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Political upbringing

First to get into race, John Connolly stresses education

The last seven months have been a whirlwind for John Connolly, the three-term city councilor who now finds himself one step closer to becoming mayor of the city where he has lived almost all his life.

Once considered a daring council member gone rogue, he was the first candidate to jump into the race and the only one to declare his intentions before Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the 20-year incumbent, announced he would not seek a sixth term.

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“I got in this race at a time when I thought I would be squaring off with Mayor Menino,” Connolly told a crowded ballroom at a campaign rally this month. “We are a better city for 20 years of his leadership . . . but at the same time, as we move into the future, we will face new challenges.”

Pushing a message of stronger schools for every Boston child while often remaining lighthearted and self-deprecating on the campaign trail, Connolly sat at or near the top of every poll conducted during the preliminary race.

Connolly, 40, was born and raised in Roslindale, the neighborhood where his father Michael served as a state representative.

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His family life, from an early age, was entrenched in state politics.

Connolly’s father went on to serve 16 years as secretary of the Commonwealth, while his mother, Lynda, was chief justice of the state’s district courts for eight years.

JESSICA RINALDI FOR THE GLOBE

John Connolly was congratulated by a supporter Tuesday night at his victory party.

His uncle, James Michael Connolly, was a prominent Republican fund-raiser.

“I may have been the only kid who aspired to be secretary of state,” Connolly told the Boston Globe in 2005, during his first, unsuccessful run for City Council. “I wanted to be like my dad.”

A scholar-athlete at Roxbury Latin, he went on to Harvard, class of 1995, where he played football for two years.

He spent two years after graduation teaching at the Nativity Mission School, a Jesuit-run middle school for poor, mostly Hispanic boys on New York’s Lower East Side.

After two school years at Nativity, he taught at Boston Renaissance Charter School, before leaving teaching to attend Boston College Law School and becoming a practicing lawyer in 2001.

Despite his relatively brief tenure in the classroom, Connolly has trumpeted his years as a teacher on the campaign trail, not only during the mayoral race but also during every single municipal campaign he has run.

He first ran for one of the council’s four citywide seats in 2005, but, after making the eight-candidate general election, was not one of the top four vote-getters.

Connolly ran again two years later, securing the council seat he has held since.

Connolly has not shied from a fight during his time on the council, clashing at times with Menino, former school superintendent Carol R. Johnson, and the Boston Teachers Union.

Those skirmishes endeared Connolly to troves of supporters — many of whom are Boston public school parents — but also gave rise to a vocal group of political opponents including teachers union members, Menino supporters, and some fellow City Hall insiders.

As a mayoral candidate, Connolly began and ended every appearance by focusing on education as he made appearances across the city at elementary schools, senior centers, and more than 100 neighborhood house parties hosted by supporters. On Tuesday night, he expanded on that.

“We think the future starts with our schools,” he said, “but it connects to the need for safe streets, healthy neighborhoods, and good jobs — and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

Wesley Lowery can be reached at wesley.lowery@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.
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