In politics, there are endorsements…and then there are endorsements that win close elections.  Yesterday afternoon, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino gave Elizabeth Warren the kind of endorsement that could help her become the first Massachusetts woman elected to the US Senate.  Let us count the ways:

Timing: The endorsement came at a late afternoon rally less than 24 hours after Warren’s first televised debate with incumbent Scott Brown.  That means Menino (and not just the Warren campaign) wanted it to get a lot of attention.

Location:  The rally was held in Adams Park, a small triangle of green in the center of Roslindale, a neighborhood that first elected Tom Menino to public office nearly 30 years ago in a city council race.  Roslindale’s the kind of neighborhood that’s “urban” enough (50% immigrants, two large public housing projects, lots of “triple deckers”) to appeal to the liberal/urban wing of the Democratic Party, and “nice” enough (over 50% white, nice restaurants and shops, lots of 1 & 2 family houses) to appeal to the more moderate, mostly white, middle- and upper-middle class suburbs ringing Boston.

Turnout:  Several hundred people (on short notice) in a small park makes for good background footage on the 6:00 evening news.  A lot of city workers turned out (another indication this is a serious endorsement by Menino), but so did workers and leaders from the building trades and the big SEIU locals (#1199 and #615), along with a sizable cross-section of the rest of the neighborhood.

The Speech:  When polled, over half of Boston voters report they’ve shaken Mayor Menino’s hand.  Among other things, Menino’s constant traveling around to the city’s neighborhoods and his availability to city residents are a continuing source of his political strength, and a compensation for his well-known, near legendary, weakness with the spoken word.

But when endorsing Elizabeth Warren yesterday, Menino spoke from a prepared text (he often speaks off the cuff), and used several rhetorical devices to signal the seriousness of this endorsement:


  1. He began by highlighting how long the endorsement has been in coming.  (I know some of you wanted me to make this speech earlier this summer…  I know some of you wanted me to make this speech this spring…  I know some of you wanted me to make this speech last year.*)  It’s an old politician’s trick—shine a lantern on your own weakness.  In this case, Menino’s “weakness” is his longstanding and well-known fondness for Republican politicians like Scott Brown (and former Gov. Paul Cellucci) who are “good guys”, and his corresponding coolness towards “goo-goo” Democrats (like Scott Harshbarger and Martha Coakley).  There weren’t a lot of “good government” Democrats at this rally; but there were a lot of blue-collar and pink-collar Democrats who’ve been enthusiastic backers of Warren for months now, and had been pressing Menino (I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls about this election) to get off the fence.

  3. Having acknowledged the key tension leading up to this moment, Menino turned it to his advantage.  But I believe when you’re talking about a  job like this, it’s important to get to know the person.  Then he went through a carefully crafted litany, starting with how Elizabeth Warren first got his attention (…when she said, “How come we don’t let companies sell toasters that will burn down our houses, but we let banks sell mortgages that, in effect, do the same thing?”), and continuing with a punchy list of Warren’s credentials and how their relationship has grown as they’ve talked over the months, culminating with…

  5. And that’s why I’m here today to say she’s got my vote and my help!  For those not attuned to the subtle nuances of Massachusetts politics, “my help” translates to something like “I will deploy my small army of city workers, developers, contractors, and labor unions that rely to a greater-or-lesser degree on my good will to turn out and deliver a substantial margin of votes for Elizabeth Warren in Boston to overcome the margins in the exurban towns that are Brown’s base.  Furthermore, my endorsement is a signal to Democratic Party “regulars” in cities like Brockton, Fall River, Lowell, Lynn, Springfield and Worcester that they should deliver similar large majorities for Warren.”

  7. Near the end of his speech, Menino declared, “Elizabeth Warren is good people.”  Again, for those not attuned to the particular nuances of the uneasy, sometimes fragile coalition that constitutes the Democratic Party in the Bay State, that means something like, “Elizabeth Warren may live in Cambridge, teach at Harvard, and look like a League of Women Voters activist, but despite that she’s not one of those affluent, politically correct know-it-alls who’s always trying to tell working people how they should think and act and live their lives.  She’s one of us, not one of them.”

Reciprocity:  After Menino introduced Warren and they clasped hands as the crowd cheered, she demonstrated that she is, in fact, “good people”.  Warren was fulsome, even extravagant in her praise of Mayor Menino—citing him as a leader and model for mayors across the country, claiming that every person in Boston has personally benefited from his care and stewardship over the past two decades.  Then she went down an applause-generating checklist of issues on which she stands with Menino and the residents of Boston, in contrast to the way Scott Brown has voted during his two years as senator.

This is still a close race, and Scott Brown is a formidable political campaigner.  But having held her own against Brown in their first debate, and having secured Mayor Menino’s endorsement—all within less than 24 hours—Elizabeth Warren is in a significantly better position to win this race than she was Thursday morning.

*All quotations guaranteed approximate.

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