Four candidates were slogging their way through snowdrifts last week in search of votes in the March 15 Democratic primary for the open state representative seat covering parts of Allston, Brighton, and Brookline.
Each brings assets that he hopes will be enough to squeeze by the others in a race that's being run -- snowbanks notwithstanding -- at a sprint-like pace, and which is likely to be decided by a small core of the district's heartiest voters.
Gregory Glennon, a former aide to three-term state Representative Brian Golden, whose resignation last month prompted the special election, seems poised to make a play for more conservative voters who will respond to the anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage views he shares with Golden. At the other end of the spectrum, Tim Schofield, an openly gay lawyer who served as campaign treasurer for David Friedman's 2002 run against Golden, is looking to carve out the same liberal identity with which Friedman nearly ousted Golden, a Democrat who angered many party loyalists by endorsing George W. Bush in 2000 (a move he repeated last year).
Meanwhile, Michael Moran, a former aide to City Councilor Steve Murphy, who ran a close second to Golden in the 1998 race for a then-open seat, and Joe Walsh Jr., a community affairs representative at Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, seem to be banking on deep ties in the community as lifelong residents with a history of civic involvement.
While every vote will be worth fighting for, one vote may count for a lot more than others.
For several years, candidates have been beating a path to the door of Naakh Vysoky, an 83-year-old Ukrainian-born physician whose ability to deliver the votes of some 400 to 500 Russian immigrants to a candidate of his choosing has made him one of the most potent powerbrokers in local elections.
Vysoky holds court from his apartment in a Brighton complex operated by the nonprofit Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, a set of buildings along Wallingford Road that is home to some 1,000 seniors, more than half of them Russian-Jewish immigrants.
Like immigrant groups in the early 20th century, the Russians in Brighton have learned that politicians respond to a big bloc of votes sent their way with attention to matters large and small.
A couple of years ago, after winning Vysoky's support, then-rep Golden began shoveling the walk in front of the complex after snowstorms, a level of constituent service that can be expected when one delivers votes in volume in a manner not seen in Boston since the days of Martin Lomasney, Julius Ansel, and other long-gone ward leaders.
Glennon, Golden's former aide, apparently learned at his boss's knee, and has been known to squire Vysoky on supermarket trips. "Glennon is a very, very nice guy," reports Vysoky. "But Walsh is also a nice guy," he adds diplomatically. "I don't know this Schofield, but I know his friend," he says of Friedman, the 2002 candidate whose campaign Schofield helped run. "
Locals say the modern-day ward boss of Wallingford Road could easily tip a close race. "Naakh Vysoky could certainly help decide this election," says district City Councilor Jerry McDermott, who represents Allston and Brighton.
But so far, at least, Vysoky is playing his cards close to the vest. "They all know me, everybody wants to be a friend -- when they need it," he says.
"I don't know really what to do. I think maybe it's better to stay aside and not intervene," says Vysoky, who claims to be feeling a bit weary of the political scene.
Maybe he will sit this one out. More likely, say local politicos, Vysoky is just holding back to get a clearer sense of the lay of the land, and of who could best do what if they became the next rep. When and if he makes a move, the House hopefuls will be anxious to take his call.
Michael Jonas can be reached at email@example.com.