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Menino spends big to keep seat

Reelection bid could be costliest ever in Boston

Michael F. Flaherty Jr.'s campaign says that Mayor Thomas M. Menino's big spending on his reelection bid is an indication that he is fighting for his political life. Michael F. Flaherty Jr.'s campaign says that Mayor Thomas M. Menino's big spending on his reelection bid is an indication that he is fighting for his political life.
By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / October 6, 2009

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Thomas M. Menino, running for an unprecedented fifth four-year term as mayor of Boston, has spent $1.7 million on his reelection bid, putting him on track to run the most expensive mayoral campaign in Boston history.

Menino spent nearly as much as all three of his challengers combined during the runup to the Sept. 22 preliminary election, and now he heads toward the Nov. 3 final election with four times as much money as his lone remaining rival, Councilor at Large Michael F. Flaherty Jr.

The mayor’s money has enabled him to blanket the airwaves with television ads and hire political consultants, enhancing the built-in advantages he enjoys as a 16-year incumbent with a seasoned political operation and regular contact with voters during his official schedule of ribbon-cuttings and meet-and-greets.

“It’s obviously a lot of money, and it’s more than most candidates spend for statewide races, other than for the governorship,’’ said Pamela H. Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause of Massachusetts, a nonprofit group that tries to curb the influence of money in elections. “It indicates how critically he wants to keep that office and how easy it is for him to raise money.’’

Wilmot pointed out that Menino’s spending this year has exceeded the $942,000 that Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray spent in a three-way primary for his statewide office in 2006 and the $897,000 that Attorney General Martha Coakley spent seeking office that year.

With nearly a month to go until the final election, Menino’s spending has already equalled the record $1.7 million he spent in 2005, when he trounced a vastly underfunded and lesser-known opponent, Councilor at Large Maura A. Hennigan.

Menino’s war chest is bulging with $795,000 for the final election fight, to Flaherty’s $193,000, an advantage the mayor is wasting no time in exploiting. Yesterday, the mayor’s campaign said he is producing new print ads and a new television ad this week, which could run for the final three weeks of the race. Menino spent $700,000 on ads in the preliminary election.

“It’s about getting our message out, and we are comfortable that we have sufficient funds to do that,’’ said David A. Passafaro, treasurer of the mayor’s campaign committee.

Passafaro downplayed the mayor’s spending, saying costs in general have risen since his last campaign in 2005. “All it means is we’re four years later and the price of everything goes up over time, including personnel and rent and all the costs of the campaign,’’ he said.

Flaherty’s campaign saw reason for hope in the mayor’s heavy spending, saying it shows that Menino is fighting for his political life.

“It means he’s in a very hard race,’’ said Natasha Perez, a Flaherty spokeswoman. “They wouldn’t spend it if they didn’t need to.’’

She added that Flaherty is not concerned about having one-fourth as much money as Menino for the final election.

“We always knew we wouldn’t be able to compete with an incumbent mayor on the money front,’’ Perez said. “But we think we have a good fund-raising plan for the next month to get what we need to make this a race and beat the mayor.’’

Flaherty has spent $1 million on his mayoral campaign this year, enough to help him win 24 percent of the vote to Menino’s 50.5 percent in the preliminary mayoral election Sept. 22. Councilor at Large Sam Yoon, who was eliminated in the preliminary with 21 percent of the vote, spent $736,000 on his campaign this year. The other candidate eliminated, businessman Kevin McCrea, spent $47,000.

Yoon is now campaigning for Flaherty, and Flaherty has pledged to name Yoon his deputy mayor, if elected. But Yoon, who has about $14,000 left in his campaign account, cannot use that money to influence the final election, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Joseph S. Slavet, a longtime City Hall observer who was chief of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau in the 1950s, said Menino is spending heavily not only because he faces a competitive race but because holding onto his job has become an intensely personal mission. While previous mayors harbored ambitions for higher office, for Menino, serving as mayor “was always the end of the professional line for him.’’

“He takes it very seriously,’’ Slavet said. “Going all out and doing what he does to win this last election is as much a matter of pride as anything else.’’

“Going all out’’ in a mayor’s race is relative, however. Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York, has spent $65 million in his bid for a third term, putting him on track to run the most expensive municipal campaign in United States history.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.