There are some misleading narratives about Boston’s first open mayoral election in decades. The most outlandish is this: There is no difference between the two candidates. Yes, they’re both Irish-Americans in early middle age who grew up in politically engaged families. But their priorities, loyalties, and leadership approaches couldn’t differ more.
City Councilor John Connolly, 40, is fundamentally a reformer. He frames issues in terms of desired outcomes — a simpler, fairer school assignment plan; an end to the student achievement gap; greater entrepreneurship in neighborhoods; a more innovative arts scene — and then seeks to deploy city resources in new ways.
State Representative Martin Walsh, 46, is more rooted in the establishment. His longstanding contacts with the traditional sources of clout — unions, neighborhood groups, elected officials — form the backbone of his campaign. His endorsements from city workers, former rivals, and State House colleagues have helped him advance in the polls. Most organized sources of power in the city are behind Walsh; Connolly’s base comes from more issue-oriented groups, and from grass-roots families and individuals.
Walsh argues that, with so many constituencies by his side, he has the credibility to push for changes from within. He’s sincere in that belief. As a cancer survivor and recovering alcoholic who has turned around his life, Walsh isn’t the tool of any outside force. He, too, promises to fight for a longer school day, less red tape at City Hall, and more neighborhood development.
But in choosing Walsh, back when there were 12 candidates in the race, some of these groups felt they knew what they were getting. Savvy, experienced operators with large blocs of votes don’t endorse candidates who are eager to push in unfamiliar directions. Walsh is more deferential to traditional political processes than Connolly; he must understand, on some level, that the endorsements he received are a down payment on maintaining the status quo. On the campaign trail, with every reason to want to demonstrate his independence, he was reluctant to urge the City Council to reject an overly generous salary award of a 25.4 percent over six years to police patrolmen — a deal he agreed was bad for the city.
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