It's hard to imagine there could be any more uncertainty about the outcome of the Boston mayoral race as it heads toward the primary election in less than a month, when the current crop of twelve mayoral candidates will be cut down to two. It's really anyone's guess as to how it will all play out. With 35% of voters currently undecided, there are few good ways to predict who will pull ahead in the coming weeks. Recent political races would suggest that money would play a big role as the candidates begin to ramp up advertising and define their images. But even the money trail cannot accurately depict what's happening in the race right now.
The three biggest fundraisers (who have done well with those contributing the maximum allowable donation of $500) all sit near the lead, but none have pulled away from the pack, and it is still very possible that a fourth or fifth-place candidate with a much lesser war chest could outmaneuver the other candidates who appear to be struggling to make an impression with Boston voters. It's likely the candidates will unleash their treasuries in the coming weeks leading up to the primary, but given the rapidity at which the election is approaching, you have to wonder if any candidate will be able to effectively differentiate him or herself from the others by using that money. If not, old-fashioned politicking could determine who wins this thing.
The notion that the best campaigner will be the victor often times seems to be a thing of the past. It's easy to look to recent races at the federal level to see just how much influence money wields in politics, especially leading up to primary elections, when a small collection of wealthy donors essentially determine who will come out on top.
I, as well as many Americans, attribute my cynicism towards this fact, so it's almost refreshing to see that money isn't dictating everything at the state and local levels, at least in my home state. Our recent elections have me optimistic about the current and future state of campaign finance in Massachusetts. Between the Warren-Brown People's Pledge and ongoing pressure for the mayoral candidates to agree to a pledge of their own, independent donors have taken a backseat to the actual voters.
It remains to be seen if Boston's candidates will take on such a pledge, and as such, there is still a ways to go before declaring this election to be a campaign finance success story, but it's certainly possible given the blueprint provided by Warren and Brown. Couple this with other strides that have been made, such as the success of publicly funded elections in New York City, and you have a good idea of how to mitigate the undue influence of money in elections going forward, something the public is keenly aware of.
Seeing that the public is mindful of our current campaign finance woes, perhaps the Boston race will reveal a glimpse of the character of those vying to become mayor. Under a microscope, the decision of whether or not to agree on another pledge -- one that is intended to achieve increased transparency and accountability - to limit outside spending will signal if the candidates are running to represent the will of their constituents or simply in it to win at all costs. As a Boston resident, my perception hinges on this choice, and I hope voters across the city share my sentiment.
Office: Common Cause Massachusetts