0 of 0


The latest poll reveals just how much work remains for the 12 Boston Mayoral candidates. Name recognition is a big deal. And with the clock racing to the September 24 primary, each campaign must decide which sections of the city to put a stake in the ground… literally.

Lawn signs may seem like a campaign tool of the past, but getting voters to know who you are is crucial in a crowded, 12 person race. 

The signs are spreading. Red, white, blue, green, papered and plastered advertising candidates’ name in bold face. They’re taped to small storefronts in East Boston, taking over fences in Brighton, even on billboards as far away as Cape Cod. The Boston mayor’s race is on.

Larry DiCara is a former president of the Boston City Council and a public policy expert said he’s seen signs sprouting around his Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

“There are some for John Connolly, some for Felix Arroyo, I expect to see some for Charlotte Golar Richie. I’ve seen a couple for Consalvo, a couple for Dan Conley, but it’s not as predominant as in other parts of the city,” he said.

When it comes to getting their names around, candidates start by posting signs in neighborhoods in which they live.  Six  candidates hail from Dorchester, two from West Roxbury, and one each from Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Hyde Park and Mission Hill.

But not all neighborhoods are equal when it comes to finding people who actually vote, especially in city elections, so I decided to spend a day driving around the whole city to see what areas may play a pivotal role in the election.

I started in West Roxbury, a solid voting area where turnout in city elections is up 13 percent since 1970.

Name recognition here could be extra important and extra challenging with two candidates having similar last names. I notice dozens of signs, large and small, for John Connolly, and just a few for rival Dan Conley.

I make my way to Hyde Park, the neighborhood of current Mayor Tom Menino and candidate Rob Consalvo. Here, you see more Consalvo signs on every block- large and small, most obvious on front yards. But, in the center of Hyde Park, Cleary Square, you see a number of small restaurants and salons with Felix Arroyo signs.

Heading north into Mattapan, on Blue Hill Ave., you couldn’t miss three very large signs mounted on fences for Charlotte Golar Richie. And then, toward the border of Dorchester, more large posters– for Charles Clemons, Marty Walsh and John Barros. A barbershop shows its support for Charles Yancey.

Dorchester is a battleground for votes, but the competition is fierce. Six of the Boston mayoral candidates live in Dorchester.

Dorchester has a large immigrant population, which poses an issue for candidates. Many of the older immigrants living in Dorchester are not yet citizens and cannot vote.

Onward to South Boston, I saw more signs for Walsh and one for Bill Walczak. But in this section that used to hold considerable weight in Boston politics, I don't see many signs for candidates. And I'm not alone.

Former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, a favorite son of Southie, is the last mayor to win a truly wide-open mayoral race in 1983.

"I’m amazed at so few signs, political signs,” he said. “One time there were political signs on just about every house in the city. That hasn't happened since 1983 in Boston and I still don't see that level of political support throughout the neighborhoods."

Flynn has watched elections shift from grassroots to TV and radio. He said he hopes that with 12 candidates running the field will understand the importance of name recognition outside of their own districts, and get out and shake hands.

“People just don’t pay that much attention to billboards and TV commercials,” he said. “They want to see the person, get to know them, make a decision, whether that person is from their neighborhood, who’s of their religion, who’s of a different skin color, even a different ideology. They want somebody they can believe and trust.”

Even if some find that candidate, not everyone will vote in a city election.

In November, turnout was strong in Boston but President Obama won 196,000 votes in the city and Boston gave Elizabeth Warren a nearly 3-to-1 margin of victory.

Those big names will be long forgotten in the next two months, leaving 12 Mayoral candidates basically on their own to get out the vote.

Public policy expert Larry DiCara said it's a numbers game.

“Nobody can deny the fact that there will be 60, 70,000 people like that who vote in every election who will vote in this election,” he said. “And any person who’s ever run for office knows the precincts where the vote totals will be high.”

But still, is there anyway to predict which neighborhoods will play a larger role in electing Boston's next Mayor?

“There will be people who will vote come Hell or high water,” DiCara said. “Those are people in South Boston, along the coast in Dorchester, in Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, West Roxbury. These are people who vote in every election.”

But if turnout last November is any guide, perhaps candidates should be spending more of their time in neighborhoods where the most votes were cast just eight months ago. City election data shows the largest number of votes cast in Boston were in the South End, Chinatown, Downtown Crossing, South Boston and the North End.

I head to the North End where I don't see that many campaign signs. It’s one of the eight precincts that saw the highest turnout in the presidential election last fall. It continues to fill with Boston’s voting base: young, educated, white transplants, who again, vote in presidential elections but not always municipal ones.

In East Boston, which has a growing Latino population, Arroyo signs dominant storefronts and restaurants. Arroyo could become the first Latino mayor of Boston – he is the first Latino candidate.

The other candidates haven’t given up on East Boston – I saw two signs for Consalvo. Voting is down 30 percent in East Boston since 1970. Again, more younger, non-citizen residents.

The 2000 Census revealed that for the first time in its history, Boston is a majority-minority city, that demographic shift may not change the electorate. Much depends on the central, downtown districts. Places like Mission Hill, where I saw only one sign, for Mike Ross, who lives there.

My last stop canvassing Boston for political signs is the college area: Fenway, Allston and Brighton. Not a big showing, although I see support for Golar Richie, Consalvo and Connolly on lawns near Brighton Center.

Of course, there's nothing scientific about my drive across Boston A different route could show different candidates. But it does remind us that in a crowded field, name recognition can go a long way to victory.