The headlights of the pickup trucks cut through the pre-dawn darkness of Election Day. The destination: Prince Hall in Dorchester. Four beefy union laborers in jeans and work boots strode inside, eager for an assignment before their 7 a.m. work shift.
Ryan FitzGerald was waiting for them.
He was a lieutenant preparing to send political foot soldiers into battle. FitzGerald, taking a vacation day from his post as Boston’s recreation director, grabbed a folder labeled Ward 14, Precinct 2, a cluster of streets east of Franklin Park. There were precision driving directions and a map with the target streets highlighted in light blue.
“Just hit every door,” FitzGerald said, pointing to a stack of doorknob hangers reminding people to vote for President Obama and US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. “This is about blanketing an entire neighborhood.”
Over the next 18 hours, the political machine of Mayor Thomas M. Menino cranked as hard as ever. By the end of Tuesday, 251,339 voters had gone to the polls, the largest turnout in Boston since 1964. Three out of every four ballots went for Warren, a first-time candidate running against a popular incumbent.
There were 21 staging areas, combining the efforts of Menino’s people, organized labor, activists, and Warren’s campaign staff. It included 2,289 volunteers who knocked on 117,000 doors. The forces called target households three times and delivered more than 300 voters to the polls. Minivans outfitted with speakers broadcast get-out-the-vote messages in four languages.
Menino’s people brought almost two decades of expertise that allowed them to master the nuances of Boston’s vote.
“We have sure-handed operatives that know what they are doing, especially in this city,” said Menino’s field general, Michael Kineavy. “Part of that is melding with the political infrastructure on the ground. The Warren campaign and labor did a tremendous job.”
No one expected US Senator Scott Brown, a Republican, to win Boston, but Warren’s lopsided victory helped propel the Democrat to an 8 percentage-point victory statewide. Warren got 20,000 more votes in Boston than her campaign had expected.
Menino monitored the operation from a hospital room, where he is recovering from a viral infection and a back injury. The surge to the polls served as a reminder of his electoral potency to would-be challengers who think the mayor might be vulnerable next year if he runs for a sixth term. It was also a stinging rebuke to Menino’s predecessor, former mayor Raymond L. Flynn, who aggressively campaigned for Brown.
The effort went into high gear well before Election Day. Over the weekend, Kineavy and the machine’s 10 lieutenants started early each day with a meeting of what they called their kitchen cabinet. Talking over breakfast sandwiches, they included longtime operatives, each of whom had developed a specialty. One had mastered the construction of sound trucks, consisting of a speaker anchored on a wooden plank and lashed onto the roof of a rental van. Another focused on outreach to voters in Spanish, Cape Verdean Creole, Vietnamese, and other languages.
Then there were lieutenants who oversee what’s called the “foot pull,” volunteers who knock on doors, reminding people to vote, and pull them to the polls. One woman was responsible for the network of “closers,” a system of 220-plus volunteers assigned to polling places who call in results to the boiler room at the end of the night.
The group spoke of elections like athletes who thrive on competition. Get-out-the-vote was their baby, their hobby, their adrenaline rush. In jest, they often repeated an adage from a campaign years before: If you don’t wake up in the morning feeling like you have to vomit, you’re doing something wrong. “It’s the pressure,” Kineavy said. “The task at hand is enormous.”
Their work could be heard in Spanish-speaking sections of Jamaica Plain. A sound truck rolled slowly through Jackson Square broadcasting salsa music, merengue, and a recorded voice that declared, “Barack Obama presidente! Elizabeth Warren para senadora!”
In East Boston the night before the election, a diehard Menino soldier went to work. He is known as “The Great One.” Anthony Albano, 64, earned the nickname decades ago when he pitched seven softball games on the same day. On Monday, Albano balanced a 4-foot-by-8-foot Warren sign on his head outside East Boston High School, where he is head of discipline. He eyed the entrance to the polling place like an artist.Continued...