For the past 16 years, State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, D-Milton, has voted for only one man for mayor of Boston: Thomas Menino.
‘Every time,’ she said at the mayor’s final rally Monday night at the East Boston Social Center. ‘I voted for him in all the elections, from ’97 on.’
And time and time again, in each of those elections as well as his first in 1993, Menino has won.
The 2009 mayoral race culminates today in the polls, and as Menino tries to capture an unprecedented fifth term over first-time challenger and City Councilor-At-Large Michael Flaherty, he has his strong support and past wins in mind.
‘I’m positive on winning this election,’ Menino told The Daily Free Press after the rally. ‘I have a record of accomplishments, a message for the people of Boston, and I think the voters of Boston are listening to my message.’
But this election is closer than any Menino has faced before. With the exception 1997, when Menino ran uncontested, he has always defeated his opponents with more than 60 percent of the vote.
In the Sept. 22 preliminary election, Menino received just under 51 percent of the vote, The Free Press reported. Flaherty received about 24 percent, closely followed by fellow City Councilor-At-Large Sam Yoon, who earned about 21 percent. South End businessman Kevin McCrea received about 4 percent of the vote.
A week later, Flaherty increased his vote-getting potential by bringing on Yoon as his deputy mayor to run on a ‘joint ticket.’ McCrea endorsed the team on Oct. 29.
Menino campaign spokesman Nick Martin said the sheer number of votes shows the greater interest in this race.
‘There was about double the average voters that voted in this preliminary than in the previous one. People are realizing that this is an election that could dictate the future of this city,’ he said. ‘The mayor is taking that very seriously.’
The mayor has attended four televised debates this election, in contrast to just one in 2005.
Though Menino faces a stronger challenge this election, former Boston Globe City Hall bureau chief Michael Rezendes said unseating an incumbent is almost unheard of in Boston history.
‘If you go back over the past 50 years, I don’t think you’ll find an example of an incumbent mayor being defeated,’ he said.
Rezendes, who is now a Boston Globe political and investigative reporter, said the ‘large workforce’ Menino has built up over his 16 years in City Hall is a large population of voters dependent on Menino for their livelihood who are most likely to support Menino to protect their jobs.
‘I think he would have to work hard to make enough enemies to allow a challenger to defeat him,’ Rezendes said.
Political activist and 1983 mayoral candidate Mel King, who endorsed Yoon for mayor in August and Flaherty later on in October, said settling for the ‘status quo’ should never be an option.
‘It’s tough to beat an incumbent, but it doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying, especially if you believe there are things you can do to make the city better,’ he said in an interview with The Daily Free Press. ‘Vote for what you want, not for what you’re told you can get.’
Although King praised Menino for his work with housing and the Boston Main Streets program, a neighborhood revitalization program Menino established in 1995, residents who vote for the incumbent mayor are allowing other issues go unaddressed and are saying no to improvement, King said
‘What they’re saying is that it’s OK that Boston residents don’t get 50 percent of the jobs in construction in the city,’ King said. ‘It’s OK if folks of color don’t get those jobs, if women of color don’t get those jobs, if we have underperforming schools. That’s what they’re saying if they support the current administration.’
King was also highly critical of Menino’s support of Boston University’s Biosafety Level-4 laboratory, citing the mayor’s disregard for a court ruling ordering a review of the biolab in 2006.
‘When a judge came in and said the decision to do the bioterror lab was ‘arbitrary and capricious,’ I would have expected the mayor to back off and say that is unconscionable,’ King said. ‘But still he backs it like it’s OK.’
However, Dorcena Forry said Menino’s understanding of city government and his work with immigrants make him a strong leader.
‘I’m born and raised in Dorchester, I’m a first-generation American,’ she said. ‘I think what he has done really well is integrate new immigrants into the community.’
In light of Menino’s long-standing ties to Boston government ‘- he served on city council for nine years before becoming mayor ‘- and the fact that Menino is the longest-serving mayor in the history of the city, Rezendes said he thinks today’s election will be difficult for Bostonians.
‘I think what voters are being asked to consider right now is the condition of the city over [Menino’s] 16 years,’ Rezendes said. ‘I think a lot of things are better than they were 16 years ago. The question for voters is, ‘Is that good enough? Or could we be better still?”