The friendship of Lee Blasi and Adriana Cillo may be almost as old as Roslindale. Both women attend Sacred Heart Church, and, years ago, both sent their children to the parish elementary school.
But the friends faced off as rivals Tuesday as they stood outside the polling place at St. Nectarios Greek Orthodox Church on Belgrade Avenue. They battled for the signatures of registered voters, hoping to help their choice for mayor secure a spot on the fall ballot.
Blasi, who was taking a vacation day, held a clipboard decorated with a bumper sticker for her current boss, Councilor Rob Consalvo. Cillo clutched a clipboard for her former boss, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley.
“We’re friends but on different teams,” Cillo said. “It’s a clean competition.”
Blasi added: “We know all the same people.”
“And we’re still going to talk to each other next week,” Cillo said.
The same scene played out across Boston on Tuesday as a flood of 24 mayoral candidates splintered friendships across the city. Tuesday marked the first opportunity for campaigns to collect the signatures needed for a spot on the ballot.
It represented the kickoff of the most wide-open Boston election in a generation and just happened to coincide with a US Senate primary, making for a voter-rich target for signature-gatherers.
As voters trickled to polling places, volunteers with clipboards hovered like moths around flames, approaching people before and after they cast ballots.
Each candidate must gather signatures from 3,000 registered voters to make the ballot. Voters can sign several nomination papers.
But a signature will only count for the first campaign that submits it to City Hall, setting up many spirited contests between old friends. If each candidate were to make it onto the ballot, that would mean 72,000 signatures would have to be collected, from a pool of 389,000 registered voters.
“The thing people are doing is signing everybody’s papers,” Cillo said in Roslindale. “So it’s whoever gets it there first. It’s a race.”
State Representative Martin J. Walsh became the first candidate to claim he had enough signatures, reporting in the afternoon that he turned in 4,188 signatures at City Hall. The Election Department must still certify the signatures, which could take some time.
The frenetic day began shortly after sunrise, when a crowd descended on Boston City Hall.
Scores of campaign operatives, political newcomers, and perennial candidates running for mayor and City Council came to get nomination papers. Office supply stores sold out of clipboards.
Grown men nearly sprinted across City Hall Plaza with brown bundles of paperwork, their candidate’s nomination papers, tucked under their arms like footballs.
The first operative to arrive was Mike McDevitt of the Walsh campaign, who claimed the head of the line at 6:30 a.m. Clifton Braithwaite shook his head in regret as he stood at the counter in the Election Department, fiddling with his cellphone while it was plugged into an outlet.
“I would have been first, but I went to the wrong door,” said Braithwaite, who came on behalf of Mimi E. Turchinetz, a candidate for the City Council seat representing District 5, which includes Hyde Park and parts of Mattapan.
The Election Department reception area resembled a waiting room at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The impatient paced. Others sat and read newspapers or stared at smartphone screens. Many drank coffee. One crunched loudly on an apple. Another arrived with an empty shopping cart.
“I’m armed with multiple clipboards,” said Delfredia Dancy, who came on behalf of the campaign of Charlotte Golar Richie, a former state representative from Dorchester who later served in the administrations of Governor Deval Patrick and Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
Another mayoral candidate, Divo Rodrigues Monteiro, came by himself and immediately got lucky. Monteiro found a spot on Cambridge Street and parked his 2003 Toyota Camry. He put two hours on the meter and made the short walk to City Hall.
“I’m trying to build momentum,” Monteiro said, noting that he ran for state representative in 2010. “I’m going to see how [signature gathering] goes. I don’t know, maybe I’ll switch to [run for] City Council.”
At 9 a.m., the Election Department officially opened the municipal election season. Campaigns were required to listen to the dos and don’ts of signature gathering before they were handed nomination papers.
The first wave of political operatives left at 9:37 a.m.
McDevitt led the pack, walking briskly with a 5-inch-thick bundle of brown paperwork tucked under his arm. A few steps behind followed Adam Webster from the mayoral campaign of Councilor John R. Connolly. Webster had his bundle of paperwork under his left arm as he barked into a cellphone in his right hand.
“I’m coming out at Government Center,” Webster said. “You’re on Cambridge Street?”
Hours later in the South End, four signature-gatherers patrolled corners across the street from the polling place at Cathedral High School. Washington Street sat deserted until Nancy Farrington emerged. A woman pounced on behalf of Conley, the district attorney.
“I’m already committed to somebody, thank you,” Farrington said as she brushed off the advance.
Farrington explained later that she had committed herself to Connolly, the city councilor, who she said would make a great mayor. But Farrington, 69, of the South End, had a slight hesitation.
“I have been sort of harboring a hope that [Police] Commissioner [Edward F.] Davis jumps in, but I don’t think he will,” Farrington said. “But I do like John Connolly a lot, a lot, a lot.”