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Downtown View: What Should We Make of Endorsements?

Endorsements from elected officials have been descending on mayoral candidate Marty Walsh like autumn leaves. John Connolly is getting his fair share of the fall’s bounty too.

Should you care?

Observers differ on how effective endorsements are. If they are heartfelt and a voter likes the endorser, it might have an effect. But voters can also feel bullied—who are you to suggest whom I should vote for?

There’s a risk for an elected official in endorsing a candidate. What if their candidate doesn’t win? The losing endorser will have to work with the winner on all kinds of problems, and tension could fill the air.

With the two mayoral candidates in step with one another on most issues, I was puzzled why so many elected officials have felt the need to ally with either Marty or John. Are these endorsements about who is most likeable? Are they about which man is a “working” man and which grew up “privileged,” as one union flyer put it? It had to be more than that. So I called up four elected officials and asked them to explain what was going on. I won’t name the officials because much of what they said was off the record, and it doesn’t matter anyway.

Interestingly, only one of the elected officials I spoke to gave a candidate’s stand on policy as a reason for the endorsement, and it was a detail that was small in the scheme of things.

One person disputed my suggestion that a winner could give the cold shoulder to an endorser of the other guy. “When you work in elective office you can’t take things personally,” this official said. “Both Marty and John are grown-ups.”

(The word “grown-ups” is getting a big play in politics these days.)

Another official agreed that the candidates are good, wise men, but he said the winner is less likely to trust his opponent’s endorsers, although any animosity might dissipate with time and other experiences.

The first and perhaps the main reason the officials endorsed one candidate over the other was that the endorsers had worked with that candidate more. They simply knew him better. They admired his style, his effectiveness, his skill at collaboration, and his support in efforts dear to the endorser’s heart. Since endorsers for both candidates expressed these views, it probably doesn’t mean much to voters at large, since it looks as if both candidates have those attributes.

Another reason for an endorsement, according to some I spoke to, was that the minority officials wanted to get together and back one candidate. They felt their lack of combined support for only one minority candidate hurt their chances of moving at least one minority man or woman into the final election. While minority elected officials have lined up behind Marty Walsh, other minority leaders have endorsed John Connolly. So this tactic has had mixed success, if, in fact, it is a tactic.

Geography, too, was credited as having an effect on endorsements. One official pointed out that Linda Dorcena Forry is, like Marty, from Dorchester. She won the last time by only a few votes, and she expects to have a challenger in another year. Some of my officials speculated that her endorsement of Marty would help swing voters to her in her next election. But Linda Dorcena Forry also probably endorsed Marty for the first two reasons also.

Labor interests, whether you have them or not, have played a major role in this race. Candidates who rely on labor support are almost all endorsing Marty Walsh, even though John Connolly is not anti-labor. One elected official said he had heard of pressure from labor on elected officials who had not committed. But some of those I talked with had never had significant labor support, so they had not been pressured. Almost everyone agreed that Congressman Michael Capuano’s endorsement was at least somewhat motivated by his close ties to union voters, who have supported him in the past and would in the future, should he run for a higher office.

One official said his support for a candidate was based on who would be able to work with authority and assurance from Day One. Another official’s endorsement was based on an assessment of the candidates ability to produce, not just his vision.

But all seemed to agree with one official. “The campaign for mayor has been extraordinary,” that person said. “It’s a proud year for Boston, given the quality of the field. It’s a strong bench. We need to give ourselves a pat on the back that we’ve produced this much talent.”

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at