Battenfeld: Boston mayor’s race not the Kim Janey coronation some expected

Boston’s tight mayoral race is heading into a final three-week sprint, with Acting Mayor Kim Janey finally entering the battle of the airwaves with a modest TV ad buy.

Janey has struggled to gain traction, and with a few missteps, has seemingly squandered what should be a huge advantage — sitting in the fifth floor mayor’s office.

Not even an effort to prop up Janey with a campaign to coalesce the black vote around her has given her a big lift. Janey’s rival, City Councilor Andrea Campbell, instead of dropping out, has only turned more aggressive over the last few weeks — specifically targeting Janey for being weak on the coronavirus vaccine push.

And one of Janey’s biggest threats, City Councilor Michelle Wu, has recently upped her presence in the race with a slew of press conferences, endorsements and a large TV and Internet ad buy. Another opponent, City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, a threat in neighborhoods like vote-rich West Roxbury, has jumped into the fray with planned new advertisements emphasizing her background as a former teacher and businesswoman. The other candidate, former city economic development chief John Barros, also has a TV ad airing in the Boston area.

Boston’s Sept. 14 preliminary election will narrow down the race to the final two participants, and the latest polls have Wu in front and Janey in second place — but those were conducted weeks ago, before Janey stepped into a controversy by comparing vaccination passports to slavery.

It hasn’t even come close to the cakewalk that many predicted Janey would face getting into the election final. In 1993, Acting Mayor Thomas Menino topped the ticket in the preliminary election with 27% of the vote and won the two-man final with a whopping 64%.

Janey’s first major ad of the campaign hits the airwaves this week in both English and Spanish, costing $164,000 for the first week. It’s not insignificant but her other major challengers have spent twice that already.

“What’s the difference between me and every mayor before me? Experience,” Janey says in the ad. “I know Boston’s challenges because I’ve lived them.”

Janey has been acting mayor since former Mayor Marty Walsh left to join Joe Biden’s Cabinet in March, but because of the limitations of her acting title, she has few major accomplishments to point to.

Until now, Janey has mostly relied on a “Rose Garden” strategy — trying to seize advantage from the perks of her office by holding weekly press conferences and presiding over the city’s COVID planning. But with the virus on the rise, Janey can’t claim credit for keeping coronavirus in check or even stalled.



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