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Hunting the spectral sources who “mention” candidates

Posted by Mark Leccese  December 3, 2012 09:14 AM

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Over the past few weeks, The Mentioners have been busy. You know who I mean – those ghostly presences who “mention” that so-and-so should be considered a candidate for such-and-such an elective office.

In a Friday op-ed, the Globe’s Lawrence Harmon wrote that “a few names Boston’s business community” have been “bandied about” as potential candidates for mayor should Tom Menino choose not to seek a sixth term in 2013. (The piece is behind the paywall – so buy yourself a subscription already, OK?)

Among those bandied about, according to Harmon: Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish and former John Hancock Financial Services CEO David D’Alessandro. Harmon continues: “Some quasi-business types, including Convention Center Authority head James Rooney, are also mentioned casually.”

One again we spot The Mentioners, this time acting all casual. Perhaps they were dressed in old jeans, sweatshirts and ratty sneakers.

The week after the election found The Mentioners exceptionally busy. For a start, they took over the front page of the Boston Herald, teasing readers to check out the columns inside by Peter Gelzinis and Joe Battenfeld.

Gelzinis played a twist on the mentioning game. His column, headlined “For once, the council prez chase matters,” speculated the January election for Boston City Council president might be a bit more hotly contested since if Menino is unable to finish his term, the council president becomes mayor.

Word has it that after flirting with a run for Barney Frank’s seat last year, former council president Mike Ross is viewing his old job with a new urgency.

The battle appeared to be shaping up as a race between Ross and council president Steve Murphy, who’s had a good relationship with Menino. But Tuesday’s hospital announcement changed the landscape. City Hall sources now say all past promises are off.

For several years, the conventional wisdom was that if Menino were ever to leave the Corner Office before his time was up, he’d make sure District 5 Councilor Rob Consalvo, also known as the mayor’s Mini-Me, held the council presidency.

At-large Councilor Ayanna Pressley topped the citywide vote last year, just ahead of Felix G. Arroyo. Both have been touted as the ambitious, energetic faces of the New Boston. They will no doubt join their at-large colleague John Connolly in the council scrum.

You see what he did there? He mentioned six councilors, or almost half of the 13-member body. That’s some smart mentioning. Whoever wins the council presidency, Gelzinis has about a 50-50 chance of having mentioned the right candidate.

The Herald’s Battenfeld didn’t bother with The Mentioners – he just let loose with some I-gotta-fill-this-column speculation. “Whether Mayor Thomas M. Menino finally decides to retire or not, there’s a good chance his successor will be either black or Hispanic,” he wrote.

City Councilors Felix G. Arroyo, Ayanna Pressley and Tito Jackson “could be strong contenders.” Other “possible minority candidates” include State Rep. Jeffery Sanchez and State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz.

Battenfeld cites no sources. None of the five mentioned have publicly stated any intention of running for mayor, and Battenfeld’s mentions are carefully couched in “could be” and “possible.” Pure guesswork, in other words.

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, back on Nov. 14, did not want to wait for The Mentioners, so, at a public event, he mentioned himself as a potential candidate for governor in 2014.

This was all the Globe needed to go on a page one mentioning binge, headlined “Murray adds to the buzz over 2014 governor’s race.” I had been unaware there was any buzz at all, outside of state politics junkies and certain journalists reporters, over the 2014 governor’s race, but never mind. Let’s get to the mentioning.

The list is fairly thin so far, and includes potential candidates — Senator Scott Brown among them — who may also be in the mix for John F. Kerry’s US Senate seat, should he be named to a Cabinet post. Some other potential candidates are already taking themselves out of the running. Suzanne Bump, for example, said in an interview Thursday that she would focus on winning reelection as auditor.

Others who have expressed interest or are being talked about include Charles D. Baker, the Republican who lost to Governor Deval Patrick in 2010, as well as Democrats Martha Coakley, the attorney general, Steven Grossman, the treasurer, and Carmen Ortiz, the US Attorney.

To whom did Baker, Coakley and Grossman express interest to? Who is talking about them as candidates – outside of the newsroom, that is?

Globe columnist Brian McGrory, a week and a half after the election, warned us what was coming.

Could I offer some modest advice to anyone who might be a tiny bit tired of politics after what has been the worst, most witless campaign season in the history of representative democracy?

Run. Just run. Pack up all your belongings, pile them into the back of your cars, and flee down I-95 or out the Mass. Pike to the Great Plains. When you think you’ve gone far enough, drive through another state.

Was he trying to warn us about The Mentioners? Alas, no – he was trying to warn us about the “perpetual campaign.”

Because if you stay here in Massachusetts, here’s what you’re about to get: A perpetual campaign, two solid years of nonstop bickering complete with ominous television commercials, over-programmed candidates, and enough dinnertime robocalls to make your local Olive Garden thrive.

McGrory’s warning takes the form — perhaps ironic — of a mentioning spree of his own. Here’s a quick summary.

If John Kerry takes a position in President Obama’s Cabinet, U.S. Reps. Edward Markey and Michael Capuano could be appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick as temporary senators until a special election can be held. In the special election, Scott Brown is mentioned as a candidate but David D’Alessandro should be considered a “wildcard” candidate. Mentions for the mayor’s job include Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley, state Transportation Secretary Rich Davey, Jim Rooney, Sonia Chang-Diaz and (another “wildcard”) John Fish. McGrory concedes it is “not a stretch to think there could be a dozen viable candidates.” Fore governor, he lists the usual mentions — Murray, Grossman, Baker — thus adding one more mention to their Mention Total.

The reader has every right to ask these reporters and columnists: Who are your sources? On what authority do you have it that these people are likely candidates?

Rarely is a source given or the speculation attributed. It’s all the work of The Mentioners.

Who are these Mentioners? Frequently they’re the people sitting at the keyboard writing the story. Sometimes they’re political professionals the person sitting at the keyboard has chatted with (off the record, of course). On the reliability scale, they’re about equal to your brother-in-law.

If a reporter or columnist wants to speculate about who might run for what office, then the reporter or columnist should tell the readers that he or she is speculating.

If a reporter or editor writes that a person has been mentioned as a candidate for office, the reporter or editor should tell the reader who did the mentioning.

Meanwhile, The Mentioners go on mentioning, and don’t think they only mention politicians. They're busy whispering into the ears of sportswriters names of ballplayers the Red Sox are sure to acquire.

Follow @mleccese on Twitter.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mark Leccese, a journalism professor at Emerson College, covered Massachusetts politics, business and the arts for more than 25 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and magazine writer. He has More »

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