In a misstep that may demonstrate a critical lack of courage in the face of adversity, John Kerry left his political support twisting in the wind yesterday when he abandoned Boston Mayor Thomas Menino due to the presence of police pickets. While not technically on strike, Kerry nonetheless opted — after failing to reach a diplomatic solution to the impasse — to snub the Mayors’ Conference led by his campaign co-chair Menino. Massachussetts Governor Mitt Romney took the opportunity to speak in his absence, demonstrating an executive persona that Romney hinted Kerry lacks:
First, John Kerry, the putative Democratic presidential nominee, decided Sunday not to attend the annual meeting of the nation’s mayors here, refusing to cross a picket line of police union members feuding with Boston’s mayor. Then, on Monday, Boston’s mayor, Thomas M. Menino, who is not only a Democrat but also the host of the Democratic National Convention here in July, welcomed a stand-in for Mr. Kerry: Mitt Romney, the Republican governor of Massachusetts.
Mr. Romney, not generally considered a friend to Democrats, seized the opportunity to praise Mr. Menino and needle Mr. Kerry.
“I wanted to indicate my support of Mayor Menino,” Mr. Romney said. “He’s a man of courage and integrity,” he added, saying, “In the executive responsibility, you put first the people and not the pickets.” …
“A mayor, a governor and a president have a responsibility to make tough decisions and balance budgets. A senator doesn’t, and that’s a big difference. Senators don’t have to balance budgets. Senators don’t have to make those kinds of trade-offs. That’s what the mayor has to do, and that’s why I want to be here for him.”
Of course, one of the knocks on John Kerry is that he lacks executive experience, a common charge against any candidate who has served primarily as a legislator. This perception is one of the reasons no one has been elected President straight from Congress since 1960, when Kerry’s idol John F. Kennedy edged out Richard Nixon. Certainly, it has been and will be one of the Bush campaign’s themes in the coming election, especially given the lack of legislative accomplishment from Kerry’s 19-year tenure in the Senate.
However, just because the perception exists doesn’t mean that Kerry had to feed it, and he did exactly that by deciding to leave his fellow Democrat holding the bag. After all, Menino crossed the picket line, as did the other attending mayors, most of whom are Democrats, and few of whom appreciated being shown up by Kerry. The Post notes a few of the reactions from the conference:
“Some of the mayors here are disappointed, frustrated, angered by Kerry not showing up,” [Menino] said. “It’s all about respect of the mayors, and there was no respect of the mayors.” While Mr. Menino said he was not about to withdraw support from his party’s candidate, he added, “John Kerry will have to live by this decision.” …
Several mayors at the conference expressed frustration and resentment toward Mr. Kerry.
Mayor Rich Borer Jr. of West Haven, Conn., a Democrat, said he believed that Mr. Kerry should have attended and might even have been able to mediate an agreement between the city and the union. “It makes it a little more difficult for me as a man to sit there and say Kerry is the guy when he didn’t show up,” Mr. Borer said.
Mayors represent the front line of party politics. They know the local players, understand the subtleties at the precinct level, and can tap the right people to turn out voters. Snubbing them may not push them to endorse Bush, but it makes them less enthusiastic about supporting Kerry. Kerry just made all of the mayors out to be anti-labor simply by their presence at the conference and shined the national spotlight on them in doing so. Especially in regards to Boston and Menino, Kerry may live to regret that as the nominating convention approaches; Menino may just leave him with another opportunity to respect the picket line more than his supporters, and this time Menino can shine that spotlight right back on Kerry.