Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley dove into the Boston mayor’s race on Wednesday with a massive fund-raising advantage and the muscle of almost 20 years in elected office, as the dynamics of the field continued to shift.
State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz said she would not run, leaving the list of prospective candidates with almost no women. Other potential mayoral contenders emerged, including Robert Lewis Jr., a veteran of the Boston Foundation and the administration of outgoing Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
Conley headlined the day when he formally launched his bid with more than $866,000 in his campaign coffers, more than double the amount of any other candidate. Conley, who previously served as a Boston councilor, vowed as mayor to extend a prosecutor’s creed — of giving voice to the voiceless — to Boston’s streets to fight for better schools, affordable housing, and economic opportunity.
In an hour-long interview in his office, a short walk from City Hall, Conley said he was undeterred that other top prosecutors have failed in recent years to win bids for higher office. He said each campaign is unique and his run for mayor will draw on more than his experience the last 11 years as district attorney.
“My campaign is going to be a whole lot more than a public safety, law-and-order campaign,” Conley said. “My goal as mayor of Boston would be to attack . . . root causes of dysfunction and people living in poverty and to improve their lives so they can join the middle class and contribute to the robustness and livability of our city.”
One of Conley’s rivals will be John R. Connolly, a councilor who not only has a similar surname but also lives in the same neighborhood of West Roxbury. The district attorney said it will be easy for voters to distinguish between the two. He pronounced his name “Conley” quickly before exaggerating the name of his opponent.
“C-o-n-n-o-l-l-y,” he said. “Excess letters.”
On Thursday, Connolly will strike back with an event in West Roxbury, according to his campaign. Connolly is scheduled to be endorsed by three officials with deep ties to the neighborhood: Councilor Matt O’Malley, state Representative Edward F. Coppinger, and School Committee member Mary Tamer.
Councilor Rob Consalvo, another potential candidate who represents the southwest corner of the city, said he will announce Thursday whether he will jump into the race. Consalvo lives in Hyde Park, where Conley grew up. Consalvo won Conley’s City Council seat when Conley became district attorney in 2002, and both men would be competing for part of the same base.
Chang-Diaz said that she decided against running after careful consideration. While flattered by calls of support, Chang-Diaz, who is pregnant, said: “I’ve been talking it over with my family, and now is not the right time.”
In an interview Wednesday evening, Lewis said his interest in running for mayor had grown rapidly in the previous 48 hours because neither an African-American nor a candidate with a strong private-sector profile had emerged.
Lewis grew up in East Boston and the South End and worked as executive director of the Boston Center for Youth and Families. Earlier this year, he left The Boston Foundation and launched The BASE, an initiative aimed at constructing a sports and academic academy in the city.
“I would jump into this because I could lead the city, and I don’t want anyone to think of me as the candidate of color,” said Lewis, who is black. “One of the things that I’ve been able to do . . . [is] bridge the gap between the business sector and the community sector, as well as folks in academia.”
Conley, 54, grew up in Hyde Park the oldest of six children in a household with Irish and Italian heritage. As a third-year law student at Suffolk University in 1983, Conley joined the campaign of a little-known candidate running for City Council, Thomas M. Menino.
When Menino became mayor in 1993, Conley won the open seat. He represented Hyde Park for eight years before being appointed district attorney in 2002. Later that year, Conley won the job in his own right after one of his rivals in the Democratic primary, Councilor Brian J. Honan, died unexpectedly during the campaign.
Conley won unopposed in 2006 and 2010. With no competition, Conley has been able to amass the large political war chest that gives him a significant advantage.
“This campaign is not going to be won with money,” Conley said. “This campaign is going to be won with hard work in every neighborhood in Boston.”
Former attorney general Thomas F. Reilly entered the the 2006 governor’s race as a top contender, but lost. Other top prosecutors, including Martha Coakley and Scott Harshbarger, also fell short when they ran for higher office.
“When was the last time a [district attorney] or an [attorney general] was elected for anything but a prosecutor?” asked former councilor Michael J. McCormack. “They are viewed as law enforcement. That’s his impediment, to convince people that there’s something else to him.”
Conley countered that his experience as district attorney will enrich his candidacy.
“If anything, I think my experiences in their totality as both a city councilor and a district attorney form the basis of who I am.”
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