This consolidated city election is a rare bird.
In almost every election cycle, someone or something lovable pops up. In 1993, the city loved both
guys running for mayor. It was the adult version of a student council election. The Wednesday after the Tuesday election, we all passed notes to one another in study hall and mused about how nice everybody was to everybody else. It was a Barney moment.
In 2002, we were enraptured with the delightful story of the extended Sullivan family and the fascinating phenomenon that allowed John Sullivan to march in three parades simultaneously, all 150 miles from one another. Total Warm Fuzzy.
Even in 2001, we watched as one of the nicest men in Quincy went on a suicide mission, aided by hatchet wielding true believers who hijacked his campaign. We all liked the guy so much that we never held his poorly conceived campaign against him and he continues to be prominent in the community.
In 2009, we watched the incumbent run an antiseptic "student council" campaign while the opponent tried, for the most part in vain, to utter even one coherent, complete sentence. We liked the Challenger. We all knew he was in a role for which he was supremely ill-suited. We felt sorry for him and most of us found him, in his own way, lovable. We just wanted him to be out of pain and danger.
In 2012 everyone loved the performance of the now incumbent circuit clerk. She was painfully shy and running against a veteran politician. She struggled to tell her story and it was her struggle that made her so appealing.
In short, every regional election I have followed since the 60s has had something or someone lovable about it… Until this year.
This year there is, well, nothing to love.
Beginning with the office of Township supervisor, the incumbent retires. At the request of his chief deputy, he exercises his considerable political influence to clear the way for her to be unopposed. Then, when the fat is completely in the fire, she announces that she is filing under the banner of the opposite political party. There are few things as unlovable as betraying your boss' loyalty. And that is just how the election cycle began
The incumbent city treasurer is an estimable, engaging person from a fine family. Her opponent is an engaging person, even to the point of being a raconteur, also from a fine family. The Challenger started out trying to redefine the duties of the city treasurer and went on to attack the city treasurer for supposed involvement in an unfortunate venture. This later morphed into an undocumented slogan to the effect of "12 years of nothing…" Without getting into the merits of any of these allegations, there is nothing more guaranteed to render one unlovable than to make allegations against a person of otherwise good repute. For her part, the city treasurer has conducted a reasonably well-documented campaign on her credentials and achievements. While this was probably the right thing to do, it didn't emphasize her warm connections, charitable acts and welcome personality within the community. People unacquainted with her may have been moved to find her competent and qualified but nothing much about her campaign was lovable.
So that moves us to the mayor's race. When we cut through all the sloganeering, the challenger's race boils down to "vote for me because the incumbent mayor made a big mistake!"
Additionally, in a master stroke of unlovable, the Challenger has broken the indoor world record for running one, and one only, TV ad for the most consecutive weeks. Even people who do like him can be heard to scream "make it stop!"
The mayor's situation is a little different. Most of the people in our city have a fixed opinion of the mayor. He certainly did not have to reintroduce himself. But his opponent committed to this race in October. It is been clear for many months who was going to face whom in the general election campaign. At a minimum,, the mayor had all of December and January to tell the people of Quincy the differences between him and his then unknown opponent. He waited till March, after the opponent had had an ample and unfettered opportunity to define himself and, for that matter, the mayor. So, even if the mayor had begun this cycle considered lovable, by giving his opponent 60 to 90 days of "free fire zone," he allowed himself to be rendered unlovable. Then, probably realizing that he had squandered the opportunity to define his opponent, he responded to the opponent's theme – remember, "vote for me because the mayor made a big mistake." – With one of his own "vote for me because the newspaper says I am better."
If all of that sounds like a recipe for rendering oneself unlovable, that's because it is.
The conventional wisdom for a negative campaign is that it depresses turnout. Here, I don't know if this is so much a negative campaign as it is a desultory one. Certainly, in the Mayoral campaign nothing much uplifting took place. That was a total bi-partisan effort.
So, how does one handicap an utterly unlovable election. We first begin with the proposition that human behavior tends to repeat itself. Certainly, it is useful to look at recent trends but individual elections are not necessarily indicators of recent trends. 2010, for example is not as good a barometer of citywide behavior as the last five or six city elections. The plain fact is that the electorate showing up today maybe a subset of the 2012 electorate but it is smaller, probably more discreet and probably motivated by different factors than the folks who came out to vote in the presidential election. To some extent we also have to take into account election day conditions. It was beautiful this morning in the forecast for this afternoon is rough. How do we process that information? We have to look at when people in the high turnout precincts traditionally vote.
All of which gets me to this super Duper lead in. At 7:01 PM this blog will post another version of the basins utterly useless election predictions. Fair warning: I'm very good at guessing turnout and really marginal at picking winners.
Now, get out there, hold your nose and vote for the least unlovable choice… Of your choice.