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Former councilor wants his job back

Flaherty recharges after mayoral bid to pursue at-large seat

READY TO RUN “I miss being an active and engaged member of the City Council,” said Michael F. Flaherty Jr. READY TO RUN
“I miss being an active and engaged member of the City Council,” said Michael F. Flaherty Jr.
By Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / May 9, 2011

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Michael F. Flaherty Jr. took direct aim at Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston yesterday as he announced another bid for elected office, criticizing his former adversary’s record on education, violent crime, and “opaque and unpredictable’’ development.

But Flaherty, whom Menino defeated by 15 percentage points in 2009, was not announcing a bid for mayor this time. He wants his old job back.

“What I’ve been hearing from people across the city is that there needs to be a strong, independent voice on the City Council tackling big-picture issues,’’ said Flaherty in a phone interview last night. “All too often, the City Council seems to be playing small ball.’’

Flaherty said he plans to apply today for nomination papers for an at-large seat on the City Council.

The news ended months of speculation at City Hall about whether the South Boston attorney would run again for the council. Flaherty’s decision to return to city politics may inject drama into what was shaping up to be a humdrum municipal election year with just one open district seat in Dorchester.

“I think it just got much more interesting,’’ said Lawrence S. DiCara, a former council president, mayoral candidate, and longtime watcher of city politics. “History tells us that a candidate defeated for mayor two years prior usually does exceptionally well in the next council election.’’

All four city councilors at large are running for reelection. That means an incumbent could face a serious challenge from Flaherty, a formidable candidate who frequently won the most votes as a councilor and broadened his name recognition in his bid for mayor.

“Our plan has always been to run hard and compete for votes in every neighborhood of the city, no matter what the field looked like,’’ said Jessica Taubner, campaign manager for Ayanna Pressley, who finished fourth in 2009 and captured the last at-large spot. “Pressley earned her seat and she’s been a powerful and effective advocate for the residents of Boston during her 16 months in office.’’

Flaherty, 42, gave up his at-large spot in 2009 to challenge Menino. Immediately after his defeat, he spoke about another run for mayor and other higher offices. But over the past year, he faded from the public eye as he returned to private practice at the Boston office of the law firm Adler, Pollock & Sheehan.

Running again for office will present some significant challenges. Flaherty has just over $1,300 in his campaign account, according to his most recent filing with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. The incumbent at-large councilors have already raised tens of thousands of dollars for the campaign. Councilor John R. Connolly has a war chest brimming with more than $170,000.

Flaherty will also have to run without the resources of incumbency. City councilors have offices, paid staff, parking spaces in downtown Boston, and a public forum in the City Council.

But Flaherty will also have to explain why he wants to return to a job he cast aside when he ran for mayor and he must convince voters that he is not merely looking for a launching pad for another bid for higher office. In the press release issued yesterday, Flaherty posed the issue to himself and essentially dodged the question.

“I’m focused on the race for City Council,’’ Flaherty said last night, acknowledging that the mayoral race took a lot out of him and his family. “A lot can happen between now and 2013. I miss being an active and engaged member of the City Council. I miss being at the heart of the debate.’’

His campaign announcement avoided directly criticizing his competitors; instead, he focused on Menino.

“Two years ago we were told that things were going to be different. But now that a fifth term is in the bank, it seems to be back to business as usual,’’ Flaherty said in his statement. “Frankly, it’s time for the City Council to put some heat on the mayor.’’

Through a spokesman, Menino declined to comment.

One councilor disagreed with the suggestion that no one is standing up to the mayor.

“I don’t believe that to be true,’’ said Councilor Felix G. Arroyo, adding as an example that he worked with the administration to preserve youth summer jobs, but fought Menino’s plan to close libraries. “The voters don’t elect us to disagree for the sake of being disagreeable.’’

Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com.