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BOSTON BELLWETHER?

Mayor Mobilizes for Clinton

Rick Berlin, a Boston waiter, supports Sen. Barack Obama for president but thinks Massachusetts Democrats will favor Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Rick Berlin, a Boston waiter, supports Sen. Barack Obama for president but thinks Massachusetts Democrats will favor Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. (By Joel Achenbach -- The Washington Post)
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By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 4, 2008

BOSTON -- Sen. Barack Obama has pulled off a Massachusetts trifecta. First he won the endorsement of the governor, Deval L. Patrick, and then the endorsement of Sen. John F. Kerry, the most recent Democratic presidential nominee. Finally he landed the icon of state politics, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

But he did not get Thomas M. Menino -- and Menino, the mayor of Boston, is the master of a powerful political machine that will try to deliver the state for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Menino can be found on the fifth floor of City Hall, in a spacious office with a spectacular view of Faneuil Hall. He has been in the office for 15 years by knowing where the votes are. "If you have a good ground game, get out the vote, that means two points on your total. Two points in a close election, that counts for a lot," the mayor says, and he does not need to add that his political operation last month dispatched 156 people to New Hampshire to work for Clinton, and that two points was roughly her margin.

Massachusetts is such a contested state that both Clinton and Obama are expected to make last-minute appeals here today. Polls have shown Clinton leading Obama by a substantial margin, but no one knows how Kennedy's endorsement last week might alter the situation. Kennedy's hoarse, full-throated speech on behalf of Obama at American University in Washington has become the main element of an Obama radio ad here.

If Clinton succeeds in winning the Democratic nomination, it will be in part because of the many years she has spent forging relationships with political power brokers such as the mayor.

Menino says he has supported the Clintons since "Day One," meaning the early 1990s. Three city councilmen and two district attorneys are part of the Clinton team here. The statewide operation includes 60 state representatives and 20 state senators, he says.

But Menino is cautious as he looks to Tuesday's vote. Only about 13 percent of the state's Democrats live in Boston, so even if he delivers in the tradition of James Michael Curley, the city's most celebrated mayor (he served as the model for the main character in Edwin O'Connor's novel "The Last Hurrah"), Clinton will still have to do well elsewhere in the state to win.

"Don't forget we have the governor, we've got two U.S. senators working against us here," Menino said. "But we're going to give it a good fight."

Boston may be saturated in history, but it's also a changing city -- certainly much different than the predominantly Irish Boston of Curley's time. Many of the working-class ethnics have fled the city for the suburbs. The neighborhoods where they lived such as South Boston and Jamaica Plain have seen a wave of gentrification. At the same time, there has been a dramatic increase in the Hispanic population, and the city is now 51 percent minority residents, Menino reports.

The mayor says that one in six residents are relative newcomers. And there is a booming young population, with one in three residents now between the ages of 18 and 34.

To a large extent the presidential primary has been overshadowed by football. Patriots-mania has dominated the headlines. "The first 20 pages are Patriots, Patriots, Patriots all the time," Menino said. Sunday's Boston Globe featured a front-page story about the presidential race, but it was at the very bottom of the page, crushed underfoot by a colossal Patriots package.

Super Tuesday? What's that? "Super Sunday is all we're concerned about," said bartender Andy Scott at the Playwright, a pub in South Boston.


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