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John Connolly campaign to get $500,000 push

Group backs candidate’s education views

Councilor at Large John Connolly’s campaign will get a cash infusion from Stand for Children, an education group based in Oregon that likes his positions on charter schools.

DINA RUDICK/GLOBE STAFF/FILE

Councilor at Large John Connolly’s campaign will get a cash infusion from Stand for Children, an education group based in Oregon that likes his positions on charter schools.

An education advocacy group is poised to make the largest outside expenditure yet in the Boston mayor’s race, throwing upward of $500,000 behind City Councilor John R. Connolly’s campaign, potentially elevating Connolly’s profile by accentuating his stance on a calling-card policy issue.

Stand for Children, a national nonprofit, said it decided in early August to back Connolly. The group is planning what one adviser called “a full-frontal assault” on his behalf, replete with advertising on broadcast and cable TV, direct mail, a phone campaign, and door-knocking by more than 1,000 of the group’s supporters.

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The campaign is intended to boost Connolly above the field before the Sept. 24 preliminary election whittles the 12 candidates down to two finalists.

A person with direct knowledge of the Stand for Children strategy, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the advocacy group had told fund-raisers it plans to have between $500,000 and $750,000 ready to spend by Labor Day.

Jason Cincotti, a Boston political consultant working with Stand for Children, said it had not decided specifically how to allocate the money; all options are being considered, he said.

Surveys have suggested that Connolly is already near the top of the field, and the cash infusion on his behalf could eclipse the spending totals of several other campaigns. As of July 31, Connolly had more than $630,000 in his campaign account, behind the nearly $1.2 million that Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley had as of Aug. 15, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Stand for Children, which is not bound by limits on political spending, said it decided to back Connolly after vetting the education policy proposals of the entire field and narrowing its list of finalists to Connolly, Conley, former health care executive Bill Walczak, and nonprofit executive John Barros.

The group’s field manager, Kathryn Alexander, said it settled on Connolly after candidates submitted policy-based questionnaires, which staff reviewed with the candidates’ names and other identifying details redacted.

The process also factored in political viability, based on independent polling, and reviews of the campaigns’ resources.

In an interview Monday, Stand for Children Massachusetts executive director Jason Williams said Connolly is “incredibly well-aligned with all of our positions,” which emphasize lengthening the school day and school year, and increasing access to prekindergarten.

As a city councilor, Connolly last year voted against the teachers union contract, arguing for longer school days.

“We’ve seen him taking pretty strong stands on all those issues,” Williams said.

Connolly was not told of the group’s endorsement until Monday night, Williams added.

Last year, Stand for Children’s ballot committee spent $400,000 pushing for a statewide ballot measure that would have emphasized classroom performance in school decisions about teacher retention.

Opposed by labor unions, that ballot initiative was withdrawn after Stand for Children and the Massachusetts Teachers Association negotiated a compromise prioritizing teacher evaluations over teacher seniority in staffing decisions.

In 2010, the group helped advocate for a law that lifted the moratorium on charter schools in Massachusetts’ urban districts.

Charter schools remain a controversial issue in the mayor’s race. In a Globe survey last month, four candidates – Councilor at Large Felix G. Arroyo, radio station cofounder Charles Clemons, Councilor Rob Consalvo, and Councilor Michael P. Ross – said they oppose boosting the cap that now limits how many new charters can open.

Five others – Barros, Conley, Connolly, Walczak, and state Representative Martin J. Walsh – say the cap should be lifted.

Former city housing chief and state representative Charlotte Golar Richie declined to say whether she supported lifting the overall cap, but said she supports lifting limits on certain kinds of charter schools.

The Stand for Children cash injection on Connolly’s behalf could irritate teachers unions, which are opposed to many of the organization’s – and Connolly’s – policy priorities. Critics have called them anti-union and heavy-handed.

And the prospect that the local branch of a sprawling, out-of-state group based in Oregon would seek to influence the first open mayor’s race in Boston in 20 years is unlikely to sit well with other campaigns. Many are operating on shoestring budgets and sweat equity.

Still, the outside spending could provide a substantial boost to Connolly’s own effort, despite the fact that outside groups are forbidden by law from coordinating with candidates’ campaigns.

The high cost of television ads in the Boston market and the resulting paucity of TV spots could give greater prominence to outside groups launching televised campaigns for any candidate.

Another group, Democrats for Education Reform, has already put roughly $26,000 behind Connolly, while Working America, affiliated with the AFL-CIO, has backed Walsh with about $10,000 so far.

Additional outside money is likely to pour into the race after Labor Day, said strategists for several campaigns, but the money can be seen as meddling from afar.

On Monday, Consalvo sent a letter to Working America asking that it step back from the race.

“If you care about Boston, please understand that our city needs a mayor who will answer only to the people, not someone who is beholden to outside groups like yours,” he wrote. Consalvo has asked the other candidates to abide by the “people’s pledge,” an agreement that discouraged outside spending in last year’s US Senate race.

Williams, of Stand for Children, said the group hopes to wield its influence to elect Connolly so as to tackle the persistent inequities in Boston public schools’ performance.

“Boston really has the opportunity in the near future to be the first large, urban public school district that doesn’t just talk about closing the achievement gap, but actually does it,” he said.

O’Sullivan can be reached at James.OSullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.
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