A slew of elected officials and leaders in Boston’s communities of color have weighed mayoral candidate John Connolly in the balance and found him wanting. In recent weeks, City Councilor Felix Arroyo, former Menino cabinet official Charlotte Golar Richie, and former School Committee member John Barros — all of whom failed to advance after the mayoral preliminary election — have endorsed Marty Walsh for the Nov. 5 final. On Saturday, other black luminaries, including City Councilor Tito Jackson, are expected to come out for Walsh.
Some of the Walsh endorsements reflect neighborhood or labor loyalties. The Barros endorsement, however, provides deeper insights into why the city’s minority leaders are lining up with Walsh. Barros actually seems a better fit with Connolly. Their family backgrounds may differ: Barros is the son of Cape Verdean immigrants and Connolly is the scion of a prominent political family. But both are policy wonks with Ivy League diplomas and young families. And each is an unapologetic supporter of lifting the cap on charter schools.
But Barros favors Walsh’s disposition, sense of urgency, and leadership style. He likes the candidate’s collaborative skills and is put off by Connolly’s combativeness, evidenced in his desire to wrestle contract concessions from the Boston Teachers Union.
“There are enough levers to pull without having to pick a fight [with teachers],’’ said Barros. “It’s not in anyone’s interest for this thing to blow up.’’
Barros bristles at efforts to put Walsh in the “old Boston box’’ of the “less tolerant, less inclusive candidate’’ from a white working-class section of Dorchester. On the contrary, he said, Walsh is the “progressive candidate’’ in the race.
Barros ran sixth in the preliminary field of 12. So who cares what he thinks? The answer is basically anyone who witnessed his grasp of complex policy issues and deft personal touch during the grueling preliminary campaign. Since that election, job offers have been arriving on Barros’s doorstep, including a newly minted position to manage a merger of programs at the city’s vocational high school and state-run Roxbury Community College. Barros is weighing his options. But he has no trouble envisioning himself in a Walsh administration.
Barros said that many minority leaders were turned off last October when Connolly unveiled a plan to change the city’s student assignment plan. It was perceived as a way to ensure more neighborhood seats for middle-class white students while giving short shrift to black and Hispanic students living in neighborhoods with fewer good schools. But that criticism doesn’t stand up. Connolly, after all, was flanked by leading black legislators when he unveiled that plan, including state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, who also endorsed Walsh this week.
The simple truth is that Connolly — like Walsh — would knock himself out to do right by Boston’s communities of color, and especially for the city’s poor. But their approaches do differ. And in that regard, the flood of endorsements for Walsh makes good sense. Just a few months ago, hopes were high in many quarters of the city that Boston would elect its first minority mayor. That’s not happening in 2013. But Walsh fulfills that desire for a bigger share of the action in a way that Connolly does not.
Barros cites the 2010 construction of the Salvation Army community center on Dudley Street in Dorchester. At the time, he was heading the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, which served as the community partner for the $100 million-plus development project. City goals called for at least 25 percent of the total work hours to be performed by minority workers. Barros advocated for a goal of 51 percent. He reached out to Walsh, who headed an umbrella organization for the unionized building trades. Walsh embraced the goals and leaned on locals to make it happen. The impact of those jobs on local families and businesses was immediate.
Connolly works in a different time frame. He emphasizes education reforms such as a longer school day and flexible hiring practices for headmasters as the way to enlarge the futures of the city’s black and Hispanic students, who make up about 75 percent of the school district’s population. But closing the academic achievement gap between Boston and suburban students could take many years even under perfect conditions. If successful, the impact of Connolly’s education plan would dwarf Walsh’s approach. But it wouldn’t happen overnight.
Connolly represents a richer future. Walsh represents a more favorable present. And the city’s leaders of color aren’t in the mood to wait.Lawrence Harmon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.