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Voters will expect a contest of ideas

Irony of ironies: The first open mayoral election in the era of Boston as a majority-minority city will pit two candidates of Irish descent against each other.

But this won’t be an old-fashioned Boston neighborhood race. Rather, it will be a campaign of ideas, causes, and constituencies spread across the city.

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City Councilor John Connolly made it to the final not because he was the favorite of Irish neighborhoods but because he ran a strong ideas campaign. His principal idea, of course, is the need to bring big improvements, including a longer day, to the Boston Public Schools. What he promised wasn’t the incrementalism of Tom Menino’s era, but rather more dramatic change. Connolly campaigned hard on that platform, making it clear throughout that he was willing to battle the recalcitrant Boston Teachers Union to get it done.

Marty Walsh, the heavy favorite of the unions, ran as a pragmatic, deal-making former labor leader, one who can use his bona fides with the movement to win reasonable deals for the city. That was enough in the preliminary; whether it proves persuasive to New Boston in the final remains a key question.

Despite some highly credible showings, the other candidates simply didn’t catch fire. In some cases, as with neighborhood activists John Barros and Bill Walczak, whose campaigns crackled with plans and proposals and data, it was simply too much of a leap without the springboard of an elected office. Although Mike Ross’s notion of making Boston more of an international city was appealing, his larger themes were sometimes at cross purposes. Rob Consalvo, who ran a Menino-like campaign of smaller notions and nostrums, seemed to miss the city’s desire for change after 20 years of the incumbent.

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Charlotte Golar Richie and Felix Arroyo, meanwhile, miscalculated by basing their campaigns on overly optimistic assumptions about identity politics.

As with so many prosecutors, Dan Conley, a middle-age hopeful who emphasized his experience and steady hand at the tiller as he ran in a youthful field, never quite made the transition from lawman to plausible mayor.

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Still, it was civil, interesting, credible campaign, one worthy of both the city and the moment.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.
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