Thursday, September 13, 2007

Boston Phoenix and Election Rumor Mill on Wallingford Road

It's almost election time in Allston-Brighton, so it's time for the big newspapers to trot out their latest version of the story of Wallingford Road in Brighton. The Boston Phoenix has its ear to the ground in that neighborhood, the one populated by many elderly Russian-American Jews and headed by Ukrainian-American "ward boss" Naakh Vysoky. I have heard some similar stories, some different -- and a few much uglier ones -- but have not printed what I have heard because people have been unwilling to be quoted for the record (whether or not anonymously). The Phoenix seems to have had better luck, and instead categorizes their information under the "rumor mill":
A good bellwether for these votes is the Russian Jewish residents of Allston-Brighton. Connolly had their support in ’05, as did White — but not Arroyo or Yoon. And that could make all the difference.

In 2005, for instance, Naakh Vysoky, who organizes several hundred votes — if not more — at the Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly buildings on Wallingford Road, put Connolly on “the list” of recommended votes — and left off Murphy. Connolly beat Murphy by 317 votes in that single voting precinct, giving him a 193-vote edge in the citywide tally.

Then Vysoky added Murphy to the list for the general election, helping him retain his seat on the Council.
Vysoky is getting quite old, but is known to exert strong influence on his group. Unfortunately for him, there were allegations recently of improper influence on voting in that precinct, which seems to be influencing his endorsements:
Serge Bologov has a similar influence on other tight-knit neighborhoods in the area, including a growing Hasidic congregation around Chestnut Hill Avenue. As a result, the two are being watched closely in the September 25 Allston-Brighton preliminary, where six candidates are vying to replace Jerry McDermott, who is moving out of the city to raise his young children. The top two finishers in that race will face off in November.

Observers are handicapping Vysoky and Bologov like Vegas oddsmakers. Greg Glennon, who got the Wallingford Road vote in his 2004 race for state representative against Michael Moran, is ideologically closest to their views, and is a protégé of one of their favorite pols, former state representative Brian Golden. But Mark Ciommo has a good relationship with Vysoky and others through his work as executive director of the Veronica B. Smith Senior Center. Ciommo is also favored by Menino, who Vysoky and Bologov usually — though not always — try to help. One local pol says that Bologov and Ciommo arrived together at Menino’s July cookout.

Fellow candidate Rosie Hanlon, director of Brighton Main Streets, is less likely to get the Russian vote, although she is not conceding. “Rosie is spending a lot of time at Wallingford Road,” says her campaign manager, Mark Handley.

The most progressive candidate in the race, Tim Schofield, is said to have the least chance with the Russian community — even though he helped organize the ward for Menino in 2005 — since he worked for David Friedman, who Vysoky blames for a 2005 Department of Justice inquiry into suggestions of electoral skullduggery among the Russians. Plus, Schofield’s progressive politics aren’t their cup of tea, and, some say, neither is his homosexual orientation. “Tim Schofield will never get the Russian vote,” says one Brighton political player.

Other progressives — including Arroyo and Yoon — have also never won that vote. If Connolly can be progressive enough to attract liberals while still holding the votes of neighborhood voters such as the Russians, he may have the opening he’s looking for.
The irony is that Ciommo supporters have been trying to claim that he is the most progressive candidate in the race; Ciommo even states clearly on BlueMassGroup that he supports gay rights (including "marriage equality") and is pro-choice. It's hard to know if Vysoky and Bologov realize this, or if they are willing to overlook it as a small blemish. I would bet on both men endorsing Glennon, but if they endorse Ciommo -- who knows? -- it might actually cause him to lose votes among progressives.

The bigger question is: are these Russian Jewish and Othodox Jewish voting blocs as important now as they used to be? The beginning of the election campaign saw Benjamin Bloomenthal fail to garner even the 139 certified signatures needed to get on the ballot. I saw candidates all over town gathering signatures... but I must have missed those who were collecting them across the street from Whole Foods. In a year in which Allston-Brighton civic engagement appears to be at its highest point in recent memory, a big turnout in the polls for the City Council election depresses the influence of either the Russian Jewish vote organized by Vysoky or the Orthodox Jewish vote influenced by Bologov -- especially when the Federal government and the Secretary of the Commonwealth are watching over the shoulder of the Boston Elections Department.

Rather than continually re-visiting the Ukrainian boss of the Russian Jewish ward -- or the Orthodox Jewish vote of Portina Road -- let's look at the other constituency blocs currently up for grabs in Allston-Brighton in this election: institutional expansion opponents; Asian and Brazilian immigrants; graduate students; catholics; the elderly; parents of public school students; Republicans; small business owners; and so on. There's at least as many votes in each of those blocs as there are at Wallingford Road or Portina Road. A well-organized campaign strategy in one or two could be the difference between fourth and second place -- the difference between ending your bid on September 25 or proceeding on to November.

No comments: