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The Boston Globe

Politics

Mayoral endorsements coveted, but impact unclear

Mayoral candidates John Connolly (left) and Martin Walsh brought along some of their endorsers for their first general election debate last week.

Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff

Mayoral candidates John Connolly (left) and Martin Walsh brought along some of their endorsers for their first general election debate last week.

Jimmie Adams was walking through Mattapan Square, saw the red and blue “Martin J. Walsh for Mayor” signs, and decided to go see who was down there.

His state senator, Linda Dorcena Forry, was enthusiastically endorsing her State House colleague’s candidacy for mayor. Adams stood off to the side, listening last week as Dorcena Forry and a round robin of speakers listed the reasons they viewed Walsh as more qualified to be mayor of Boston than his rival, Councilor at Large John R. Connolly.

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What he didn’t hear mentioned was the issue that matters most to him: making it easier for people with criminal records to get jobs. Adams said he respects Dorcena Forry, whom he has voted for repeatedly. But, he said, endorsements from her and other elected officials won’t necessarily influence his decision on Election Day.

“We have a saying in the neighborhood: Don’t talk about it; be about it. Show me,” said the 52-year-old Adams, who has been out of work for more than a year. “I just get one vote. I don’t take it for granted. Who can help me get a job? That’s who I’m looking for.”

Walsh and Connolly have been on a tear, trying to secure endorsements from people with influence in communities of color, where neither candidate did especially well in the preliminary election. Those communities are expected to play a decisive role in determining who will be elected mayor Nov. 5.

There are several reasons to court individuals, organizations, and institutions whose reputations and platforms will provide entree into communities where a candidate is not always as well known or well received.

The theory is that by winning the stamp of approval from those with stature in a community, a candidate can enhance his credibility within that voting bloc. Endorsers often become proxies or emissaries within their sphere of influence.

‘Political endorsements without actual support are just 60-second sound bites or an evening news story.’

Rev. Bruce Wall, who has endorsed John Connolly for mayor of Boston 
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But the question becomes: Will that translate into voters casting their ballot for a particular candidate?

“There are several reasons to endorse,” said John F. Barros, who finished sixth in the preliminary election and is backing Walsh. “Optics and rebranding. Who you are is somewhat informed by who your friends are, and who is willing to endorse you.

“Some of us bring organizations. Some of us bring infrastructure,” Barros said. “Some of us are willing to be surrogates, and beyond being surrogates, some are willing to work and knock on doors.”

Walsh and Connolly are seeking support particularly from black and Latino clergy, elected officials, business leaders, and community activists, as well as their former rivals.

At event after event, these supporters flank candidates.

Barros and Felix G. Arroyo, who finished fifth in the preliminary election, are often seen on the campaign trail with Walsh, standing beside him at house parties and senior centers. So far, Walsh has garnered backing from at least nine black and Latino officials; Connolly has gotten none but has mustered community support in other quarters.

More than two dozen members of the business community stood with Connolly, who also was endorsed by the Bay State Banner newspaper, as he announced a plan to boost entrepreneurship in Roxbury. And the Revs. William Dickerson, Miniard Culpepper, and Bruce Wall — high-profile members of the black clergy who endorsed Connolly — were part of his entourage when arrived at the first mayoral debate of the general election.

“Political endorsements without actual support are just 60-second sound bites or an evening news story,” Wall wrote in one of his frequent Boston Praise Radio & TV advisories. “The line of decision has been drawn and the question remains, ‘Which power base in Boston will determine the outcome of the election?’ Will the preachers and their endorsement be the deciding factor, or will the endorsements of Charlotte Golar Richie, City Councilor Felix Arroyo, and former School Committee member John Barros determine the outcome of the election?”

Those three candidates captured nearly one-third of the votes cast in the preliminary election, and they showed particular strength in communities of color. At one precinct in the heart of Roxbury, for example, Golar Richie, Arroyo, and Barros combined to win 70 percent of the vote, according to the city’s Election Department.

City Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley said that residents in disenfranchised communities often turn to the leaders who are fighting those iniquities, and candidates must engage “opinion leaders and influencers because there are so many built-in impediments to effectively engage communities that have traditionally been marginalized.”

Residents might be more inclined to listen to a trusted voice within their community, said Pressley, who has not endorsed a candidate for mayor.

“There is a false perception that when communities of color don’t turn out to vote, it is because they are apathetic or disengage,” she said. “It is not out of apathy; it is out of skepticism based upon broken promises and a lack of trust.”

So candidates must do more than stack up a list of endorsements. They must engage and partner with the community to put in place policies that will advance it, she said.

But leadership is not static, and a new political class emerged after the preliminary election. Even though Golar Richie, Arroyo, and Barros lost a shot at the city’s top job, they won political capital.

Leaders in the community earn credibility through the work they do, Dorcena Forry said. People, she said, know Barros because of what he did with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Arroyo from his role as a city councilor working on youth issues, and Golar Richie from her years as a legislator and as former head of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development.

“But now,” she said, “it’s about the boots on the ground. It’s about laying it out for folks, so people understand who do we want to be the next mayor of the city. And let me tell you: This endorsement right here, we are going to work. I am running up to doors, knocking on doors, organizing my community, organizing my constituents. I’m going to be going on television, with my Haitian community.”

The decision about whom to endorse is often based on meetings with supporters and the candidates themselves. Golar Richie did both before backing Walsh. More than 200 of her volunteers, supporters, and campaign staff gathered at a hotel at the beginning of the month for a “Thank You Party.”

As the group commiserated and celebrated, Golar Richie, who placed third during the preliminary, wanted to know how her supporters in the room hoped to maintain the momentum from the campaign and move their agenda forward.

“We do have an opportunity to influence the priorities of the next mayor. We really do,” she told the crowd. “And I would love to hear what you all think.”

More than a dozen people spoke out:

 “Endorse or not, there should be a political statement that uplifts those of us who support you.’’

 “Maybe what the question should be is, should we stay organized and engaged in policy-making?”

 “Third place, approximately 16,000 votes, you are now the de facto black and brown leader in Boston, and as leader, I think whoever the next mayor is, needs to go through you and you report back to us.”

 “Don’t sell us out for cheap. If you’re going to endorse, let them know you have a people behind you.

Golar Richie had another such meeting Saturday, but that one was an introduction between “Team Charlotte” and candidate Walsh.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at akilah.johnson@globe.com.
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