Councilor John R. Connolly packed a hotel ballroom Wednesday night for the kickoff of his bid for mayor, urging supporters to embrace a new generation of leadership in Boston.
In a forceful speech, he outlined his vision for a city where, he said, entrenched power has stifled progress. Connolly promised “a more inclusive City Hall that listens,” built on the “need for new ideas, new energy, and new leadership.”
“We are a city that constantly gravitates to the status quo,” Connolly said. “I understand why. Boston’s status quo is a really comfortable place for a lot of people. But our comfortable status quo takes a steep toll on our future.”
That status quo, of course, is a reference to the 20-year incumbent, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has yet to decide whether he will seek a sixth term. As in most of his public statements since announcing his bid last month, Connolly reiterated his respect for Menino, saying the mayor’s love for Boston is unquestionable.
But Connolly then leveled a litany of criticisms against the administration. The status quo, Connolly said, hurts Boston’s poorest families in a city increasingly populated by “haves” and “have nots.” He spoke about working to curb domestic violence and break the cycle of poverty.
The speech offered the broadest view to date of Connolly’s candidacy, which has focused almost entirely on the Boston public schools. He waited more than halfway through his remarks Wednesday to mention education.
First, he addressed crime, development, business growth, and government transparency and landed a joke that compared getting a permit at City Hall to the maligned reality television show “Southie Rules.” The administration’s idea of getting an online permit to rent a park, Connolly said, means printing a form from a computer and hand-delivering it to City Hall.
Connolly vowed to create “a more inclusive Boston Police Department that reflects the city it protects.”
He pledged to create an Office of Recovery Services to focus on the “scourge of addiction” and the role it plays in destabilizing neighborhoods.
The audience at the Omni Parker House Hotel was a mix of Connolly’s longtime supporters from West Roxbury and Roslindale and parents whose support he cultivated in his work on schools. Many in the crowd wore a suit and tie, seeming at ease in the world of political fund-raisers. Others were newcomers to campaign rallies, like Ward Myers, 38, a physician whose 4-year-old daughter, Clara, attends kindergarten with Connolly’s daughter.
A number of real estate industry representatives, including Jason Gell, attended, expressing frustration over an ordinance Menino recently signed requiring more inspection of rental properties.
“I know [Connolly] has been a friend to property owners and landlords,” Gell, 34, said, adding that he voted for Menino in 2009, but was “disappointed with the real estate czar.”
The event tried to eschew the vibe of a traditional political rally with the help of DJ Val Hyman, an on-air personality with Big City Radio, 101.3 FM. After the speeches, music came courtesy of Bad Rabbits, a Boston funk and rhythm and blues band.
Aaron Campbell, 23, came for the music, but was curious about the politics.
“I know a little bit about Connolly,” Campbell said. “The plus was Bad Rabbits playing.”
Before the music, speakers included Melina Munoz, whom Connolly taught when she was a middle school student, and Greg Selkoe, owner of a fashion company.
Connolly was introduced by his wife, Meg, who told the crowd about going bowling on their first date 13 years ago. She described her husband as an “unassuming, inclusive, and optimistic” man with “contagious energy.”
“He has a unique ability to engage and include people from all walks,” Meg Connolly said. “John not only thinks broadly, but he acts with thoughtful intention and careful attention to all those affected.”
For now, Connolly remains the only major candidate in the race as other hopefuls sit on the sidelines, awaiting a decision by Menino. Any other candidate must decide by 5 p.m. May 13 whether to apply for nomination papers, the first step in running. Campaigns must collect signatures from 3,000 registered voters by May 21. A preliminary election is scheduled Sept. 24. The top two vote-getters will compete Nov. 5.
Two other candidates have said they are running, but have raised almost no money for a campaign. One is Will Dorcena, who won less than 5 percent of the vote when he ran in 2011 for an at-large City Council seat. The other is Charles Clemons, cofounder of TOUCH 106.1 FM, who announced his campaign in 2011 at his 50th birthday party.
At his rally, Connolly’s focus remained on Menino. Connolly concluded his passage on schools by saying he had the “political will and a bold desire to break the status quo.”
He built a refrain of the phrase “20 years,” as he criticized the schools, echoing the time Menino has been in office.
For 20 years, Connolly said, elementary school students have not had regular access to art, music, science, humanities, and physical education.
For 20 years, he said, Boston students have had one of the shortest school days in the country.
For 20 years, he said, high school students have not had an adequate pathway to college.
“Together, we can prove the pundits and the protectors of the status quo wrong,” Connolly said in a call for volunteers. “We can bring new energy, new ideas, and new leadership to City Hall.”