The New Boston is Running. Is it Voting?

If you haven't checked out the slate of candidates running for Boston City Council At-Large this year, you should.

It's a slate that exemplifies the concept of a New Boston; qualified, energetic candidates of African, Haitian, Vietnamese, and Hispanic origin, along with some Irish and Italians thrown in. It's a far cry from the '70s when literally dozens of people would run, but it's a definite uptick in qualified candidates compared to more recent years. (In 2007, the preliminary city election was actually called off due to a paucity of candidates.)

So, YAY DEMOCRACY, right? Well, not quite. Who can be expected to actually vote in something as un-sexy as a municipal election? Unfortunately, almost no one.

Turnout for the 2007 general was 13.6% of registered voters. Political scientists we've talked to this week say that number is comprised almost entirely of two groups: 1) Municipal employees who have a direct stake in the elections, and 2) So-called "habitual voters" (i.e. people who flock to their polling places like swallows to Capistrano, i.e. senior citizens).

The entrenchment of the municipal electorate is, political science folks say, one of the reasons why demographic changes are so slow to manifest themselves in the make-up of citywide elected offices. (The process is faster in ward-based elections where concentrated neighborhoods of minorities can more easily elect one of their own.) The other reason is this: voting behavior tends to polarize around racial lines as cities approach a 50/50 minority/majority split, as Boston has. This means whites are less likely to crossover for a minority candidate as they come to feel that they themselves are becoming the minority.

So, do candidates like Tito Jackson, Ayanna Pressley, or Jean-Claude Sanon stand a chance with the typical crowd that shows up for a city election? Or, with all these new faces in the running, can we expect a different crowd this time around? And what does it all mean for Sam Yoon?

This program aired on August 21, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.


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