brawl in Boston

By Ed Kilgore

I have to admit I have not paid the least bit of attention to the mayoral race in Boston, in part because it’s nonpartisan, and in part probably because it was until recently described as a “personality” battle with no implications outside the city.

That sure seems to have changed, per this report from the New York Times’ Katherine Seelye:

With Boston’s first competitive mayor’s race in three decades going down to the wire, John R. Connolly has seized on the issue of outside labor support for his opponent, Martin J. Walsh.
Outside cash has been pouring into the mayoral race in the last few days, about three times as much of it for Mr. Walsh, 46, a state representative and union leader backed by organized labor, as for Mr. Connolly, 40, a city councilman who is receiving money from education groups.
Mr. Connolly has been careful not to disrespect labor, an influential political force here. But over the weekend, he escalated his assertions that the new money obligated Mr. Walsh to the unions.
“My opponent is a good man, but you can’t have $2.5 million pour in from across the United States on behalf of labor unions and say you’re going to be able to be independent,” Mr. Connolly said, his voice rising, as he addressed about 80 black supporters at a restaurant in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
“And,” he said, by now screaming, “you can’t have a ‘super PAC’ form four days before the election and have $500,000 dumped into it on your behalf and say you’re not going to owe anybody a thing after the election.”

This being Boston, I’m sure there are all sorts of subterranean, and even tribal, factors going on in this contest between two candidates who don’t seem to differ much on actual specific issues (here’s a link to one local analysis that gets into a lot of ward-level factors). But the more the labor movement becomes invested in a Walsh victory, and the more Connolly—who appears to have lost his early momentum—makes noise about it, the more minor differences of opinions are going to widen. Connolly may be emulating the strategy whereby Eric Garcetti defeated Wendy Gruel in the L.A. mayoral contest earlier this year (Garcetti made much of Gruel’s backing from municipal workers unions, even though the two were virtually indistinguishable on actual issues). But this is Boston, not L.A., and turnout is reasonably strong, not abysmal as it was in the Garcetti/Gruel race. So it’s not clear whether the “union money” issue will matter today or (particularly) after the shouting’s over.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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