Walsh enters race for Boston mayor
State Representative Martin J. Walsh, who as the son of Irish immigrants rose from the hard labor of construction to a position of power on Beacon Hill, formally announced Wednesday that he will be a candidate for mayor of Boston.
The prospect of Walsh’s candidacy has already been celebrated in the west of Ireland, where his photograph was splashed across the pages of a local paper that boasted of his ties to Connemara.
His story may evoke the old Boston and a century of mayors with Irish surnames, but he said his candidacy will resonate in what has been called the new Boston, an increasingly diverse city populated by a tapestry of skin tones and ethnicities.
“I think the people of Boston are going to elect a mayor who they can best relate to, they can trust, and they feel will represent their best interests,” Walsh said in an hourlong interview Wednesday, on his 46th birthday. “If you have a family that is being devastated by substance abuse, I don’t think it matters whether it is old Boston or new Boston. If you have economic problems and you are about to lose your house, I don’t think it matters whether it is old Boston or new Boston.”
Walsh vowed to anchor his campaign around his work in the Legislature, which he said emphasized economic development, education, and substance abuse treatment. He said his achievements will set him apart in a field dominated by members of the City Council, a body with limited political power.
“I want to be mayor because I have a record of accomplishment over 16 years as a legislator representing the people of Boston,” Walsh said.
Last week, Walsh upstaged his own announcement by acknowledging when asked by reporters that he planned to mount a mayoral bid. It was a different tack than taken by most politicians, who often give noncommittal answers about a campaign, hoping to maximize the splash in a choreographed kickoff. To the chagrin of his political operatives and communications specialists, Walsh admitted that he doesn’t have much of a filter.
“When you ask me a question, I’m giving you an answer,” Walsh said. “That’s just who I am. It’s how I grew up. I don’t want to play that dodge game, even in the campaign.”
Walsh is the latest entrant in an expanding field of mayoral hopefuls that already included city councilors John R. Connolly, Rob Consalvo, and Felix G. Arroyo; Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley; and Bill Walczak, a founder of the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester.
Two others, Will Dorcena and Charles Clemons, have said they are running but have raised little money. Several others have publicly said they are considering a campaign, including Councilor Michael P. Ross.
Another potential candidate, John F. Barros, said Wednesday he is still “seriously considering” a run. Barros, executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, is the first Cape Verdean to serve on the Boston School Committee. His candidacy would add more diversity to a field dominated by white men.
To mount a credible campaign, Barros said he will need to build a citywide coalition and raise $1.6 million.
“My plan is to take the next four or five days and convene four or five folks and continue talking,” Barros said.
In the race to succeed Mayor Thomas M. Menino, candidates have until May 13 to apply for nomination papers, the first step in getting on the ballot for a Sept. 24 preliminary election. The top two vote-getters will face off on Nov. 5.
Walsh lives in Dorchester’s Savin Hill section and is single with a long-term girlfriend. His parents emigrated from Connemara, and he grew up the older of two boys on Taft Street.
Walsh followed his father into the trades, working first as a laborer on Commonwealth Pier, building what would become Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center. Drawn to politics as a sign holder at an early age, Walsh ran in a 1997 special election to fill an open seat in the state’s House of Representatives and has been reelected eight times.
His most difficult political stand, Walsh said, came a few months into his tenure, when he voted against reinstituting the death penalty. At the time, there had been a series of high-profile homicides, some involving the deaths of children.
His proudest vote, he said, was preserving gay marriage. “People say, ‘That must have been tough for you.’ That wasn’t tough at all,” Walsh recalled. “I got some difficult [phone] calls on that. But you know something, it was the right thing to do.”
Taking courses at night while he served in the Legislature, Walsh earned a degree from Boston College in 2009, according to his campaign. In 2011, he became business manager of the Boston Building Trades, an umbrella group that represents unions of ironworkers, electricians, and others. In a statement, Walsh said that effective Friday, he will resign from his post as business manager.
The statement said Walsh had $200,000 in his campaign account, with commitments from backers to raise at least $400,000 more. Walsh will have strong ties to organized labor, which may provide a significant boost in a crowded preliminary election in which a strong field organization may make the difference.
He vowed to build a campaign that extends far beyond labor. Walsh said he was proud to live in the 02125 ZIP code, one of the most diverse in the United States.
He said he is going to compete in every precinct in the city for votes the same way he represents the diversity of Dorchester on Beacon Hill.