Felix Arroyo would have been happy to talk to Marty Walsh on the phone the other night. They needed to discuss whether Arroyo was willing to endorse him for mayor, but the conversation did not need to be in person.
Walsh is “a finalist for mayor, and he doesn't have time to meet with everyone, especially at the end of a long day of campaigning,” said Arroyo, his former rival. “But he said, ‘Look, just come over.’ I went to his house at 10:30 with my papers on poverty and the achievement gap, and I didn’t leave until 12:30. It was a great conversation. He didn’t even ask whether I would support him. We just talked.”
Arroyo said they bonded, especially over their shared history as sons of immigrants: Arroyo’s parents are from Puerto Rico, Walsh’s from Ireland. “His story is like the story of a lot of people in my community,” Arroyo said.
For John Barros — who, like Arroyo, was eliminated in the preliminary mayoral vote last month — the process of deciding whom to back was more deliberate. He met with John Connolly at Haley House, the Dudley Square coffee shop that doubles as Barros’s unofficial office. Then he met with Walsh and decided they were closer to each other on both style and substance.
So there the three of them were in Egleston Square Tuesday, Barros and Arroyo enthusiastically endorsing Walsh and, in doing so, possibly changing the calculus of the mayor’s race. Together they boost Walsh among constituencies with which he was expected to struggle.
The backing of these rivals dents the stereotype of Walsh as just a union guy from Dorchester who cannot hope to win enough support outside that base to get elected. The support of Barros, who made just as much of an issue of the schools as Connolly, helps address the notion that Connolly is the only finalist who is serious about improving the schools.
As it turned out, education was a front-burner issue Tuesday. The city school bus drivers’ wrong-headed and illegal work stoppage — or slowdown, or whatever that was — quickly became a campaign issue.
Connolly promptly called for the drivers to return to work or face serious sanctions. For him, this union-driven skirmish was a political gift.
But Walsh handled it well, too, declaring unequivocally that the drivers should immediately get back to work. When a reporter asked if the job action left the proudly prolabor candidate “between a rock and hard place,” Walsh calmly replied, “There’s no rock and no hard place here. I come down on the side of the children.”
Arroyo’s endorsement of Walsh was expected, given their mutual veneration of organized labor. Barros’s endorsement was less predictable. Walsh’s appeal tends to be personal and emotional, while Barros has never seen a policy he didn’t want to pick apart. But the two men connected.
“When you talk to Marty, he talks about relational things, the people he’s helped,” Barros said. “That’s great, but he has to talk about those things in broader terms, and he will.” Months of appearing together in forum after forum have made the candidates astute critics of one another. “Marty will go to personal stories, and I’ll say, ‘That’s why we need affordable housing!’ ” Barros said with a laugh.
What do the endorsements mean? It’s more than a boost among communities of color and progressives or even their networks of impassioned supporters. These guys also love to campaign. They won’t just endorse and walk away.
Walsh had hoped to announce three major endorsements Tuesday. He has been courting third-place finisher Charlotte Golar Richie, as well. Barros and Arroyo met with her as late as Saturday to urge her on board, but her next move remains a mystery.
While Connolly is battling hard to improve his performance among voters of color, Walsh has won the first round. Perhaps the most important message sent Tuesday is that this election may be decided on different turf than any mayor’s race in Boston’s history.