John F. Barros launched his campaign for mayor Thursday in an intimate coffee shop in Roxbury, where roughly 60 people crammed around wooden tables, standing to hear his vision of an inclusive City Hall that pushes big ideas and places a premium on education.
Barros deliberately staged a low-key announcement in deference to the victims of last week’s Boston Marathon bombings, saying Boston is still “in mourning, remembering those who have left us and praying for those who are still healing.”
But he delivered an upbeat message to the crowd of familiar faces at Haley House Bakery Café. He urged the group — which included his father, mother, lifelong friends, and strangers — to rally behind him more as a cause than a candidate.
“This campaign is about the collaborative capacity of building the city we want together with opportunity and access to all,” Barros said. “We are standing here. We are running for mayor. We are going to change Boston. We have to do this together. This is not a campaign about John Barros.”
He spoke about growing up in Roxbury, the son of Cape Verdean immigrants who sometimes struggled to put food on the table but protected him from the social ills that often plague urban neighborhoods. His parents made education his guiding light, he said, forbidding him to work as a young man so he could focus on his studies.
Barros made it far: He graduated from Dartmouth College and landed a corporate job in Manhattan. But then he returned home and made a name as executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a nonprofit that has helped revitalize Roxbury. He became the first person of Cape Verdean descent to serve on the School Committee, but stepped down last week to launch his bid for mayor.
Barros is on leave from the Dudley Street Initiative during his mayoral campaign, although he will still be involved with the nonprofit.
Before he decided to run, Barros said he spent two weeks consulting with family and confidants. He spoke to voters across the city, sitting in living rooms for discussions that sometimes lasted until almost midnight. He spoke to other candidates and has had several conversations with outgoing Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who, Barros said, “gave me some really good advice I’d hate to give to everybody else.”
“My biggest obstacle is time,” Barros said when asked about challenges facing his campaign. “I think if I get in front of voters, I can win their support. I need to work. I need to go now and get in front of as many people as possible.”