Reporter's Notebook by Bill ForryBy Bill Forry, Dorchester Reporter, October 16th, 2003
Hennigan Shouldn't Be Sidelined for Relative Unknown
There's nothing wrong with having a politically-wired family help you out during an election. Just ask Maura Hennigan, the at-large city councillor who's "up against it" yet again in the Nov. 4 final election.
Hennigan's family is deeply rooted in Boston's Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury sections. Her dad, "Gentleman Jim" Hennigan, was a school committeeman who remains one of the city's most dogged campaigners, only now he's hustling on his daughter's behalf. It's a skill he learned from his own father, a well-loved state senator.
But both Hennigan men have been outdistanced by Maura, who is now this council's longest-serving member, although at the moment she's also the one most in jeopardy of losing her seat come election night.
That's due in large part to the candidacy of Patricia White, daughter of the former mayor, who shot to third place in the September preliminary. She did so largely because of her father's reputation, aided immeasurably by a deep-pocketed, media-savvy campaign that blitzed the town with expensive TV ads and a last-minute phone message that used Kevin White to pitch votes for his daughter. Many voters came home to find the former mayor's voice on their answering machines on election eve and were convinced Kevin had called them personally. It was a brilliant maneuver.
Was it also unfair? Of course not. Patricia White's just using what she's got to win an election. Can't blame her for trying. But we can blame ourselves for buying into an inexperienced newcomer who hasn't yet paid her dues, especially if it comes at the expense of a strong, independent voice like Hennigan's. People need to know the price we'll pay for trading Maura in for an unknown quantity.
Sometime this summer, the Reporter had its first contact with the Patricia White campaign. It came via a rather strange source: Regan Communications, the downtown public relations firm that's run by Kevin White's old PR man, George Regan. Typically, we get calls from Regan when they're pitching big corporate interests like Dunkin' Donuts or the Mohegan Sun casino. Even stranger, the Regan folks - when representing Ms. White - didn't ask us if we'd like to meet Patricia, or even if we had any questions for her. Their very first call to Dorchester's weekly newspaper was to ask for our endorsement. How's that for arrogance?
Now, contrast that with the campaign of another newcomer to city politics, Rob Consalvo, the man who now represents Hyde Park, Roslindale, and parts of Mattapan on the council. Consalvo's got a pretty good political pedigree too: His dad's a BRA official, he's worked for Ted Kennedy, and he's tight with the Menino administration. But, to his credit, when Consalvo first ran for office in 2001, he didn't rely on hired guns to do his fighting for him. Consalvo worked like a dog for a year-and-a-half, beating down doors, hitting every community meeting in the city. He paid his dues. In the end, he finished out of the pack, but close enough to earn a helluva reputation. He won a district council seat the next time it came up. And he's working just as hard as a council member as he did as a council wannabe.
Like Consalvo, with Maura Hennigan we have the best of both worlds: someone with a fine political pedigree who has also worked hard to earn votes in her own right. Hennigan learned a long time ago that in politics, showing up is half the battle. When there's an issue brewing in the neighborhoods, Hennigan's right on top of it. She reads the neighborhood newspapers to find out what's really going on, instead of leaning on paid "consultants" to do it for her. Hennigan shows up personally to important civic meetings and, most often, adds something to the discussion.
Hennigan's independent streak has been off-putting to some of her colleagues at times and, certainly, to the Menino administration. Hennigan feels that, like in 2001, she's been marked for defeat from the powers-that-be who are eager to see her replaced by someone who will be less likely to "blow the whistle." Most recently, Hennigan has been riding the mayor to investigate his Inspectional Services Department amidst allegations of contract-fixing in the commissioner's office. It's not a popular position, as Globe City Weekly columnist Michael Jonas noted in his space over the weekend. And yet, right or wrong, it's important that someone stand up and make the case. More often than not, Hennigan rises to that challenge.
To her credit, Hennigan is still loath to criticize Patricia White, even though she knows that White is her chief rival at the moment. As a woman, White will likely eat further into Hennigan's base than anyone else's. And with Felix Arroyo's supporters pushing a "bullet" strategy on election day among the city's progressives, Hennigan's base is further compromised.
In 2001, Hennigan was similarly positioned on the Big Four Bubble, an unlikely spot for someone who's been on the council longer than any of her colleagues. But, for much of the time, Hennigan was a district councillor coming out of West Roxbury and J.P., where her security was more assured and deep-pockets weren't as important. Now in the at-large bracket, Hennigan is highly vulnerable, especially with White poised to outspend Hennigan and everyone else by a big margin. With everyone's campaign on hold until the Sox run ends, Hennigan will again be at a disadvantage when White rolls out her TV blitz right before election day.
But, big bucks and visibility don't always win the day (hi there, Chris Gabrieli). At least one Boston state rep said this week that White's campaign seems to have peaked with her Sept. 23 showing. Another officeholder chimed in that he hasn't seen White at all since the preliminary. Can't say the same thing of Maura. And if Hennigan can get out her message that grassroots hustling trumps celebrity campaigning, she still has a shot.