Urban details leap out at Robert Consalvo

Mayoral candidate Robert Consalvo keeps the focus on people and the things that concern them.
Mayoral candidate Robert Consalvo keeps the focus on people and the things that concern them.

Eighth in a series of profiles of Boston’s 12 mayoral candidates.

Robert Consalvo was rushing to a barbecue with supporters when he spotted graffiti on a bridge in Hyde Park.

“That was not there a day ago,” he said, quickly dialing the mayor’s hotline on his cellphone. “Graffiti you’ve got to call right in or else it breeds more graffiti.”

Consalvo’s keen eye reflected the kind of street-level concern that would have pleased another Italian-American from Hyde Park.


Like Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Consalvo, a district city councilor and mayoral candidate, is obsessed with sidewalks and crosswalks, revels in the minutiae of governing, and believes that a city leader should be ubiquitous, boasting, “No one does the neighborhood block parties and ribbon cuttings better than me.”

Get This Week in Politics in your inbox:
A weekly recap of the top political stories from The Globe, sent right to your email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

At 44, Consalvo is 26 years younger than the mayor; as a boy, he held signs for Menino when he ran for city councilor. Consalvo says if he is elected mayor, he will embrace the “urban mechanic” ethos that has defined Menino’s 20-year-tenure.

“The image is about the guy who is the problem solver, the guy who can get things done, the guy who people can rely on,” Consalvo said. “I’m the guy who is going to be able to take the baton and keep moving the city forward.”

On the campaign trail, Consalvo is more likely to mention the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who hired Consalvo out of college, as his role model. But Consalvo’s passion for constituent services and his ideas for Boston — from installing rubber sidewalks to fining banks that let foreclosed properties crumble — are straight out of the Menino playbook.

The similarities between Consalvo and Menino could appeal to voters who want the new mayor to keep Menino’s approach.

Robert Consalvo says he has a big vision for Boston, but adds that the people want the graffiti and potholes to be handled too.


Olive Fagan, a 40-year-old Dorchester voter, said she was glad when Consalvo campaign staff members told her that the candidate had the same goals for the city as the outgoing mayor.

“I’m looking for the next Mayor Menino,” said Fagan, who went to see Consalvo speak at a Mattapan luncheon over the weekend. “He was doing it for the people.”

Drawing comparisons to a sitting mayor with an 80 percent approval rating should make for a tremendous advantage, but there could be hidden pitfalls.

“The mayor is still the 800-pound gorilla of Boston politics,” said Councilor Steve Murphy, a friend of Consalvo’s. “He’s had a remarkable run of success. If people view Rob as something of a continuation of that, it could be positive. If on the other hand, people are looking for something different, it could be seen as a negative.”

Murphy cautioned voters to note significant differences between Consalvo and Menino, who has been criticized by past opponents as having a domineering governing style.


“Rob is a consensus builder,” Murphy said. “He likes to listen. . . . He takes his job seriously, but not himself too seriously.”

Unlike Menino, who famously eschewed computers for years, Consalvo is a fast talker who embraces technology, constantly updating his Twitter feed and posting lists on his campaign website such as “8 Reasons Illuminated Crosswalks are Incredible.”

“I love my listicles,” he said.

Unlike Menino, he does not have an overwhelming campaign chest. Consalvo has raised more than $636,000, but has already spent $612,000, most of it on staff and television commercials. In one quirky ad, he hits three-point shots on a basketball court as he tells voters about his record, his wife Michelle who is a YMCA program director, and his three young children.

He shrugs off concerns about money, saying the campaign is taking in about $50,000 a week from individual donors, more than enough to keep him on television through the preliminary election on Sept. 24.

The three-pointer commercial has been an ice-breaker with voters.

“They take one look at me and say you can’t possibly be an athlete,” said Consalvo, an avid basketball and tennis player who is 5-foot-6 and a self-proclaimed “yo-yo dieter.”

Consalvo fell in love with politics as a child, standing at street intersections holding signs for Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, who hired Consalvo’s father, Robert, as his chief of staff.

“I loved the excitement of it,” the younger Consalvo said.

He left Boston for Xavier University in Ohio, studied political science, and as a junior interned in Kennedy’s office, answering phones and organizing tours of Congress.

After college, he was hired full time to work in Kennedy’s Washington office, where he spent four years.

In 1995 he became legislative aide to state Representative Angelo Scaccia, a Readville Democrat, but went back to Kennedy in 1998, this time as his driver.

Consalvo said he was inspired watching Kennedy meet with constituents and fight for causes like health care reform.

“The senator always stood up for the little guy,” Consalvo said.

Consalvo invited Kennedy to his wedding in 1998. Kennedy did not attend, but sent a gift: a print of a painting of daffodils Kennedy made for his wife and signed “To Rob and Michelle, with warmest wishes for a long and very happy life together.” The print hangs in Consalvo’s living room.

In 2001, Consalvo made his first foray into elected office, losing his bid for City Council by 62 votes. He ran successfully the following year and has been reelected five times without opposition.

One of the first ordinances he authored and got passed was John’s Law, which requires police to impound the vehicles of drunk drivers for up to 12 hours after an arrest for driving under the influence. Boston was the first city to enact the law, first passed in New Jersey in 2001 and named for John Elliott, a 22-year-old US Naval Academy graduate killed by a drunk driver.

Bill Elliott, John Elliott’s father, recalled how Consalvo called him at his office in 2002. He had just seen him on “The Today Show” talking about John’s Law and wanted to find a way to bring it to Boston.

“For him to reach out to us in another state to introduce his first ordinance to serve his constituents is remarkable,” said Elliott, who remains friends with Consalvo. “It shows that he’s willing to go outside the box to benefit the city.”

Consalvo’s ideas often come from other cities and states, usually from “Governing” magazine, which Consalvo describes as “the Sports Illustrated for geeky guys like me that work in municipal government.”

“Governing” is where Consalvo first read about ShotSpotter, an acoustic system that immediately alerts police to gunshots. Consalvo spent two years trying to bring it to Boston, before the city finally purchased the system in 2007.

Bob Vance, a Hyde Park community leader and friend, said Consalvo has made his reputation in finding seemingly small solutions to large problems.

“That demonstrates the practical side of his experience,” Vance said. “He could easily say, ‘I’m going to lower taxes or revitalize something.’ But his experience tells him this is what can be actually done. He won’t come out and say lofty things or make big, sweeping promises. The way that he looks at it is with a nuts-and-bolts eye.”

Consalvo said he has a big vision for Boston. But he said voters expect a mayor to do it all.

“Invest in our schools, have a plan on public safety,” he said. “But call that graffiti in, be at the Eagle Scout awards, fix the pothole in front of my house.”

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeMCramer.