Introducing our coverage of races in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and beyond
Whether you can’t freaking believe there is another election upon us or you had no idea that Mass was off to the races already, we have news for you—this shit matters! Take it from us, since we’re among the watchdogs and reporters who pay close attention to matters of local concern while most people are exhaling thick polemic boogers on Facebook in response to the disgrace of the hour in DC, whatever that may be.
We don’t blame you for allowing President Donald Trump to suck up most of the air you allot to politics. For fuck’s sake, we had to tweak this article right before going to press due to the unceremonious ouster of goombah rodeo clown Anthony Scaramucci, whose tenure as White House communications director was shorter than the president’s pinkie. With that said, voters need to realize that local pols are using such distractions to great advantage, from current officeholders essentially campaigning against Trump (instead of the person whom they are actually running against) to their sleazing—pushing idiotic laws, taking money from unsavory donors—more than usual since local media, already up against the ropes, also obsesses over the bright orange object in Washington.
Out of respect for the innumerable DigBoston readers who have been around a lot longer than I have been reporting on abhorrent Beacon Hill buffoonery and municipal mayhem, I won’t dabble too long on the regional political prerequisites. At the same time, considering the transient population of this area as well as our mission to engage one and all, here are some helpful reminders:
- Massachusetts has a notably notorious history of corrupt politicians. From the past three speakers of the House of Representatives being indicted in office (and the one before that being found by an ethics committee to have used state employees to work on his house) to a pair of aides to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh being charged with conspiracy and extortion, it’s not exactly Stars Hollow or Mayberry around here. Nevertheless, there’s something much more subtle about lawmaker chicanery in Mass, with the lion’s share of truly awful deeds done legally and in plain view of voters (if they’re paying attention, which they probably aren’t).
- To piggyback that last note, when dealing in municipalities it is important to remember that development is pretty much the only thing that matters. Though many politicians enter office to catalyze positive impact of some sort, all too many wind up licking the boots of businessmen, builders, and billionaires. For proof of this phenomenon, look no further than the Commonwealth’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF), pick any well-known politician, then search for how much money their campaign takes from attorneys and real estate interests. From Walsh to Mayor Joe Curtatone in Somerville, you’ll find that the number of donors from realty, contracting, and related professional firms flood the market.
- Another critical background item (there are a googolplex, but for the sake of relative brevity we’ll keep it at this) is that no two city governments are anything alike, from their administrative mechanisms to their casts of creeps and bureaucrats. The common shorthand goes like this: Boston has a strong-mayor system, in which the City Council’s only significant power is to vote on the budget; Somerville is similar, but with an even stronger honcho in the corner office; Cambridge is a more or less inexplicable council and committee-led free-for-all that even Kennedy School profs barely understand (although those in the know say the whole show is run by the appointed city manager). But none of that really matters, because even the smallest political office has impact, which is why it’s so important that you pay attention.
We will consider all of the above over the following few months as we pick apart a number of the races underway to the best of our ability. Over the past several weeks we have dispatched reporters and video interviewers from Dudley Square to Davis Square, so far just scratching the surface. In Boston alone, there are 44 candidates running for 11 seats, including mayor. Only four of the nine district council incumbents are uncontested, which isn’t too bad in a state where officials are often spoiled by apathy.
In Cambridge, 29 hopefuls are vying for nine council chairs, one of whom will then be picked by their peers to be mayor after the election (like we said, it’s a ridiculous system that is seemingly good for no more than confusing voters). And in Somerville, 18 wannabes have thrown their hats into the ring for alderman positions, with only three of seven sitting ward leaders facing no challenge at all.
We don’t know how much overlap there will be between our coverage and that done by other outlets, some of which, like SCATV in Somerville and CCTV in Cambridge, we will be collaborating with throughout the fall. Our regular ribbing of the newspaper of record aside, judging by the lack of interest that the Boston Globe showed during the last round of state elections, it seemed like we had scant choice but to invest resources in local politics this time around.
We’ll need a hand from you, the reader, and encourage one and all to join our Brawl for City Hall Facebook group, where readers are encouraged to share tips and information. We can also use your help on primary day (Sept 26) and Election Day (Nov 7) for a project called “Scenes from the Polls.” On those occasions Dig will feature simple dispatches from polling stations all over the region, including photos of the sign-holders outside and reports on the number of votes cast, and with your assistance on the crowdsourcing front we can cover more territory.
Finally, for now at least, we will not be making an endorsement in the Boston mayoral race. We threw the Dig bump under Marty Walsh last time—we were one of the few outlets to do so—and to view the reel in rewind you would almost think Mayor Olympics was jumping through hoops to make us regret it. From Boston 2024 to public-private partnerships galore, it’s hard to believe that Walsh is the same guy we pulled for four years ago. As for his biggest challenger, Roxbury Councilor Tito Jackson, such a nod would almost be too obvious. For starters, he’s the underdog. Like us. Plus Jackson more or less lines up with Dig priorities on issues ranging from development to cannabis. Still, we feel that as a small and scrappy news org, putting so much stock in one race is far less of a priority than focusing attention on as many corners of the region as possible.
On that note, if you see us in your neighborhood, be sure to say hello. And if you don’t see us in your community when we should be there, be sure to holler at us even louder.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.