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New York to Boston: We elect better mayors than you do

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  January 14, 2014 12:44 PM

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Boston and New York are perpetual rivals in baseball so maybe it's no surprise that the two cities would compete in another regular fall event: who elects the best mayor. Both cities chose new leaders this past November, and while comparisons between Marty Walsh and Bill de Blasio have been muted, the trash-talking was significantly more intense a century ago.

Ideas recently came upon a short article published in the New York Times on January 16, 1914, with the headline, "New York More Civilized than Boston." The piece was a gloating summary of an editorial that had recently been published in another newspaper, the Springfield Republican, which had argued that "For some reason, Boston fails to get Mayors in the same class with New York Mayors."

The Springfield Republican editorial, as quoted gleefully in the New York Times, went on:

For a dozen years the Mayors of New York have been high-grade men—men of natural ability, experience in affairs, and unsullied public character…The office of Mayor of New York is a big one, but New York seems to have acquired the habit of placing in it men who measure up very well to the requirements of the position.

The editorial then ran through a litany of excuses Boston might offer to justify its inability to elect quality chief executives, including having a large "foreign" population, "a powerful and aggressive liquor interest in politics," and "financial overlords seeking favors." But New York has those problems, too, so why can the Big Apple find legendary leaders while Boston scrapes by? “It is difficult to think of a single reason," the Springfield Republican wrote, "except that, of the two cities today, New York is the more civilized.”

Mayor Walsh, it's your go.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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