21
Sep
06

Showdown

Never a dull moment up here in MA! (Actually, I know many people who might describe Boston and the state as exactly that.  Screw them, g-d d*mn Yankees fans.)   

In contrast to yesterday’s Globe’s analysis of the gubernatorial candidates’s differences, the M.A.S. noted, as NPR endlessly replayed Deval Patrick’s and Kerry Healey’s primary victory speeches last night, “ew, they both sound like weenies.” And while I couldn’t agree more with the M.A.S.’s impression, I’m pretty excited to watch this white woman and black man duke it out for the job.  Not least because either victor satisfies the equity concerns I noted here on tuesday.  More importantly, this state, despite its liberal bent, has never elected a black man or woman for governor.  In fact, Patrick would be only the second black governor in the country, ever, if he were to win.

Embarrassingly, his candidacy resurrected media coverage of our legacy as a racially intolerant place, as print outlets enthusiastically picked up the A.P.’s story on racially violent busing and desegregation 30 years ago.  From attacking black students to voting for a black governor.  Sigh.  Do we get any bonus points for legalizing gay marriage in the interim? 

Perhaps gossipmongers will be distracted from our shameful past if they turn to the state senate race in our 2nd district.  Dianne Wilkerson, a 7-term state senator and African-American woman (and, may I add, our only black senator), has a legacy of success on Beacon Hill, yet a questionable ethical reputation and an accompanying history of fines and reprimands.  She’s nothing if not sloppy in managing her personal and professional affairs, it seems, including failing to get enough names on her petition to get her back on the primary ballot this fall.  D’oh!  So the 2nd district (a really interesting mix of neighborhoods, demographically: <(Part of Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Chinatown, South End, Fenway, Mission Hill, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, part of Dorchester, and part of Mattapan) opened up with FOUR write-in candidates this fall (they call this a sticker campaign – the candidates mail you stickers that you attach to the ballot – who knew!).  And now Wilkerson is locked in a recount against Sonia Chang-Diaz, her primary competitor for the Democratic ticket that she now leads by only 141 votes.  Chang-Diaz’s mother is white, her father is Costa Rican with Chinese ancestry, and he was also the first Latin American astronaut in the U.S. (according to her bio).  The other candidates against these two progressive women were a dude from JP and another Diaz, this one the daughter of Trinidadian immigrants.

So here we go, Teddy K. sitting comfortably at the top of the state’s political food chain, and all this demographic churn taking place around him.  It’s totally thrilling, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.  Tuesday’s primary had the highest voter turnout in 16 years.  This link talks about the demographic change underway in this minority-majority city, and shows how previously “written-off” areas like Dorchester and Roxbury had significantly higher turnout than the old powerhouse centers of South Boston and West Roxbury.  (I’ll skip past the fact that my ‘hood, Allston-Brighton, bounded as it is by BU and BC, and swarming with co-eds as a result, had the lowest turnout.  Sounds like they could use a little Deis political activism around here.)  Our City Council make-up epitomizes this change beautifully – a couple of the old-school dudes still riding along – black and white, representing Southie/W. Roxbury v. Dorchester/Mattapan, now sitting beside our first Jewish councillor in 55 years, Mike Ross; our first Asian City Councillor, Korean-American Sam Yoon; and our first Latino Councillor, Felix Arroyo.  In the next round of elections, we need to increase the number of women beyond ONE.

For all the sh*t he gets for being so happily local and unintelligible, Menino in his generally uncontested four terms has been a strong neighborhood mayor, doing a much better job at equalizing recognition and service delivery to the 16 neighborhoods of the city.  Nonetheless, and perhaps in some ways aided by our emphasis on neighborhoods, our city remains woefully racially segregated.  For those of us who criss-cross these geographic boundaries regularly, we see vibrant community life beyond the shrinking but still dominant Irish neighborhoods.  Indeed, between 1990 and 2000, residents of West Indian descent knocked those of English descent out of the #3 slot in the census category on ancestries in Boston.  And West Indians and Sub-Saharan Africans were the only two groups in the top 10 that grew over the last 10 years.  (The Irish population shrank by 27%, though it remains the largest population at almost 100,000 of the ~650k residents in the city.)

The next seven weeks should prove endlessly entertaining and instructive for those of us who consider politics one of our favorite spectator sports.  My friend La Tonya and I yesterday talked about when our white neighbors or relatives (mine, not hers) want to know why we’d even go to these ‘hoods, only 2 miles but a cultural world away still in this relatively parochial city.  For me, having your roots inextricably intertwined in your studies of urban communities goes a long way towards opening your mind; having your mother spend most of her life working in urban, public hospitals, and parade a rich mix of friends and experiences through your life helps too.  If you’ve ever had your mom pierce your ears at 6 with the tools she had as a pediatric nurse in Newark, or take you to see the AIDS quilt in the 6th grade, you too might have a world view that extended beyond your surburban front porch. 

And 25 years later, I feel naked without earrings on.

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