Bill Walczak, cofounder of the Codman Square Health Center, kicked off his campaign to become the mayor of Boston on Sunday, emphasizing his biography and touting his leadership skills to about 90 supporters at a Vietnamese restaurant in Dorchester.
About two months after deciding to jump into the race, Walczak, who has spearheaded a number of projects in Dorchester, framed himself an effective leader with a history of achievement in the community.
“I know the kind of leadership that inspires and produces results,” Walczak said. “Because that’s the kind of leadership I was able to provide, I am able to provide in Boston.”
He entered the Pho Hoa restaurant, directly below his campaign headquarters, at about 4:45 p.m. and was followed by a saxophonist playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The crowd, sipping glasses of white wine and cans of Diet Coke, cheered as he danced his way through the room.
After shaking hands and greeting supporters for a half-hour, Walczak took the stage to applause and spoke in broad strokes about the future of the city, with safe streets and good schools and “jobs of the future.”
‘It was really the first time that blacks and whites had worked together in any meaningful way in Codman Square.’ — Bill Walczak, on bringing health center idea to fruition
With few references to specific policy proposals, most of his 11-minute speech was anchored in his life story. Walczak, 58, told the crowd that he moved to Dorchester with his wife in the early 1970s and recalled a Boston filled with strife.
“The city was really torn apart,” he said. Walczak said he and wife felt called to get involved. She went to school to become a teacher and, Walczak said, he “went off into civic action.”
He described proposing the creation of a health center at a community meeting and the process of bringing that idea to fruition.
“It was really the first time that blacks and whites had worked together in any meaningful way in Codman Square,” said Walczak, who is white.
The candidate said that after four years of work, the health center opened its doors with two doctors and Walczak as the executive director. According to Walczak’s website, the center now has more than 300 employees and a $20 million annual budget. The organization provides outpatient health care and other services.
The Boston resident, now the vice president of external relations for Shawmut Design and Construction, ticked through other bullet points in his career when, he said, he was able to bring people together for the benefit of the community.
In an interview with the Globe before his kickoff began, Walczak emphasized that he is a person of accomplishment and that sets him apart in the field of at least 11 other mayoral hopefuls.
“I’m not a person who just talks about issues,” he said, “I actually have a track record of accomplishing things.”
Many of the people at his kickoff knew Walczak well.
Marcia Sewall, a Walczak supporter and longtime Dorchester resident, said she has known the candidate for about a decade. “I like his energy. I think he is intelligent and thoughtful,” she said.
Back Bay resident Myron Miller, 67, said he was supporting Walczak for mayor, citing his leadership skills. He called Walczak “bright, inventive” and a “very powerful manager.”
Yet even among supporters, there were reminders of the difficulty Walczak faces running in such a crowded field to replace Thomas M. Menino.
Jamaica Plain resident Susan Myers, 67, said she had worked with Walczak and admired his ability to get things done. “He’s really effective,” she said.
Myers said she hadn’t made a final choice for whom she would cast her ballot; she’s still deciding between Walczak and former state representative Charlotte Golar Richie.
Last week, election officials confirmed that Walczak had qualified to be on the ballot for the Sept. 24 preliminary election.
Other candidates with enough signatures for the preliminary election include state Representative Martin J. Walsh; Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley; councilors John R. Connolly, Felix G. Arroyo, Rob Consalvo, Michael P. Ross, and Charles C. Yancey; John F. Barros; Golar Richie; Charles L. Clemons Jr.; and David James Wyatt.
Election officials continue to count signatures on nomination papers for three other potential candidates.
On the fence across the street from the restaurant were two big signs for Connolly. During the event, the one most visible from the restaurant was flanked by smaller signs for Walczak. But after his speech was done, someone took them down and carried them back toward the restaurant.