On Sunday, in the midst of the North End Columbus Day Parade, Boston City Councilor John R. Connolly’s head swiveled back and forth from one side of the route to the other. Scanning the crowd along State Street, the mayoral hopeful searched for a specific type of person.
“This is a tricky stretch: It’s all tourists,” he said walking down the middle of the street, the brassy sound of a nearby marching band in the air. “You got to find the Bostonians,” Connolly added, before quickly moving, hand extended, toward a group of women who were clearly supporters.
Connolly and state Representative Martin J. Walsh, the two men vying to succeed Mayor Thomas M. Menino, worked the parade route that snaked around and through the North End, just over three weeks before Boston voters head to the polls.
Over a long weekend in the heart of a tourist-friendly city however, voters sometimes proved tough to find.
On Atlantic Avenue, Connolly stopped and jogged behind his throng of sign-bearing supporters toward Michael Mendelsohn, who was strolling along the sidewalk and broke into a surprised smile as Connolly shook his hand and made his pitch.
After Connolly sprinted away, Mendelsohn explained he was from Scottsdale, Ariz., and had come to Massachusetts for a wedding. Chuckling, he said he supposed that he had “a familiar face,”
On the mayoral campaign trail, Walsh and Connolly have participated in a lot of parades, including a rain-soaked route in Roslindale a week before the North End event.
But, in separate interviews, both men insisted they had not tired of all the marching and celebrating and repeated palm pressing.
“Honestly, I love it,” Walsh said, before admitting that “next year [he] might not want to walk in all these parades.”
“I love getting out in the parades and shaking the hands and running all over the place,” Connolly said. “I don’t experience a parade overdose. That never happens to me.”
Both candidates broke into jogs as they maneuvered from one side of the street to the other, but, owing to stretches of the route with few people on them, each had time to amiably schmooze with their supporters who marched alongside them.
Further along the parade route, in the heart of North End, the tourist-to-voter ratio appeared to be much more favorable to the mayoral aspirants.
“John Connolly,” the candidate said repeatedly, as he shook hands.
“Marty Walsh. I ask for your vote on Nov. 5,” Walsh said again and again.
Arlene and Paul Burns, wife and husband, were two of the parade-watchers greeted by Walsh who were amenable to his pitch.
“He’s more well-rounded,” Arlene said, explaining why she planned to vote for him over Connolly. “He’s more than a one-subject candidate.”
But Connolly’s relentless focus on reforming the city’s public school appealed to a voter who was standing directly across the street.
John Wyatt, a 60-year-old East Boston resident who is soon moving to the North End, was greeted by a fast-moving Connolly. Wyatt said he planned to support the Councilor.
“I like his whole approach to education. And I’m not a big union guy,” he said.
Walsh has a strong base of support from organized labor groups.
The Columbus Day Parade included festive floats from community groups, well-practiced marching bands and even a gaggle of people dressed as pirates. It also drew gubernatorial hopefuls to its route, including state Attorney General Martha Coakley, state Treasurer Steven Grossman, and Evan Falchuk, who is running as the United Independent Party candidate.
Coakley had a prime spot in the parade order, not far from the Boston Police officers who led the marchers.
“How are you folks?” she said waving and walking from one of the street to the other. “Happy Columbus Day everyone.”
“Hey Martha, best of luck,” Anthony DiStefano, a North End native, said after Coakley shook his hand.
Before the parade began both Coakley and Grossman, who are vying for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2014, said they believed parades were great ways for voters to put a face to a name they may only be vaguely familiar with.
“I know there’s not a lot of depth of contact, but so many people have an impression from either TV or news, it’s a way to see people one-on-one,” Coakley said.
And after all, Coakley said with a smile, “Who doesn’t love a parade?”