The sprint to the Feb. 6 citywide primary officially got underway when state Sen. Ed Murray pulled out of the mayor's race on Jan. 2. Make no mistake about it, this mayor's race is a five-week sprint, not an extended campaign. Everything that happened in 2009 was just a warm-up.
Overall, the events of the past week and a half remind me of some wisdom I got long ago from the late Jim Carvin, who handled the winning media for 10 consecutive mayoral elections. "Every election is a unique event," he said.
As candidates, citizens and pundits eye the current election, we should keep Carvin's wisdom in mind. Ironically, were Carvin still with us, he would be among the first to draw upon the lessons of the past in his attempts to shape the present and the future.
Let's examine recent events in chronological order, starting with Murray's exit.
At the end of the day, Murray concluded either that he couldn't win or that he wasn't prepared to do what was necessary to win. His biggest mistake was not what he did but how he did it. Murray is taking a lot of hits now in the black community, but the truth is his departure actually helps Troy Henry, who appears to have inherited (or seized) the mantle of the black frontrunner.
Think about it: Now there are only three black candidates as opposed to four. Had Murray stayed in the race, black votes would have been more divided and the prospect of two whites making the runoff (which I never thought would happen, by the way) would have loomed larger. Those in the black community who want to "preserve the franchise" now have a candidate (in Henry) with the kind of fire that Murray lacked from the outset.
As for Murray's "late" exit, Henry himself, in his admonition to the media to be fairer in its treatment of all candidates, correctly reminded everyone that there's plenty of time left. He was also correct that the media should never declare anyone the winner this far in advance.
Look back to 2002 and you can see why. During the same first week of January, then-candidate Ray Nagin reviewed the results of his latest poll with Carvin. He was somewhere around 5 or 6 percent in a crowded field, and he already had put lots of his own money into the campaign. Pollster Joe Walker looked at the survey and said to Nagin, "There's a way to make this work, but it's not for the faint-hearted." Nagin anted up more of his own money, and the rest is history.
Which made me laugh when I heard Nagin say last week that he doesn't believe "those frickin' polls." Bull. Were it not for the wisdom and accuracy of his own pollster eight years ago, he never would have become mayor.
Meanwhile, the latest independent poll — the only independent poll that I know of, completed just days before Murray withdrew — showed Murray as the second choice among black voters ... and Henry as the leader. In that poll, Henry had 12 percent of the black vote compared to 9 percent for Murray.
That's the good news for Henry. The bad news, according to the same poll, is that an overwhelming majority of black as well as white voters want "a candidate who has experience in city government" rather than "a candidate who is a fresh face with no experience in government." The margin: 64 percent for a candidate with experience; 21 percent for a "fresh face." Even worse, among black voters, 73 percent favor a candidate with experience in government.
In the end, it proves Carvin's wisdom. There are many similarities between this race and the one in 2002, but every election is a unique event. This one has fewer than four weeks to play itself out. It promises to be a wild ride.