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Five months before the election, the mayor's race in Boston is in full swing. Mayor Tom Menino won't say yet whether he'll be running for a fifth full term, but at least three candidates are already working hard to get his job.
Sam Yoon, Boston's first Asian-American city councilor, hopes to become the first Asian-American mayor of a big American city. Yoon doesn't have a particular base in the city, but he's considered as attractive to voters in Boston's liberal neighborhoods, like the South End, the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Jamaica Plain and the Fenway.
Over morning coffee at Au Bon Pain on State Street, he admits that running against Mayor Menino, who has been mayor for 16 years, is daunting, and that Boston politics are bruising.
"People say there are three great loves of our city," Yoon says. "There's sports, politics and revenge. Anyone who has been in politics for any length of time here has felt the revenge part, and that goes along with the politics."
Asked to cite one way in which he's seen revenge in action, Yoon begins to describe some of Menino's tougher political tactics, but then says he'd rather not go there. Instead, he talks about how city councilors feel that Menino takes credit for their ideas. They call it being WiFied.
"WiFied refers to an initiative that Councilor Tobin offered to discuss how we can make wireless WiFi available to the whole city," Yoon explains. "And no sooner had he done that than the mayor formed a wifi task force — essentially stole it from a city councilor and took credit for it. It's such a commonplace thing that happens that we all can recognize when we've been WiFied."
If Yoon wants to succeed Menino, first, he'll have to get past his fellow city councilor, Michael Flaherty, who is also in the race. Until it came out last year that Yoon was raising money across the country, Flaherty, a former city council president, was expected to be the candidate to run against Menino. Only two candidates can make it through the September preliminary election and on to the general election.
"Good morning, everybody. How are you? Michael Flaherty, running for mayor of Boston. Good to see you. Thank you."
Campaigning at the Forest Hills T station during morning rush hour, Flaherty, who comes from one of South Boston's most prominent political families, explains why he's running for mayor.
"We have underperforming schools," Flaherty says. "We have a dropout crisis. We have youth violence crime and dirty streets that plague our cities, so those are the things that I think that we need to address immediately."
To improve the schools, Flaherty proposes three things: "We need to get smaller class size, more before and after school programs, extended school day."
There is a third candidate hoping to crash Menino's party.
"My big issue is transparency and accountabiity," Kevin McCrea says.
Kevin McCrea is a South End contractor and a perennial advocate of more transparency in city government.
"My big issue is transparency and accountability," McCrea says. "There are tens and actually hundreds of millions of dollars that the city has given away, and that means particularly the mayor."
McCrea, a long-time critic of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, accuses it of squandering opportunities to make money by giving too many tax breaks to developers.
McCrea was in the audience at a recent City Council hearing on the budget in Codman Square that attracted people such as Shirley Kressel, a Back Bay landscape architect who founded the Alliance of Boston Neighborhoods. Kressel, a longtime critic of the mayor and the BRA, supports McCrea.
"You know, it's a time of change," Kressel says. "We haven't had a time like this when people are really in open rebellion."
Nearby, Grace Clark, a nurse at the Codman Square Health Center, says she's still undecided, but agrees that it might be time for a change of mayor.
"Everyone needs to know when to stop," Clark says. "There is no job for life. You have to know when to pull back and let new ideas come along, and new energy."
Although Menino has not said he's running, people in the room clearly expect him to.
"It'll be really interesting to see how it shakes out," says Craig Ransom, a carpenter from Dorchester. "And especially when the mayor really hasn't really made a formal announcement yet that he's actually running, but we know that he is."
It certainly looks that way. He is raising lots of money. Menino has regular breakfast meetings with voters before 9 a.m. He attends after-work cocktail receptions, ballroom fund-raisers that might cost up to $500 a person. He also does neighborhood fundraisers in East Boston, Charlestown, Jamaica Plain and Dorchester.
And to some in the room, it's a foregone conclusion that Menino will not only run, but win.
That's what Mohammed Abdur Razzaq, who describes himself as a consultant from Mattapan, says. "I think he has a lock in terms of established machine and employees in place to go forward."
The hearing that all these people have gathered for is convened by Sam Yoon, but Yoon quickly runs into trouble. He suggests that the city could save $11 million a year by retiring highly-paid city officials.
"There is a chief of personnel in the fire department who makes $180,000 a year," Yoon says. "I'm sure that he's doing the best job that he possibly can, but the city's chief of personnel, who manages the personnel for everyone else in the city, makes $115,000."
It turns out that Richard Paris, the vice president of the firefighters' union, is in the audience to rebut him.
"You mentioned the guy making $180,000 in personnel," Paris says to Yoon. "Uh, that man died last year of a heart attack."
The evening turns into a lesson for Yoon: It's not easy running for mayor of Boston, and it won't be easy running against Tom Menino.
This program aired on April 17, 2009.
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