By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – If Boston’s newly-inaugurated Acting Mayor Kim Janey decides she wants to keep the job – and it’s hard to believe she won’t – she will enjoy a couple of crucial campaign advantages, both stemming from her role as acting mayor.

The first is visibility.

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With the possible exception of At-Large Councillor Michelle Wu, few Boston voters would know the current candidates if they tripped over them.

(WBZ-TV graphic)

While the others fight for precious media exposure and are forced to share it among themselves, as mayor, Janey can make news and get on TV virtually anytime she wants.

Acting Boston Mayor Kim Janey. (WBZ-TV)

She probably has better name recognition right now than any other hopeful.

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The book on this was written by Tom Menino, who went from obscure district councilor to household name in a matter of weeks after Ray Flynn turned the mayoralty over to him in 1993. He did it with a blizzard of headline-grabbing moves that introduced him to voters citywide every day during that summer when his competitors were sweating buckets just to shake a few hundred hands. And with hand-shaking and other face-to-face forms of campaigning kind of a no-no right now, Janey’s bully pulpit is even more of a godsend.

But just having the biggest megaphone isn’t the whole ballgame. It’s how you use it, another aspect of the clinic Menino put on in ’93.

While Flynn was still jet-lagged over in Rome, Menino ordered a freeze on Bostonians’ water bills, a hot issue back then as the harbor cleanup was driving rates through the roof. It wasn’t entirely clear he had the authority to do that, but he did it anyway, and nobody in their right mind wanted to argue for higher bills. Menino shifted funds from other city accounts to create summer jobs for teens and boost funding for community health centers. He challenged the police and teacher unions over what he argued were fiscally irresponsible demands and tried to force Massport to pay property taxes on their city real estate.

In doing so, Menino defined himself as a populist fighting for a better deal for regular Bostonians, empathized with the financial stresses they were facing and showcased his understanding of city finances. A close bond with neighborhood folks – compared with the chumminess with elites associated with the Kevin White years – was a popular characteristic of the Flynn administration. Sharp fiscal management was not. Thus, Menino positioned himself as a continuation of what voters liked best about Flynn but a break from what they liked least.

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Janey will now have a chance to re-enact Menino’s classic maneuvers. By generously praising Marty Walsh on his way out and keeping some of his top people on to help her, she signals continuity to the solid majority who approved of the Walsh era. By keeping her promises of change inspirational but vague, she avoids unwanted controversy and offers little traction for critics. If she avoids any major blunders, come the fall, why would anyone want to throw her out?

Jon Keller