When Boston Progressives Abandoned Diversity 

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/08/09/when-boston-progressives-abandoned-diversity/


Boston voters may be forgiven for not noticing a conspicuous absence on their ballots in the municipal election this fall. Actually, it’s been absent for over a century, a forgotten remnant of crooked logic from the first Progressive Era. Nowhere on the ballot lists any party affiliation associated with any candidate. Technically, legally and laughably, Boston municipal elections are “nonpartisan.” Electoral diversity has been abandoned.

In 1909, Boston became the first large city in America to adopt nonpartisan elections. Certain public officials, spurred by the progressive Good Government Association (popularly called “Goo-Goos”), feared Boston was becoming a prey to the party system, and drew up and put into force a change in the city’s charter. Designed to give “an ideal municipal ballot, entirely non-partisan in character,” the new law additionally sought to “separate municipal elections from state and party issues.” Ever since, Boston’s City Charter states that “Ballots must be free of references to political parties.” Candidates, nevertheless, may receive support and endorsements from their respective parties or affiliated organizations.

But the law of unintended consequences subordinated poorly conceived municipal law.

The 1910 Boston nonpartisan elections, ironically, yielded “much the same element” as before, it was noted, with the victory of John F. Fitzgerald (President John Kennedy’s grandfather), who defeated the reform candidate for mayor. As the February 7, 1914 issue of The Bellman dourly observed, such progressive engineering produced “futile municipal reform.”

The literary magazine also issued a warning for every municipality in the country:  “Good government is not to be obtained through charters … Dishonesty, graft and every form of civic evil will flourish under any system if the voters do not care enough to prevent it.” The lesson was not heeded. Today, having followed Boston’s lead, 75 percent of the nation’s cities have nonpartisan elections. And two-thirds of America’s 100 largest cities are controlled by Democratic mayors.

Doug Muzzio, writing in 2003 for Gotham Gazette, which covers New York City, acknowledges that while nonpartisan elections have been inadequately studied, the findings of “social science and voting rights studies … are troubling” on four fronts:  voter turnout overall tends to be lower in nonpartisan elections; voter participation is skewed against residents of lower socioeconomic status; ethnicity/race and incumbency replace party cues in nonpartisan systems for less engaged/aware/informed voters; nonpartisan elections have a Republican (or at least minor party) bias. (The last point is largely based upon studies from the 1960s and 1970s and needs to be measured out for a 21st century reassessment.)

Fresh scrutiny of Boston municipal election history confirms at least two findings cited by Muzzio:  Turnout and incumbency.

In 2015, voter turnout (which progressives always deem too low) for the municipal election was a mere 13.63 percent. Voter turnout in 2013 — the first election in nearly two decades without the late mayor Thomas Menino on the ballot — was 38.17 percent. So impotent is the Democrat-controlled 13-seat Boston City Council that it hired last year Colette Phillips Communications, a public relations firm, to cast a spotlight on its work. Among its specialties, reports The Boston Globe, is “diversity marketing.”


Since 1909, Boston has elected just one mayor affiliated with the Republican Party (Malcolm Nichols, 1926-1930). In a city of moer than 673,000 residents, there are no Republican-affiliated city councilors. (Even the New York City Council has some Republican representation.) Republican city councilors appear with the frequency of a full lunar eclipse, as the last publicly known Republican probably was John W. Sears (1980-1981), the first victorious Republican in decades leading up to the 1979 race. Perhaps today’s council should market to conservatives.

Boston progressives, under the veneer of harmony, gentility and tolerance, believe in selective diversity, where all aspects of life — schools, entertainment, police — require diversity, except political diversity. Nonpartisan elections never intended to create single-party politics. But hyper-majority progressives in Boston, by luring voters with welfare and sensitivity, have, remarkably, created the intentional effect of limiting freedom of choice.

And Boston progressivism, a self-perpetuating, ideologically consistent rot, has become a flaccid consensus, not only intolerant of dissenting views or ideas, but also likely unaware of them. It has rendered itself unaccountable, with virtually no checks and balances. There is no alternative vision. Nonpartisan elections in Boston are now an obstacle to progress. And so are Boston progressives.

Incumbent Mayor Marty Walsh, despite a lingering federal corruption investigation touching on his administration since 2014, enjoys a commanding 31-point lead over his closest rival (and fellow progressive) Tito Jackson. But Walsh will win reelection.

Walsh’s progressive credentials were cemented this past April by — naturally! — socialistalternative.org:  “Up For Re-Election, Boston Mayor Walsh Takes a Progressive Turn.” The mayor has affirmed Boston’s sanctuary city status and has committed to a carbon neutral Boston by 2050. He also called President Donald Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year “reckless” and “heartless.” No mention, ironically, of Walsh’s reckless foray into the 2024 Olympics.

Under Walsh, Boston has issued progressive propaganda — his diversity marketing — to the nodding and donating classes in the form of Imagine Boston 2030Climate Ready Boston (together, guiding the city toward a more “affordable, equitable, connected, and resilient future”); and “Boston’s Resilience Strategy,” led by a Chief Resilience Officer where “racial equity, social justice, and social cohesion must be at the center of our collective focus.”

Walsh continues in the grand tradition of his progressive predecessors: Perpetually divert to the future what should be solved in the present and what hasn’t been solved in the past. A century of progressive hegemony in Boston is its civic evil, a ruinous legacy of “collective focus.”

By now, Boston Public Schools should be the envy of the world. (Walsh recently said, “I wish we were further along on the education spectrum.”) Progressives despise inequality yet Boston has among the highest rates income inequality in the country. Boston also has among the widest gender wage gaps in the country, according to this month’s Boston Magazine. And sexism in Boston remains one of the city’s biggest open secrets. Progressive reformers were supposed to transcend problems that arose with the emergence of a modern urban and industrial society. Not Boston Progressives.

Why haven’t progressives demonstrably improved the state of race relations in Boston? Why haven’t progressives delivered affordable housing, as Boston’s soaring prices are forcing out the working class, so admired by the Left? Why haven’t progressives questioned Boston’s nutty and expensive response to global climate disruption? Why have progressives allowed the Methadone Mile to operate for a decade? Why haven’t progressives zeroed out unfunded pension obligations in the Boston Retirement System? (Now estimated at $1.48 billion. Surely, we can expect a Chief Unfunded Pension Officer.) (This does not count the Boston teachers’ pension liability; in 2010 the Commonwealth assumed responsibility for paying the teachers’ pension expenses.)

Boston voters may never experience the tensions felt in other cities, the healthy clash of opposing ideas and acceptance of minority political affiliations. They should. They should also heed the advice of Aaron Ren, senior fellow and urban policy specialist at the Manhattan Institute. Interviewed on CNBC, after last year’s election, he said, “leftist mayors and urban residents, for their part, need to rethink their unrelenting hostility to those who don’t share their agenda.”

Boston needs to rethink too:  Return to partisan elections to purge the progressive monopoly.


James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times. His work has also appeared in The Providence Journalnewenglanddiary.com and nationalreview.com.