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Yoon's out-of-state support bankrolls a possible run

Constitutes 58% of his war chest

By John C. Drake
Globe Staff / February 4, 2009
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Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon, a potential candidate for mayor, has tapped into a large network of political supporters from California to New York who have built up his war chest, eclipsing the amount of contributions from Massachusetts.

In 2008, 58 percent of Yoon's $209,000 in campaign contributions above $50 came from out of state.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has a national political profile, raised just 10 percent of his $856,000 from outside the Bay State; City Councilor Michael F. Flaherty, who has announced his candidacy, reached outside Massachusetts for just 9 percent of his $418,000.

Much of Yoon's fund-raising success has been in Asian American communities across the country. Word that he was considering a run for mayor hit Boston in September, while Yoon was touting his potential as a rising Asian American politician on a West Coast fund-raising trip.

Yoon said in an interview that he was proud to be attracting support from out of state, saying that made him less beholden to political donors with business before the city.

"It's not easy to raise money in a city where the system greatly advantages an incumbent mayor," Yoon said. "I need people to know what I stand for, and I need the resources to get my message out."

Yoon has been very public about his mayoral ambitions but has not announced his intentions yet. He said yesterday that he would make an announcement "soon."

Local political observers said yesterday that Yoon's out-of-state fund-raising is unavoidable, because he would be running against an entrenched incumbent and a South Boston politician with deep family ties to the city.

Significantly, the willingness of non-Bay Staters to pour money into Boston mayor's race also reflects the excitement of Asian Americans over the historic nature of Yoon's potential candidacy, the observers said.

The political observers - two former city councilors, a political scientist, and a well-connected, longtime Boston political consultant - each said they doubted that voters would care about where most of Yoon's money originated.

"Sam Yoon as a candidate for major political office in a major city represents something new and exciting for Asian Americans," said Paul Y. Watanabe, a political scientist and director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. "That helps to explain why there is, in my view, a great deal of interest beyond the confines of Boston."

"I would think his candidacy is stronger if he has people who can vote for him as well as give him a check. But that's the old rule," said Lawrence S. DiCara, a former city councilor and longtime Boston political observer. "I'm not sure that today that is a consideration that will be even close to the top of people's agendas."

Indeed, politicians have been successful in leveraging out-of-state contributions for Massachusetts races. DiCara pointed to fund-raising appeals by groups that support gay candidates for legislative office, and Emily's List, which supports female candidates. Former city councilor Paul J. Scapicchio said Governor Deval Patrick leaned on out-of-state contributions early in his primary campaign when he was largely unknown in Massachusetts.

In 2003 and 2005, Felix D. Arroyo, the first Latino member of the Boston City Council, traveled to Puerto Rico for fund-raisers, bringing back nearly $20,000 for his successful 2005 reelection effort. But in the cases of Arroyo and Patrick, most of their fund-raising happened inside Massachusetts.

"I think the new paradigm out there in fund-raising [is]: how you do it isn't as important as what you do with it," Scapicchio said.

"What Sam has done is tap into a sort of proud Korean-American ethnic vote," he said. "I think there are some ethnic groups where when you first have a candidate from that ethnic group, you can really tap into something special."

A spokesman for Flaherty declined to comment on Yoon's fund-raising or the issue of out-of-state contributions.

"Michael is going to raise enough money to be competitive in this race," said the spokesman, Jonathan Romano. "He will raise money through all types of mediums, whether kitchen-table conversations, through the Web, or through relationships he has built with friends through high school and college and beyond."

A spokesman for Menino's political committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Yoon said that while out-of-state residents contributed the most money, he had more individual contributors from Massachusetts than from outside the state. He said he did not know whether the percentage of his contributions from Massachusetts residents would increase this year if he goes ahead with a run.

"I don't know, because if I were to run for mayor, it's just uncharted territory in so many ways," he said. "Fund-raising is pretty simple for me, and I reach out to anyone who wants to hear what I have to say."

John C. Drake can be reached at jdrake@globe.com.

Political observers say Sam Yoon's out-of-state fund-raising was unavoidable; he would face an entrenched incumbent.

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