State Representative Martin J. Walsh gave voters a first look at his campaign for mayor of Boston on Saturday, saying his 16 years of experience in the Legislature and background as a union organizer set him apart from a crowded field that includes at least eight candidates.
In front of more than 1,000 supporters who packed the Strand Theatre in Dorchester, Walsh, 46, sketched a portrait of himself as an approachable everyman candidate, firmly grounded in his blue-collar upbringing as the son of Irish immigrants in Dorchester.
Walsh named education and economic development as his top priorities, while praising Boston’s diverse communities.
Walsh also named two key areas in which he would differ from the outgoing mayor, Thomas M. Menino, saying in an interview after the event that he would work to streamline the approval of development projects and accelerate public school reforms.
Walsh’s remarks were short on specific proposals, but dense with personal references to the people, institutions, and places he said helped shape his career. The speech seemed tailored to an audience that was full of friends, family, fellow union workers, and longtime legislative colleagues.
“I want to be your mayor because I love this city,” Walsh told the crowd. “I know in my heart that we can accomplish great things together with hard work, fortitude, and faith in our collective future.”
Walsh said his campaign had raised more than $100,000 in the past two weeks. He also boasted that he had collected more than 4,000 signatures in less than six hours and submitted them to Boston City Hall, a necessary first step in qualifying for the mayoral ballot.
The legacy of Menino looms large over the race, and this event was no exception, with Walsh saying the mayor had “left the city far better than [he] found it.”
But a Mayor Walsh would be more than Menino 2.0, the candidate hinted Saturday.
Asked in an interview which policy areas were perhaps more important to him than to Menino, Walsh said, “I would put emphasis on education and really take what Menino has done and expand it at a quicker pace. I don’t want to lose a generation of kids.”
And asked if he would continue Menino’s tendency to personally oversee the details of building permits and development projects, Walsh suggested he would be more willing to delegate. “I would take the [Boston Redevelopment Authority] and the Board of Appeals and streamline some of the permitting to make it a little quicker,” he said. “As mayor I’m going to put people around me who are very smart and talented and have vision . . . I’ll be the person overseeing all the departments, but as far as saying, ‘this is how the windows are and this is what the dome might be’ — those are questions the community should answer.”
Many in attendance said they had met Walsh at community events, union rallies, or through his extensive work with recovering substance abusers. Walsh told the Globe this week he is a recovering alcoholic who has not had a drink in 18 years; he continues to help anyone who reaches out to him about getting clean.
He also depicted himself as a realist, saying, “I’m not going to promise you I’ve got a perfect solution to every problem.”
Walsh had previously announced his intention to run to reporters in early April. He has characterized the delay between that announcement and Saturday’s official campaign launch as being indicative of his straightforward, no frills style. Still, Saturday’s event had all the usual hallmarks of a campaign launch: carefully selected theme songs, signs, stickers, introductory speakers to hype up the crowd, and even confetti cannons.
Walsh admitted he felt a bit nervous and emotional backstage
. “Getting on stage was fine, but I was nervous standing in the back,” he said. “Looking around the hall, seeing so many people that had affected my life in one way or another, it was overwhelming.”
Making personal connections with constituents has been a hallmark of Menino’s tenure; a poll famously found he had personally met more than half of Boston’s residents. Walsh said he would continue that legacy, but insisted the impetus to do so was his own.
“That’s who I am,” he said. “I’m not going to run a campaign that’s going to be about ads and images and things like that. I’m going to go out and meet people.”