If Boston Mayor Marty Walsh seems relaxed these days, it might be because his upcoming bid for re-election is looking like a cakewalk. Walsh’s poll numbers are strong. He’s got about $3.4 million in his campaign war chest. And right now, there’s no guarantee he’ll get an opponent who’ll make him break a sweat as he seeks a second four-year term.
Even if he ends up running unopposed, Walsh told WGBH News, he’ll work hard to make his pitch to voters.
“I don’t take anything for granted, and even if I don’t have opposition, that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to see me,” the mayor said during a public appearance in Roxbury.
‘”I’ll still continue to run a campaign — just to continue to get the message out that in Boston, we still have work to do.”
Specifically, Walsh said, there’s room for improvement on everything from Boston’s public schools to affordable housing to transportation. That’s a pretty big concession for an incumbent mayor to make — and it could, in theory, provide a blueprint for a mayoral challenge from District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson, who represents Roxbury and several other neighborhoods. Jackson’s been a frequent Walsh critic during the mayor’s first term, and there’s growing buzz that he’s gearing up for a mayoral bid of his own.
We all know that it's rumored Tito Jackson is going to run. We're concerned that if he is going to run, why is he waiting so long to announce?
But with the final mayoral election less than a year away and Jackson still declining to make a firm commitment, some political observers are suggesting he could take a pass on the race.
“We all know that it’s rumored Tito Jackson is going to run,” said Pastor Bruce Wall of Dorchester’s Global Ministries Christian Church and Boston Praise Radio & TV. “We’re concerned that if he is going to run, why is he waiting so long to announce?”
For the record, Wall fervently believes Boston needs a vigorous mayoral debate. With other black ministers, he’s launched a series of election-year broadcasts from a studio in his church basement to inform and mobilize African-American voters.
Wall isn’t trying to unseat Walsh, he said. But he’s still irked at how the mayor responded when Wall and other community leaders raised concerns about Boston’s homicide rate last summer.
“Some reporters had gone to the mayor to ask him about the seriousness of the homicides, and he said it’s not really that bad,” Wall said. “He just completely dissed all of us. And that hurt.”
Even though Wall voiced similar frustrations with former Mayor Tom Menino, he cruised to re-election throughout his 20-year tenure. Still, Wall's remarks suggest a sentiment that Jackson might be able to leverage if he runs.
But Wall isn’t the only political observer who seems to suspect that might not happen.
“I’m in the minority, but I don’t think he is [going to challenge Walsh],” former Boston City Councilor Mike McCormack said of Jackson. “I think he’s a competent city councilor, but running a citywide race, underfunded, against a popular mayor is a difficult challenge.”
Walsh’s staunch support from organized labor makes him close to unbeatable, according to McCormack.
“Really, his strong suit are the unions,” McCormack said. “They elected [Walsh] three years ago, and they’re going to re-elect him. They’re not going to let their guy fail.”
And, as McCormack notes, Jackson would be financially overmatched the moment he entered a hypothetical race. While Walsh has millions, Jackson has just $65,000 in his campaign account — though his fundraising picked up somewhat toward the end of 2016.
If Jackson takes a pass, Walsh may still have an opponent. Anti-violence activist Mary Franklin announced her own mayoral bid more than a year ago. But she hasn’t been raising any cash, and her campaign balance is a scant $231. It remains to be seen whether Franklin will obtain the 3,000 signatures, due in May, necessary to get on the ballot.
All of which raises a question: If Walsh doesn’t get a challenger who forces him to defend his record, will Boston miss out on a valuable civic dialogue?
As you might expect, the mayor doesn’t think so.
“Bostonians aren’t shy,” he said. “People are always telling me what we need to do better, and more of, and that’s important to keep us on our toes."
But if Walsh spends 2017 talking to himself on the campaign trail, and there’s no one credible talking back, the ensuing conversation could end up being pretty flat.