Boston’s first open race for mayor in decades unleashed a generation of pent-up political ambition, prompting 24 candidates to step forward after Thomas M. Menino announced he would not seek a sixth term.
Ambition collided with reality Tuesday as aspiring candidates faced their first test, with 15 of the original two dozen hopefuls announcing they had gathered the 3,000 nominating signatures necessary to win a spot on the ballot by the 5 p.m. deadline. The Election Commission still needs to certify that those signatures actually count.
But the implications are clear: Boston should brace for an epic campaign saga featuring local power brokers who have gone gray waiting for an open shot at the mayor’s office.
The contest will include enough credible candidates to field a baseball team: city councilors, community leaders, a district attorney, a state legislator.
Competition for political operatives and campaign volunteers will test old friendships. Fund-raising dollars will be stretched thin. Any forum that crams in all the candidates will be more like political speed dating, where each candidate gets two minutes, than a free-flowing debate.
The stakes will be high: Boston has a habit of electing a mayor for a generation, not a four-year term. For many in the running, this may be their only chance to seize control of City Hall.
By Tuesday’s deadline, eight people had withdrawn from the race, according to interviews with the candidates or the Election Department. That included Lee Buckley, who signed up to run for mayor and City Council but gave up before she started.
“I concede,” Buckley said Tuesday after turning in nary a signature. “I concede to the other candidates.”
Several other candidates claimed to have passed the first test. Blogger David S. Portnoy said he paid a company $5 per name to gather 4,500 signatures. William J. Dorcena, whose fund-raising account has a balance of $165, said he had massed 5,000 signatures. David James Wyatt said he submitted 5,000 to 6,000 signatures.
Two men who cofounded a radio station also said they met the threshold. Charles L. Clemons Jr. said his campaign also gathered 5,000 signatures. John G.C. Laing Jr., who serves as chairman of Clemons’s campaign committee, launched his own bid for mayor and said he submitted more than 4,000 signatures.
At 11:30 a.m., Councilor Charles C. Yancey stood at the counter in the Election Department and submitted a stack of signature papers. Yancey, who has served 30 years on the City Council, has been gathering signatures to run for reelection and for mayor. Yancey said he will decide which office to seek after signatures have been certified, and he remained coy about how many signatures he submitted for mayor.
“I actually don’t know the count,” Yancey said with a smile. “But I think it’s probably likely that we handed in more than 3,000 signatures.”
One candidate, Robert Cappucci, had submitted a substantial number of signatures, the Election Department said, but could not be reached by the Globe Tuesday to ask whether he had enough.
Election officials will spend weeks sifting through roughly 7,600 sheets of paper carrying signatures to verify each name, a process that must be completed by June 25.
The painstaking review could knock more candidates off the Sept. 24 preliminary election ballot. In the mayor’s race, if a voter signs the papers of several candidates, only one signature counts, the first submitted to City Hall. Each name will be matched against the state’s voting database and checked off as it is credited to a campaign. Signature sheets were time-stamped and will be tallied in their order of arrival.
Officials face a daunting task. Dozens of candidates for mayor, councilor at large, and district councilor submitted 7,600 signatures on papers that each had space for 33 names.
In secure offices at the Election Department, seven tall stacks of nominating papers sat ready to be counted late Tuesday morning. Officials had only worked their way up to papers time-stamped on May 6.
Many campaigns submitted thousands more signatures than required. Election officials will stop counting once any campaign hits 3,600, assuming that provides enough of a cushion above the required 3,000 in case any signatures are challenged by other candidates.
So far, three candidates have had enough signatures tallied by election officials to make the ballot: state Representative Martin J. Walsh, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, and Councilor at Large John R. Connolly.
The Election Commission must still certify the final count.
Campaigns often use signature gathering as an excuse to talk to voters and pitch their candidate.
“As an organizing tool, we pushed going door to door to have a real conversation about the future of the city,” said Clare Kelly, manager of Councilor at Large Felix G. Arroyo’s mayoral campaign.
Eight candidates withdrew from the mayor’s race. Four who unequivocally dropped out were Buckley, Hassan A. Williams, Christopher G. Womack, and the Rev. Miniard Culpepper.
Two other candidates who pulled papers for mayor — Frank John Addivinola Jr. and Gareth R. Saunders — said in interviews Tuesday that they instead submitted signatures for councilor at large.
Another candidate, Althea Garrison, also switched from mayor to run for councilor at large, the Election Department said.
Garrison could not be reached Tuesday, but she changed the recorded greeting on her answering machine message to say “Team Garrison” was running for City Council. Earlier Tuesday, the message told callers of her campaign for mayor.
The eighth dropout, Divo Rodrigues Monteiro, also pulled papers for both mayor and councilor at large. On Tuesday afternoon, Monteiro held out hope for both offices.
“For City Council, I have signatures,” Monteiro said. “For mayor, it’s 50-50 I make it.”
When the clock struck 5 p.m. and the deadline passed, Monteiro did not meet the threshold for mayor, according to the Election Department.
He may have to settle for City Council.