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A trip to City Hall

Tuesday was the last day of the signature gathering period, and I spent part of the afternoon gathering signatures for Annissa Essaibi-George, who is running for a second term as one of our four At-Large, or city-wide, City Councillors. She was elected in 2015 after also having run in 2013, the year Marty Walsh was elected Mayor of Boston. That year, 19 candidates made the At-Large ballot, necessitating a preliminary election. In September, Annissa placed 7th, well enough to advance to the general. In November, she finished 5th:  not well enough to win, but a strong enough showing to position her for a successful re-match two years later. Like Marty, Annissa is from Dorchester. She has taught in the Boston Public Schools and has operated her own business, Stitch House, a knitting supply and service center in Dorchester’s Savin Hill neighborhood.

I had run into Annissa on MLK Blvd the previous Saturday morning, having taken a walk on Washington St from Egleston Sq, in the direction of Dudley. The purpose of my stroll was to see to a distressed property I had learned about on the internet. I was keen to determine whether the house is occupied, since it appears to be owned by DEUTSCHE BANK NATIONAL TR CO, which holds 8 other residential properties in the City of Boston, according to a search of the Boston Assessing website. All of these bank-owned houses are located in Dorchester, Roxbury, or Mattapan. Unable (or unwilling) to afford a home in most areas of Boston, I have begun to research the residential foreclosure market, and hope to attend an auction in the near future.

Fixer upper

After investigating the property, I was sitting in Malcolm X Park, the namesake of which lived in the neighborhood during his youth, when I saw the City Councillor, on her way to or from one of the day’s many ribbon cutting ceremonies (the opening of a renovated JP library, for example). After signing her papers, I mentioned that I would be attending an event that evening, a community movie screening in the “White City” neighborhood of Forest Hills; and that most of the 20-30 attendees might happily sign for her, too. Employing one of the first and best pieces of political advice I ever received – “Multiply yourself” – the Councillor handed me a nomination sheet and asked if I would do her the favor.

While the garage cinema showing of Mystic River was well-attended, much of the audience was too entranced by the pre-film lecture to lift pen to paper and donate their John Hancock. So on Tuesday, I decided to enjoy some time in the sun outside JP Licks on Centre St in JP. The day was partly sunny and a bit muggy, so the coffee and ice cream businesses were brisk. I asked the passers by if they’d be willing to sign for the City Councillor, and several asked me for more information about the candidate and her positions. For example, one young man asked immediately whether Annissa had supported Hillary or Bernie. When I pled ignorance, he then asked about her opinion on the Patriot Act. I mentioned to him that City Councillors are part of the municipal government: mainly responsible for things like police, fire, and schools; he asked whether Annissa had been in favor of Question 2, which he reminded me concerned the expansion of charter schools. Again unable to say for certain, I was relieved when the gentleman politely declined to sign. Although I find these sorts of policy discussions interesting, one must be careful to stay on task while campaigning. I was glad to interact with an active and enthusiastic Democrat, and found it notable that his first question, even about a local candidate, concerned their presidential preference.

Municipal brutalism

After about 1.5 hours, my sheet complete, I stopped by my apartment to make a digital scan of both sides, before hopping onto the Orange Line, bound for Government Center. I arrived about 15 minutes before the 5pm deadline, and saw one of the chairpersons of my local Democratic Ward Committee, as I approached the office of the Elections Department. I was happy to greet Sabino, an elections official and stand-up guy, before receiving an enthusiastic hug from Jean-Claude Sanon, a 2017 candidate for District 5 City Councillor and a member of the “Class of ’09” — 15 mostly first-timers who ran At-Large in a strong and diverse field of candidates, in a year when two of the 4 city-wide seats were open, due to decisions by both At-Large Councillors Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon boldly to challenge the Honorable Thomas M Menino. After the preliminary, they combined their formidable forces, forming the famous Floon ticket, but were unable to unseat the longest serving Mayor in Boston history.

Also in the room was Tito Jackson, District 7 City Councillor, candidate in 2017 for Mayor, and member of the aforementioned “Class of ’09.” Tito ran At-Large in 2009, placing 5th in the November general election, and debuting the catchy “Vote for Tito Jackson” song. Coming in 5th has long been either a stepping stone to being elected one of Boston’s four At-Large Councillors, who must campaign in many neighborhoods and regularly receive 70-80 thousand votes in election years coinciding with a mayor’s race; or a more direct means of doing so — the incumbent who lost “his” seat to Annissa in 2015, Stephen J Murphy of Hyde Park, first gained his seat on the Council by coming in 5th, and being elevated later after the departure of a dear colleague. 2017 could be a year in which a 5th place finish promises future fortune. Ideally positioned for this prospect is Althea Garrison, former State Representative, experienced political candidate, and indefatigable signature gatherer: I saw her recently at Roche Bros in West Roxbury, a very popular spot that was also manned at the time by two paid workers for Joseph A Wiley of East Boston, a candidate for Mayor whose appearance on the ballot could force a preliminary election in September (which will benefit some 2017 candidates more than others). Besides Pat Payaso of Roxbury (about whom I know nothing except what is stated on his OCPF filing form), Althea is the only non-incumbent, so far, to have been certified: she has, therefore, an excellent chance of placing 5th.

Tito was signing a stack of nomination papers. As I began to chat with him, Sabino kindly informed me that my single sheet would require Annissa’s signature in order to be certified. It was already 4:55 — I raced by the parking ticket payment windows, up the escalators, through the front plaza, past Frank Baker of Dorchester, District 3 Councillor, and up the decorative central staircase that leads directly to the annex, and then to the main offices of the Boston City Council. I was fortunate to find my Councillor present and available: a great benefit of local government, as opposed to rule by a distant elite. Successful, I returned just in time to watch as the Elections Department doors were locked, stranding a few late arrivals outside. I wished Tito the best of luck: he still had a stack of papers left to sign, but was kind enough to pause for a selfie. His departure from the District 7 seat has given rise to a multi-candidate scramble for the relatively small number of Roxbury voters who will separate the top two voter-getters from a scrum of unsuccessful, but hopefully satisfied candidates. September 26 will be a chance for Tito to show that he is a serious challenge to a Mayor who is running against a much smaller field than he was in the 2013 preliminary election, part of a Mayor’s race for the ages.

Tito Jackson, 2017 candidate for Mayor of Boston