The polls have closed and the tallying of votes is beginning in the preliminary election in the first wide-open mayoral race in Boston in two decades. After months of energetic campaigning across the city, the dozen candidates can do only one thing now: wait.
The top two vote-getters tonight will vie in the Nov. 5 final election to helm the city into the future, taking over from Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the” urban mechanic” who, beset by various ailments, has decided not to seek a sixth term.
As of 6 p.m., 86,305 voters, or 23.4 percent of registered voters, had cast ballots. That’s more than 25,000 more votes than cast by the same time in the 2009 preliminary municipal election.
Throughout the day, the candidates dashed to senior centers, retail outlets, and schools to make their final appeals in a massive citywide get-out-the vote push. They also hit the phones to rally supporters and identify undecided voters. City Councilor at Large John R. Connolly tweeted a photo of himself, sans necktie, making calls after a busy morning of campaigning.
Dan Conlin, a 23-year-old who works for the state Department of Revenue, was the first to vote at Holy Name Parish in West Roxbury. He chose Connolly.
“Growing up, one of the things that was important to me was education and [Connolly] grabbed my attention with that,” Conlin said.
At the West Roxbury branch library where nearly 300 people had voted in the two precincts by 10 a.m., Judie Walsh, 64, of West Roxbury said she wasn’t sure who she was going to vote for until she walked into the polling place.
She had narrowed it down to three candidates – Connolly, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, and Representative Martin J. Walsh.
“It was very difficult because they are such a good group, but I like everything about Walsh,’’ she said. “He just seems to connect with me more.’’
She said that she decided against Conley because “he is great in the position he is in now. I was hoping he would step up some more.’’ She voted against Connolly because “he just didn’t click with me.’’
At the Chittick School on the Mattapan/Hyde Park line, Marie Blas, 59, settled on non-profit executive John Barros for mayor.
“I have election fatigue, there have been so many. But I felt today was important,” Blas said. “It was hard to choose for mayor. We had [retiring Mayor Thomas M.] Menino for so long, so you don’t really know the background of these people. I tried to read up on them, but it was still so confusing. There are so many candidates.”
At the Mildred Community Center in Mattapan, Lilly Johnson, 53, a hospital worker, said she voted for former city housing chief Charlotte Golar Richie.
“I didn’t know who I was going to vote for up until last night,” Johnson said. “I narrowed it down to three and made a choice when I got here. I know the work [Golar Richie] does.”
With Menino no longer dominating the political landscape, the candidates have spoken at countless forums on such issues as charter schools, affordable housing, and transportation. They’ve knocked on doors, gripped residents’ hands, released TV ads, and their campaigns have plastered the city with signs. At least one candidate hired an airplane to fly over the city trailing a campaign banner.
The Globe has reported that experts say the outcome of the contest is difficult to predict. Several recent polls have found Connolly leading the pack. Other strong contenders, according to the polls, include Golar Richie, Conley, and Walsh.
But political observers say that none of the candidates has had a break-through moment that has vaulted them far ahead of the pack.
The other candidates in the race are City Councilor at Large Felix G. Arroyo, radio station executive Charles L. Clemons Jr., City Councilor Rob Consalvo, City Councilor Michael P. Ross, Codman Square Health Center founder Bill Walczak, former teacher David James Wyatt, and City Councilor Charles C. Yancey.
For the most part, the candidates have been civil to each other, reflecting the work they’ve done together in the past on various issues. Some commentators have praised the tone of the race.
Also on today’s ballot, 19 candidates are running for the City Council’s four citywide seats — a field that includes former council members, well-known community leaders, and political newcomers and that will be narrowed to eight finalists.Correspondent Patrick D. Rosso contributed to this report. David Abel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.Andrew Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.