Boston City Hall.

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As Election Day Approaches, Reports Of Monkey Business Swirl While Boston TV Takes It On The Chin

November 1, 2017

The final weeks of Boston citywide elections always swirl with strange mini-sagas and side stories, if you know where to look for them. Here are a few I observed in the final week of the 2017 contest.

MAMLEO’s revenge

In the televised WGBH debate last week, Mayor Marty Walsh defended his efforts on police and racial issues by asserting that he has worked closely with the Boston chapter of MAMLEO, the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers. 

“I have a breakfast with [MAMLEO president] Larry Ellison Thursday,” Walsh said, adding that he has worked with Ellison and the group “over the last four years.”

That’s not exactly accurate. The last time Ellison and Walsh met before that Thursday breakfast was a year and a half ago, according to MAMLEO — which Walsh’s campaign does not dispute. On Twitter that evening, the Boston Globe’s Meghan Irons quoted Ellison saying that Walsh’s claims of their good working relationship were “not the truth.” 

Ellison emphasizes to me that he has not had any requests for meetings rebuffed in that time — rather, issues they had worked on together earlier had been resolved. And he denies that he was bothered by Walsh using him as a defense in the debate. 

Still, Ellison tells me that MAMLEO is disappointed in what he considers a “not a very respectful relationship” with the Boston Police Department’s top leadership.

But Ellison insists that what happened next was not intended as a little slap at the mayor.

A coalition of community organizations, led by Cheryl Crawford of MassVOTE, had scheduled a mayoral forum for Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Dorchester — and persisted in going through with it despite Walsh declining the invitation. 

On Tuesday, the lodge backed out of its contracted commitment to host the event, telling Crawford that they were concerned that a forum with just one of the candidates would violate the political neutrality requirements of the non-profit organizations involved.

Some more skeptical observers suspect that they caved to political pressure from supporters of the mayor, who thought the one-candidate session would make Walsh look bad.

Regardless, “that left us to scramble,” Crawford said. The coalition “threw out the net far and wide” around Grove Hall, looking for a venue to hold the event at the last minute. 

Prospects seemed bleak — until Crawford finally heard from a willing host, with a building right on Columbia Road. 

“Fortunately, MAMLEO opened its doors to us,” Crawford said. And, if it looked like MAMLEO was doing it to stick it to the mayor … well, my MAMLEO contacts don’t sound like they mind that one bit. 

“We always open the doors to everybody,” Ellison said. “This had nothing to do with anything partisan. We weren’t taking sides.” 

Marty’s non-endorsement endorsement

Occasionally, candidates stir trouble by producing pieces of campaign literature that seem to imply an endorsement they don’t really have. But the one circulating a week ago from the Stephen Passacantilli campaign for city council, in the district covering East Boston, Charlestown, and the North End, went a lot further than implying. 

Printed in several languages, the color flyer depicted Mayor Walsh with his arm around Passacantilli, and a caption declaring "I’m with Steve.” 

Walsh has not publicly endorsed Passacantilli, who has worked for Walsh on the 2013 campaign and at City Hall. Yet both the Passacantilli and Walsh camps said that Walsh had seen and approved of the flyer. 

Asked by reporters, Walsh made clear that, yes, A) he had seen and approved the literature in which he endorses Passacantilli; and, B) he has not endorsed and is not endorsing Passacantilli.  

I can’t say I’ve ever come across this before, when a prominent political figure approves of a candidate claiming his endorsement while denying that he has made the endorsement. 

My conversations with campaign insiders strongly suggested that Walsh would eventually endorse Passacantilli. That is, really endorse, as opposed to approving of advertising his endorsement. But there has been no sign of it yet.

Is this your ballot? 

Sometimes you get accusations of good old-fashioned dirty political tricks — such as an alleged scheme of what political pros call “absentee vote farming."

Allegedly, some political operatives have been known to get rather aggressive in helping folks — particularly those in group homes — to request absentee ballots, and then collect and submit them, ensuring they are filled in with the preferred candidates.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with helping non-ambulatory people participate in democracy. It’s just important that the voters are really the ones actually requesting the ballot, that they really do need to vote absentee, and that they really cast the vote.

The Chinese Progressive Association (CPA), in documents sent to the city election commissioner this week, charges that the Mike Kelley campaign has gone over the line in the City Council district covering Chinatown, South Boston, and the South End.

CPA is supporting Ed Flynn in that race. 

CPA claims that the Kelley campaign “submitted over a hundred absentee ballot requests on behalf of elderly voters, then took voters’ blank ballots away in signed but unsealed envelopes.”

Several accompanying affidavits from voters tell of not realizing they were signing for a ballot, and of not filling out the ballot before the campaign took it.

The Kelley campaign calls the allegations a “desperate smear politics campaign.”

The Passacantilli campaign has also been actively courting absentee ballots — at least 70 were requested from three treatment facilities in the district, all within days of each other.

There have been no first-person claims of abuse or fraud in that race, however, so we’ll just assume that the campaign is just being super helpful to folks who can’t get to the polls on election day. 

Pity the TV stations

 As of a week before the election, not a single Boston broadcast television station had received a single order for a campaign television ad. Not from a mayoral candidate, not from a City Council candidate, not from an outside “independent expenditure” group. Nothing. 

Tito Jackson doesn’t have the money to afford it, and Marty Walsh has apparently decided that, with a massive polling lead, he should just save his millions.

Without any other big-budget elections, the result has been the worst year in ages for local stations, in terms of political advertising. 

At this point four years ago, both Walsh and his opponent John Connolly were spending upwards of $10,000 a day at each of the network-affiliated broadcast stations: WBZ, WHDH, WCVB and WFXT. (Broadcast stations must report political advertising to the Federal Communications Commission.) The mysterious political action committee ONE Boston — later discovered to have been funded by national teachers’ unions in support of Walsh — spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with those stations. Dan Conley, Rob Consalvo and Mike Ross also bought ads prior to the preliminary election. 

Earlier in 2013, a special election for U.S. Senate — following John Kerry’s nomination to be Secretary of State — had also brought lots of ad buys from the candidates and national political groups. 

The prior year, of course, had been a bonanza for those stations, between the 2012 presidential campaign and the Elizabeth Warren-Scott Brown Senate blowout.

Then in 2014, open races for Governor, Treasurer and Attorney General, and two competitive congressional races (won by Bill Keating and Seth Moulton) brought more money flowing in. So did state ballot questions, particularly on the gas tax, recycling and sick days. Oh, and the next-door Senate race in New Hampshire, between Brown and Jeanne Shaheen, was also pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into Boston’s stations, which reach the populous southern part of that state.

The New Hampshire reach kept the money machine churning in 2015, as presidential candidates from both parties spent for months in advance of the Feb. 9, 2016 first-in-the-nation Granite State primary. Eight different candidates, or their supportive super PACs, advertised on Boston TV stations in 2015. Hillary Clinton’s campaign started advertising on Boston TV in early August, and paid WBZ $55,000 for a single ad during the Patriots-Jets game of Dec. 27.

And, as any Boston-area resident with a TV will recall, that was just a taste of the deluge spent in 2016 on New Hampshire’s presidential, gubernatorial, Senate and U.S. House contests. 

This year, nothing — just a few “issue advertisements” from the American Petroleum Institute, that ran during Sunday news and talk shows earlier in the year.

The dearth of political advertising may be causing tears to flow from station managers’ eyes, but their grief shouldn’t last long. 2018 brings the re-election campaigns of Gov. Charlie Baker and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — both of whom have been stockpiling campaign funds that will surely be spread generously among the local stations.  

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