State Representative Martin J. Walsh won key endorsements Tuesday from two of his former rivals in Boston’s race for mayor, gaining support that could shore up his prospects among black and Latino voters.
The backing of Felix G. Arroyo and John F. Barros could help Walsh expand beyond his base and win ballots among the significant swath of largely minority voters who opted for other candidates in the preliminary election. Walsh and his opponent in the final election, Councilor at Large John R. Connolly, both tried to woo Arroyo and Barros, candidates of color who finished fifth and sixth in the preliminary election.
But what should have been a headline-grabbing day for Walsh was overshadowed by a strike by school bus drivers, thrusting another high-profile labor dispute into the race for mayor.
Walsh found himself again answering questions about his history as a labor leader and the staunch support he receives from unions. Walsh was endorsed in August by a branch of the United Steelworkers that represents thousands of private sector and government workers, including Boston school bus drivers.
Walsh noted at his endorsement press conference Tuesday that he was backed by the parent organization and not the bus drivers’ immediate union, United Steelworkers Local 8751. The regional branch of the United Steelworkers denounced the strike.
Walsh said the strike was wrong and illegal, and he demanded that the drivers go back to work. A reporter asked if his ties to labor put him between a rock and a hard place.
“There’s no rock and no hard place,” Walsh said. “I come down on behalf of the side of children and the families.”
With four weeks until the election, Walsh’s newfound support from Barros and Arroyo could give the candidate an advantage as he seeks to build a winning coalition.
“It means a lot more than votes,” Walsh said in an announcement of the endorsement Tuesday in Egleston Square. “I’m excited. We’re excited. Their campaign workers are excited. We’re not John and Felix any more. We’re one campaign.”
The twin endorsements also cast a spotlight on Charlotte Golar Richie, former city housing chief and the leading African-American candidate in the preliminary election, who finished third. Golar Richie is in the process of making a decision, said several political operatives who would speak only on background. Golar Richie said in a text message that she did not plan to endorse anyone Tuesday.
“There’s going to be a lot of focus now on what Charlotte Golar Richie does,” said Paul Watanabe, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “Candidates who received a large number of votes from communities of color are an important prize in the run-up to the Nov. 5 election.”
Barros was the first candidate of Cape Verdean descent to run for mayor. Arroyo’s parents came from Puerto Rico, and he made history as the first Latino to make the mayoral ballot. Watanabe described their endorsement of Walsh as important but “by no means decisive.”
On Tuesday night, a coalition of groups from communities of color met and identified five key issues, which included jobs, education, and diversity in leadership. The groups included Right to the City Vote, the NAACP, and Oiste, a statewide civic organization for Latinos. Some members of the coalition also discussed an endorsement, although they did not settle on a candidate and plan to continue their deliberations.
“We feel very strongly that issues pertinent to communities of color be at the center of this race and that our voice be heard loud and clear,” said Mariama White Hammond, a community activist who helped facilitate the meeting.
At Walsh’s endorsement in Egleston Square, Barros took aim at Connolly, who has made school reform the centerpiece of his campaign. Barros did not mention Connolly by name, but he struck at the heart of the councilor’s message by emphatically stating that Walsh would be better for schools.
“Under Marty, we know every child will have a quality seat, a quality education,” said Barros. “Under Marty, we will close the achievement gap for Boston. We’ll make sure to have the best schools in America.”
Arroyo was joined by campaign aides and his father, Felix D. Arroyo, a former Boston city councilor. The younger Arroyo once worked as a political organizer for a union and made clear he planned to put his skills to work for Walsh.
“There are 28 days left” until the election, Arroyo said. “We’re going to go out door-knocking. We’re going to go out canvassing. We’re going to go out phone-banking. We are going to visit small businesses. We are going to be in your coffee shop. We are going to be at your train station.”
Barros and Arroyo said they were swayed by Walsh’s stances on poverty, education, and economic development. They vowed that Walsh would build an inclusive administration in City Hall.
“It’s a shot in the arm for Walsh’s campaign,” said Jeffrey M. Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University. “He’s weakest in communities of color. He performed very poorly in the preliminary. This helps him to get a second look-see in Boston’s minority communities.”
Connolly held a press conference about the school bus strike and acknowledged that “endorsements matter” but “aren’t the end-all-be-all.”
“The endorsements I’m proudest of are the parents standing behind me right now,” Connolly said. “And the thousands of parents across this city who know that I go to work every day thinking about our children first and transforming our public schools.”
Connolly added that he expects to pick up endorsements in coming weeks. A group named Communities United later announced it would endorse Connolly Thursday in the South End.
Communities United described itself as an organization that promotes interests of communities of color. It includes Minister Don Muhammad and Larry Ellison, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, its press release said.
Wesley Lowery of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Andrew Ryan can be reached at email@example.com.