The first high-profile coup is complete in the tightly contested fight to become Boston’s next mayor.
Councilor at Large John R. Connolly won the endorsement Monday of state Representative Carlo P. Basile, an East Boston powerbroker with a potent political organization. Basile had originally backed the mayoral bid of Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, but the pair split after a disagreement over a proposed casino at Suffolk Downs.
Conley pushed in May to allow the entire city to vote on a casino, instead of limiting the referendum to East Boston, the neighborhood that would be most directly affected by a casino. The stand cost Conley the endorsement.
“That was a deal-breaker for me,” Basile said Monday as he stood next to Connolly on a street in East Boston. “I represent East Boston, and I think it should be just an East Boston vote.”
Basile had been courted by other mayoral candidates, but he said he settled on Connolly because he has known his family for 15 years. Basile also noted that he is the parent of two Boston public school students and likes Connolly’s focus on education. Perhaps most crucially, Connolly came out early in favor of an East Boston-only vote on the proposed casino.
Across town, the Conley campaign offered no hint of disappointment.
“Dan is not backing down or changing his position,” said Conley campaign spokesman Michael Sherry. “He continues to believe a citywide vote is the best thing for all of Boston. He also thinks we need to have a broader discussion about how a casino in East Boston would affect not just the surrounding area, but the city as a whole.”
Basile’s defection could matter. With 12 candidates on the ballot, the electorate will be splintered, and voters could be looking for clues to help sort through such a large field.
“Endorsements matter in neighborhood politics,” said Erin O’Brien, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “Each of these 12 candidates are smart to line up as many of these neighborhood folks as they can.”
Basile also offers entry into a neighborhood without a local candidate for mayor, and he could help Connolly expand beyond his home area in West Roxbury. Several endorsements in this race have come from outside a candidate’s natural base, helping campaigns transcend geography.
Councilor Rob Consalvo has gained traction beyond his home in Hyde Park with the aid of Senator Anthony W. Petruccelli of East Boston. Representative Martin J. Walsh of Dorchester won the backing of Representative Elizabeth A. Malia, who represents Jamaica Plain.
For Conley, the backing of Basile was an early victory that gave him a foothold a long way from his base in Hyde Park and West Roxbury. East Boston seemed like fertile territory for Conley’s law-and-order image as district attorney, especially among the neighborhood’s working class white voters, said Jeffrey M. Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University.
“In this race, everything counts; each candidate is desperate for support and resources wherever they can find them,” Berry said of Basile’s defection. “It’s not an earth-shattering change, but it’s not trivial, because this is an area where Conley needs to pick up some votes.”
Basile’s reach showed Monday as he gave Connolly a tour of the Salesian Boys & Girls Club in East Boston, where the state representative once went every day as a child. Basile knew the Rev. John Nazzaro, who ran the club. He knew other staff members, who greeted him with hugs. Basile even knew the police officer working the construction detail outside.
Basile introduced them all to Connolly. And when it was Connolly’s turn to talk about a casino vote, he made it clear where he stood on East Boston.
“I have supporters who support the casino, and I have supporters who are against the casino,” Connolly said as Basile listened. “But I believe fundamentally the neighborhood of East Boston should decide the casino question. I stand by that. I’m honored to have Representative Basile’s support.”