Mayoral hopeful John R. Connolly embarked Wednesday on an aggressive and emotional counterattack against what he called attempts by his opponent’s supporters to portray him as an out-of-touch political elite.
With less than a week before voters go to the polls, Connolly dispatched an e-mail to supporters in which he declared, “Marty Walsh keeps playing games when it comes to who I am and what I stand for.” Walsh, a state representative who has positioned himself as the working man’s candidate, has frequently referred to Connolly as a “corporate lawyer” and noted that the city councilor comes from a politically connected family.
Connolly reached out to supporters on the same day that a new University of Massachusetts Amherst poll found his once-healthy lead in the race appears to have evaporated and that Walsh now holds a 7-point lead.
For his part, Walsh has maintained that he is not running a negative campaign and that attacks on Connolly’s family history are out of bounds.
“I’d rather lose with dignity than win through negative campaigning,” Walsh told reporters Tuesday after the final televised debate of the campaign. “I have absolutely run a positive campaign for the last eight months, and I’m going to continue to run a positive campaign for the next six days.”
During that debate, Walsh repeatedly invoked unflattering references to lawyers and said, “We don’t need another lawyer in City Hall.”
Labor-funded groups working on Walsh’s behalf have focused on Connolly’s background, questioning the validity of the three years he spent teaching, emphasizing his work as an attorney, and noting his family’s political connections.
‘I grew up in Roslindale. I never knew that was a place of privilege until two weeks ago.’
Connolly and his wife, Meg, dealt head-on Wednesday with what they regard as unwarranted attacks.
At a morning event billed as a celebration of women business leaders, Connolly stood silently as his wife expressed anger at what she called “fictional” portrayals of her husband as untrustworthy. She then disclosed publicly for the first time that she was diagnosed with lymphoma, a blood cancer, during their engagement.
Campaign officials said the disclosure, which Meg Connolly used to highlight her husband’s loving support, was unplanned and unscripted.
“There are some people who are trying to write their own story about John’s life,” Meg Connolly said.
The Connollys have taken particular offense at mailers sent out by Working America, the political arm of the AFL-CIO, and the Greater Boston Labor Council that labeled Connolly a “son of privilege” and said he “doesn’t understand working class people.”
“I think it’s a shame that we’re in a campaign that my character and background have been viciously attacked to the point that my wife would feel she needs to share stories that we would prefer to keep private,” John Connolly said, after giving his wife a hug and a kiss.
Walsh swiftly decried the mailers about two weeks ago and has repeatedly distanced himself from them since.
“Our families, we are friends — very close. We are having a mayor’s race. And there is no personal attack on my part,” Walsh said Wednesday.
Walsh brought up Connolly’s political lineage during the candidates’ final televised debate Tuesday, noting that Connolly’s parents had held government positions.
Connolly’s mother, Lynda, spent 15 years as a district court judge, and his father, Michael, spent five years as a state representative and 15 years as secretary of state.
While acknowledging his family is politically connected, Connolly notes he is not exactly a Kennedy.
“I grew up in Roslindale. I never knew that was a place of privilege until two weeks ago,” Connolly said Wednesday.
Connolly said that he is still paying off loans he took out to attend law school and that his family of five lives in a modest home in West Roxbury.
Born and raised in Boston, both candidates attended private high schools before entering worlds in which their families held valuable connections.
“In this case, neither of these guys is a particularly financially privileged guy,” said Larry DiCara, a former city councilor and student of local politics. “In fact, Marty actually made more money in recent years than John.”
As Connolly prepared for his political career, Walsh entered the building trades with a job in the union run by his uncle. After two years as a laborer, Walsh took the first of what became a series of well-paying positions in union leadership.
In 2012, Walsh made more than $250,000 from his state representative salary and his six-figure paycheck as head of the Boston Metropolitan District Building Trades Council, an umbrella group that represents unions of ironworkers, electricians, and others. Walsh resigned from the union post when he launched his mayoral bid, but retained his position as president of Laborers Local 223 union, which paid him roughly $3,500 in 2012, according to tax documents provided by his campaign.
Connolly earned close to about $91,000 in 2012, the bulk coming from his $87,500 city salary and $3,500 coming from a partnership in a law firm, according to tax documents.
For his part, Walsh has rejected suggestions on the trail that his race or financial means have provided him with privilege.
During an Oct. 2 forum hosted by the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers and several other groups, Walsh drew jeers when he rejected the premise of a question asking how he would work to be aware of his own “white privilege.”
“I came from . . . I live in Dorchester. I don’t know if I agree . . . that’s white privilege,” Walsh said, before further clarifying his comments in response to another question. “There are challenges in neighborhoods, and I’m not blind to that. And there’s discrimination in neighborhoods, and I’m not blind to that.”Meghan E. Irons of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Wesley Lowery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.