Boston Mayor Election: Pundits Claim Minority Candidates Will Confuse Minority Voters

Half of the 12 candidates in this year’s Boston’s mayoral race are nonwhite, a percentage that marks historic progress in the diversity of the city’s political scene. But some pundits predict a white candidate will still win based on the condescending assumption that with more than one candidate of color, nonwhite voters won’t know which way to look. 

Candidates for outgoing Mayor Tom Menino’s spot include Felix Arroyo, a first-time Latino candidate, Charlotte Golar Richie, the “first major candidate” who is an African-American woman, John Barros (son of Cape Verdean immigrants), and African-American men Charles Clemons, Charles Yancey, and David Wyatt. Six white men are also competing for the seat, including Michael Ross, who would be the first Boston mayor of Jewish heritage (Ross also gets bonuses for being the son of an immigrant and a lesbian mother).

The mayor’s seat hasn’t been open since 1993 — and the candidates’ backgrounds reflect the city’s increasingly diverse makeup. In 2010 (the most recent census), an estimated 24% of the city consisted of “Black or African Americans,” and “Hispanic or Latinos” counted for 17.5%. Non-Hispanic whites were only 47% of Boston, yet other groups are still considered the minorities.

As we’ve seen in past elections, pundits try to predict if and how all groups (as if they’re all mutually exclusive) will vote as a united entity — except white folks, especially men. If we all voted for who looks most like us, we would’ve had a women president long ago.  

The Boston Globe predicts that the race may be “too diverse” for a candidate of color to secure the seat, rationalizing that the unprecedented choices may threaten to fracture rather than unite the “minority” voters. The paper asks, “Will the large number of qualified minority candidates keep any one of them from winning?” Former city counsel Larry DiCara thinks yes: “With so many minority candidates, it makes it harder for all of them.”

Coverage does not speak to the overdue opportunity non-white groups have in this race to pick the candidate — white or otherwise — that will best represent their needs, rather than having the option limited to One Who Would Be Better Than the White Republican.

The only nonwhite candidate to ever have made it through the preliminary round of the race for Boston mayor was Mel King in 1983. King says Boston has become much more diverse since his candidacy, and he disagrees with the view that more candidates of color will be a detriment to a person of color's chances at becoming mayor. “I’m always tickled when I hear the assumption is that people of color can only get votes from minority communities,” King tells the Globe. “No one talks about that for the white candidates. No one is asking if there are too many of them.” Candidate Arroyo adds, “Candidates that think that any group, especially minority voters, is going to vote monolithically is making a huge mistake.” 

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Anna Hogeland

Anna is a clinical social worker with an MSW from Smith College School for Social Work and a BA in history from Bates College. She has clinical experience with adults with mental illness, obstetrics and oncology patients, and folks with all sorts of neuroses. She is currently a Post-Master’s fellow at CU Boulder’s counseling center. While not at her day job, Anna is writing and reading about anything and everything or making pottery. She's a native of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts and currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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