Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Mayoral Candidate from the North End?

So many candidates for mayor -- I don't know whom to vote for. I don't even know all the names! A few weeks ago I took a phone call from someone polling regarding the mayoral race. The voice on the end of the wire had some sort of accent, and it certainly was not Bostonian! The woman read out the name of each candidate and asked if I had heard of the candidate and if I have an opinion. Well, as I said, there are several women and men running and some names I had barely heard before. But when she got to the name "John Cannoli" I said, "Now you're just making up names!" So she spelled it out for me. "C-O-N-N-O-L-L-Y." The joke in our home now is that John Connolly must be the candidate from the North End, and we're singing "When Irish Eyes Are Italian."

No offense to Mr. Connolly intended. He appears to be qualified for the office and has some good ideas for the city. But this out-of-state pollster's mispronunciation got me thinking about one of the problems with electoral politics as now practiced in Boston. Aside from the question of how anyone could get a simple name like Connolly wrong, it shows what happens when politics is practiced "wholesale" rather than "retail." By retail we mean the candidate meeting voters face to face. "Wholesale" politics is the use of TV, radio, internet, telephone, and other means of manipulating public opinion, rather than persuading individual voters.

Surely there are local polling companies, employing local people who would know how to pronounce an Irish name. I don't know who commissioned this poll -- presumably not Mr. Connolly, as one would hope that the people working for you can at least pronounce your name! But, whoever it was, some candidate went with a company from out-of-state, or, which "farms out" its call center to some other, lower-cost region. All candidates make grand pronouncements about good jobs at good wages for Bostonians, but at least one chose to economize by using lower-paid out-of-state workers to make polling calls.

Between now and the election the voters of Boston will be deluged with phone calls on behalf of the candidates. I know, from having, in the 1990s, run for office myself, in Cambridge, that you have to have a "phone bank" to be a competitive candidate. Still, it's so impersonal. Paid out-of-state callers, or even worse, recorded announcements, have, to too much a degree, taken the place of individual Bostonians calling to recommend a candidate or remind a friend to vote.

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