Monday, January 4, 2010

Politics: Curtatone and Strategic Voting

KENNEWICK, WASHINGTON - Somerville, Massachusetts mayor Joe Curtatone has gotten a lot of positive press lately, including a Russ Mitchell report today on the CBS Evening News, because of his effort to reduce childhood obesity in the Boston suburb where I lived for seven years. It's good to see that Curtatone is doing well since I voted for him in both the primary and general election when he was first elected mayor in 2003. It assuages my guilt over not voting in the primary for the candidate I actually favored in that race, incumbent mayor Dorothy Kelly Gay.

When Kelly Gay was elected mayor in 1999, I was one of many people proud that Somerville had elected a strong woman as mayor. In the heavily Democratic town (in the largely one-party state of Massachusetts), her progressive politics were well-received, and Somerville seemed to be in a political renaissance, with previous mayor Michael Capuano just elected to Congress, succeeding Joseph Kennedy.

While she was re-elected handily in 2001, she subsequently drew opposition over her acquiescence to developers wanting to put "big box" stores in the Assembly Square area at the far east end of the city. As the site already hosted a "big box" store and such retail establishments meant revenue to the city, I was personally never all that worked up over Assembly Square either way though my preference would have been for denser development and an Orange Line subway stop, and I had no complaints over her performance in other areas.

A heated mayoral race erupted in 2003, and in the closing days of the campaign, it became clear that Kelly Gay, then-Alderman-at-large Joe Curtatone, and businessman Tony Lafuente were the leading contenders. I didn't like Lafuente at all, as he seemed too pro-development, and as a political newcomer I figured he would be too easily manipulated by the political machine in the town (and Somerville is the place most machine-like in politics of anywhere I have lived) to the detriment of the office. Figuring that as the incumbent with significant support, Kelly Gay was certain to finish first or second, I voted for Curtatone in hopes of a Kelly Gay-Curtatone matchup in the general election.

This bit of strategic voting was a major mistake. Kelly Gay finished third in the primary, leaving the general election to Curtatone and primary winner Lafuente. I know I'm not the only Kelly Gay supporter that had voted strategically. Indeed, Curyatone himself actually knocked on my door--alone, no less--during the campaign and when I said I was considering such a vote, he made a harder push to convert me wholesale, saying he was convincing a lot of people with similar viewpoints. Ideologically, it was clear that Curtatone was not that different than Kelly Gay, so in the general election, it was obvious--I voted for Curtatone again. He won that election, and has been re-elected mayor ever since.

With an instant-run-off or rank-order voting system, of course, I wouldn't have even thought about strategic voting, I would have just made Kelly Gay my first choice and Curtatone my second choice. In this case, I doubt the end result would have been different--there were enough people mad at Kelly Gay that given a preference between her and Curtatone, Curtatone probably would have garnered more support.

However, after that experience, I am very loathe to vote strategically, and I am relieved that Joe Curtatone has proven to be a popular mayor. I may have made a mistake, but at least it was not a serious one.

1 comment:

Ron Newman said...

it's Curtatone -- two t's.