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Council’s Ross joins Boston’s mayoral field

Speaks of inclusion and cites his heritage

If elected, City Councilor Mike Ross would become the first mayor of Boston of Jewish heritage.Wendy Maeda/Globe staff/Globe Staff

City Councilor Michael P. Ross stood in a park overlooking Boston's skyline Thursday and used a BlackBerry to announce via Twitter that he is running for mayor of the city.

The decision to launch his bid on social media sent a signal, Ross said, that his campaign would be different than the eight other candidates who had already jumped in the race.

"Making this announcement the way we did, we're saying we invite you in," Ross said in an interview at his Mission Hill town house as two young campaign aides typed on laptops at his dining room table. "I think we are telling people — telling the city — that this is their race, too. This is their future."


But Ross is also testament to lessons of the past. His father, Stephan , survived the Holocaust, spending five years in 10 concentration camps until US troops liberated him from Dachau in 1945.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the soldiers who freed my father," said Ross, who then described Adolf Hitler's rise to power. "What my family went through at the hands of a democratically elected government has never left me. I really believe that we all have a duty to be involved in our government."

Ross, 41, would be the city's first mayor of Jewish heritage. As the child of an immigrant, he said he has a connection to the city's newest residents. He also has an indelible tie to the region's gay community: His mother has been in a committed relationship with a woman for 35 years.

"She taught me that we don't judge people by how they look or who they love, but by how they treat other people," Ross said.

Ross's candidacy had been anticipated and his formal announcement marked an early turning point as the field of candidates started to settle. Other elected officials probably will not join the race.


"It's the last one I expect," said Lawrence S. DiCara, a former City Council president and longtime political observer of Boston politics. "But it doesn't mean there won't be others."

Candidates have until May 13 to apply for nomination papers, the first step in getting on the ballot for the Sept. 24 preliminary election. The top two vote-getters face off Nov. 5.

Several people from outside the political realm might join the race. A potential candidate is the Rev. Miniard Culpepper of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Dorchester. He said Thursday that he is exploring a run for mayor because it presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to unite Boston.

"There are certain things that need to be said in this election," said Culpepper, who earned a law degree before entering ministry. "There needs to be someone who is committed to economic development in ­every neighborhood in the city. There needs to be a firm commitment to stop the violence in the city."

Other declared candidates include Bill Walczak, a founder of the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester; Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley; city councilors Rob Consalvo, Felix G. Arroyo, and John R. Connolly; and state Representative Martin J. Walsh.

Two others, Will Dorcena and Charles Clemons, have said they are running but have raised little money.

In such a crowded field, candidates will face what political science professor Jeffrey M. Berry described as a "credibility primary" in the coming months as campaigns are scrutinized for the success of their fund-raising, the number of endorsements, and the size of their volunteer networks.


"Politicos around the city judge on how well candidates are doing," said Berry, of Tufts University. "That will begin to influence the broader perception of who is doing well and who is doing poorly."

The race reminds DiCara of 1967, when 10 candidates faced off in a preliminary election that included much of the city's political establishment. Many candidates fell short of expectations.

"People can have great careers and hit a wall," DiCara said. "That could happen to a couple people running now, but I couldn't tell you which ones."

Ross was born in Boston and grew up in Newton the younger of two children. His mother was a speech therapist for Newton Public Schools. His father was a street worker in the administration of Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, helping young people in Columbia Point, the D Street housing projects in South Boston, Mission Hill, and elsewhere.

"There are a lot of people who still come up to me and tell me, 'Your father made me go to school, your father pushed me into college,' " Ross said.

In his early 20s, Ross helped create Boston's first city website. He met Menino and then spent almost two years working on the mayor's advance team. He witnessed Menino in action up-close and earned what Ross described as a "Ph.D. in politics."

Ross entered politics in 1999 when he won an open City Council seat, building a base of support from parents he met while coaching youth soccer in Beacon Hill. In his tenure on the council, Ross has spearheaded improvements in Boston Common, pushed to increase physical education in Boston Public Schools, and helped create dog parks in city neighborhoods. He was a vocal opponent of a plan to move Fenway Park and has worked to bring food trucks to the city.


He raised his profile in 2009 when he became the first Jewish president of the Boston City Council. Ross took a public stand against an arbitration award for Boston firefighters in May 2010, threatening to vote against the contract unless the union made "meaningful concessions." Ross ultimately helped broker a deal between firefighters and the city with other councilors, including Arroyo.

"Leadership to me means standing up even when it's tough," Ross said as he talked about his mayoral bid. "I'm doing this out of passion and because I believe in this. It feels right."

Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan