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Collegiality fading in Boston’s mayoral race

As field narrowed down to 2, public appearances fewer and exchanges tense

State Representative Martin J. Walsh (left) spoke to Angel Miranda on the campaign trail. Councilor at Large John R. Connolly spoke to a voter as her daughter spun about him.

GLOBE STAFF Photos

State Representative Martin J. Walsh (left) spoke to Angel Miranda on the campaign trail. Councilor at Large John R. Connolly spoke to a voter as her daughter spun about him.

Mayoral candidates seemed to have been everywhere in the days leading up to the preliminary election, campaigning around-the-clock and shaking hands endlessly at T stops, senior centers, and forums. And while they were competitive, they were collegial, even having a bit of fun together.

But in the days since, it is as if the number of public appearances has been reduced with the number of candidates, and the niceness factor has begun to fade.

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The mayoral race, marked during the preliminary by camaraderie among the 12 candidates, has quickly devolved since last Tuesday into a far less congenial affair, with state Representative Martin J. Walsh and Councilor at Large John R. Connolly feuding personally over campaign finance and police compensation.

With both candidates scrambling to woo voters before Nov. 5, that shift in tone is likely to stay acrimonious in the final five weeks.

Connolly said his time in the first two weeks of the two-person contest must largely be focused on building coalitions and garnering endorsements, rather than on public campaigning. Much of the frenetic affair has moved behind the scenes. Phone calls and fund-raising have replaced handshakes, and meetings with neighborhood leaders have supplanted neighborhood block parties.

“I’m campaigning just as much; it feels like more,” Connolly said Monday after greeting voters in Jamaica Plain. “This is about reaching out to people and building bridges to the people who didn’t support and the places that you didn’t do well.”

Connolly said he meets with ministers, business owners, civil rights leaders, entrepreneurs, and mothers. “I can’t keep up with the size of the list I need to call,” he said, adding that the emphasis is on communities of color, though his outreach efforts are citywide. “We’re racing to be the first person to reach out to people; we’re racing to these opinion leaders.”

Connolly also spent much the last week focused on City Council duties.

Walsh had a busy slate of weekend campaign stops, but both candidates listed just two events on their Monday public schedule. Despite the day’s light event load, the state representative said he too has spent lots of time on the phone making fund-raising appeals and calls seeking endorsements. He has also been holding meetings in his office at the State House.

“I have to do my job as a state legislator,” Walsh said as he greeted commuters at the Dudley Square bus station Monday evening.

The tenor of the campaign changed last Wednesday, one day after the final ballot had been cast determining who would remain in the race. The coalition-building phone calls that started before dawn that day have replaced the frenetic campaign events that had previously filled both men’s waking hours. Both reached out to candidates who failed to advance, something Connolly said has become a daily task as he hopes to secure endorsements.

That day Connolly challenged Walsh to commit to a pact intended to steer outside money away from the race. Walsh responded with a caustic, sarcastic statement questioning Connolly’s motives and later followed up by saying he didn’t trust Connolly.

Such out-of-the-gate spats are not unusual in campaigns. In the first few hours after a field has been narrowed to two, candidates know they have the spotlight and are looking to score points. Further, the so-called People’s Pledge has become something of a staple in recent Massachusetts races, with ready-made sound bites and positions.

But, just as the controversy over the pledge looked as if it could fade, a fiscal grenade threw both candidates off their feet. An arbitration panel decided Friday that Boston police patrolmen earned a pay raise that would cost taxpayers $80 million over six years.

Both campaigns responded, if somewhat unsure of their footing. In a statement late Friday, Walsh sought to draw “a fundamental difference between myself and my opponent,” saying he could have instead saved costs through a better relationship and bargaining position with the union.

A few hours later, Connolly released a brief statement saying he planned to study the decision, then decide about how to vote when the ruling comes before the City Council.

In a Saturday morning e-mail partially titled, “Follow-Up,” Walsh took the politically risky tack of turning up the heat on Mayor Thomas M. Menino, accusing him of “irresponsible negotiating tactics” and calling for the city and police to return to the negotiating table.

Connolly, perhaps sensing an opportunity to build support among undecided Menino loyalists, pounced, holding a State House press conference. In a press release, he called it “outrageous for Marty Walsh to blame the mayor.”

He reiterated the sentiment from the stump Monday, this time calling it “outlandish” to blame the mayor.

Walsh said Monday evening that the tone of the campaign may have become more heated because the issues are bit more charged. But he downplayed the notion the rhetoric has or would get nasty. “I don’t think this campaign is going to take a negative turn,” he said.

Michael Levenson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Akilah Johnson can be reached at ajohnson@globe.com.
Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.
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