BOSTON — Mayoral hopefuls across Boston are making phone calls and meeting with influential community leaders to gauge whether they could win in a now-open race after Mayor Thomas Menino announced he would retire at the end of his term in January.
The Rev. Ray Hammond is among the influential leaders whose phone has been ringing. He is pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain, near the Roxbury line.
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“One of [Menino’s] greatest legacies is helping to pull together a city that I think was very fractured in the time that he came in — across a lot of lines, not just racial. I think across class, across neighborhoods, across downtown versus neighborhoods,” Hammond said. “And I think he put an extraordinary effort into bringing people together across a lot of those divides.”
One of those efforts, Hammond said, was to change the relationship between police and low income neighborhoods.
“I think he threw himself squarely behind the notion of police forces being partners with and not occupiers of communities,” he said. “That the police had to be involved in trying to divert kids before they got into serious trouble, and that only a partnership between the community and the police could give us the kind of safety that we needed.”
Hammond noted how Menino made progress in reducing crime and bringing economic development to neighborhoods such as Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, but he admitted there is still work to be done.
One of the key areas, Hammond said, is making the leadership structure in Boston more reflective of the population. Boston is now a majority-minority city — minorities comprise more than half of the city’s population.
While Hammond said he would like to see a person of color become the next mayor, he said there are significant hurdles for any candidate to overcome in what is likely to be a crowded field.
“There are candidates that I can think of who I think would be eminently credible and I think would do a phenomenal job,” he said. “Whether those people will run, whether they can mobilize the money and the support, that’s still to be seen.”
Hammond would not say who those candidates were, but he did say his phone has been ringing. As a denomination, the AME Church has a policy of not formally endorsing candidates, but Hammond and other leaders in the AME Church have been outspoken on key issues in politics.
“I want to get a sense of whether they understand what the challenges are. I want to know that they have some ideas about what might help,” Hammond said of the potential mayoral candidates. “But if they also display that they’re willing to sit down, talk to the people who are most affected, bring as many partners to the table as we can muster to try to really solve it, I’m interested.”
Hammond said that was Menino’s strength. He remembered meeting Menino decades ago when Menino was a city councilor. Menino was passing out food at a Roxbury shelter for battered women and children. It was not in Menino’s district.
“There was not a person in there who could give him a vote,” Hammond said, “but he cared about what was going on there.”